Howe: Ranking the Big Ten Football Stadiums
IOWA CITY, Iowa – May usually is a slow month in college sports. There’s baseball, softball, track and other end-of-the-academic year competitions. Football and basketball, the front porches of the athletic departments, go largely silent, though.
The COVID-19 pandemic made sure we get nothing but flowers this May. Competition has been reduced to outdoing your neighbors in landscaping.
We have no answers to when that will change. We wait for them.
It leaves us thinking about when sports return. You do so with memories of the past.
Someone asked me to name my favorite Big Ten Stadium other than Kinnick Stadium for one of my recent HN Mailbag podcasts. That got me thinking about how they all stack up.
And that led me to ranking the conference venues through my experiences covering games in them starting in 1997. Please keep in mind, this is from a reporter’s view, not that of a fan. I’d be interested in hearing from folks who have visited these places for tailgates and viewing from the stands.
14. SHI Stadium, Rutgers
Reasoning: Iowa has played here just once and I did not attend it. I have, however, been to the stadium having lived in New Jersey.
It seats 52,000 but doesn’t need all those seats. The atmosphere at high school games in New Jersey put this one to shame. Maybe the return of Greg Schiano can breathe some life into the place.
13. Maryland Stadium
Reasoning: The Hawkeyes have visited College Park once. The Terrapins rallied for a 38-31 win and it’s as pissed off as I can remember Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz being in 21 years at the helm. Perhaps part of his frustration stemmed from losing to a bad team in a sterile environment.
The stadium sits on a beautiful campus and has some potential at a school that loves its successful basketball program. It’s got a long way to go.
12. Indiana’s Memorial Stadium
Reasoning: I remember covering a game here one year when the fans started streaming out at halftime to go watch an intra-squad basketball scrimmage at Assembly Hall. During some of my visits there, you could have landed a decent sized plane in the stands without hitting anyone. The situation has improved with renovations and some moderate success, but it’s remained way too lazy.
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11. Illinois’ Memorial Stadium
Reasoning: A strong argument could be made that Indiana should rank ahead of the current state in Champaign. I do remember some decent environments through the years here to push it slightly ahead of the Hoosiers’ sluggish setup. I think the players would drop Illinois in this rankings due to an awful visitors’ locker room and postgame interview setup.
10. Ryan Field, Northwestern
Reasoning: Ryan doesn’t rank ahead of these other four schools based on the Wildcat fan base. That’s fickle. But followers of schools from around the conference scoop up available tickets here and often come close to filling the small stadium. They can party in Chicago and cheer on their team. The Iowa faithful love rooting on the Hawkeyes in Evanston.
9. Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue
Reasoning: I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum here. The place was packed during the Joe Tiller Days, and a ghost town when Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell took over. Fans have been coming back now that Jeff Brohm has provided some positive momentum in West Lafayette. Like Illinois, the players would rank this stadium lower. The visiting locker room is an outpost in Siberia and a complete embarrassment.
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8. TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
Reasoning: Minneapolis favors pro sports and the support for the Gophers trails far behind it. Iowa fans can find tickets readily available here and compete with the home crowd in volume. That more even distribution makes it a quieter environment overall. Maybe last season’s success will help Minnesota coach PJ Fleck build more of an advantage. He needs it.
7. Spartan Stadium, Michigan State
Reasoning: There’s a pretty solid line of demarcation between seven and eight on this list. Spartan Stadium boasts a strong environment that has played host to some memorable moments in the rivalry with Iowa, some good and some bad. The fans are pretty close to the sidelines here, so they give the visiting team the business on a consistent basis. The volume overall can get up there when things are going Sparty’s way.
6. Michigan Stadium
Reasoning: This one might surprise some people, and I fully admit this one could be based most heavily on my experiences. I’ve just never been that impressed with the Big House. Oh, it’s big. That’s impressive. But the environment inside the place hasn’t been that great the times I’ve been there. Last year’s trip probably ranked on top for me it terms of feel. Maybe I need to see it when Ohio State visits.
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5. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Reasoning: Again, this list is based on personal experience. The trips here in ’03 and ’09 really impressed me. But a few of the other stops were just, meh. The Shoe is legendary, and the sheer amount of humanity donned in red cramming into that place is memorable. I’m sure games against Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State are deafening. It’s not a slight at all, just how I see it.
4. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
Reasoning: This place cranks up loud before the game kicks off and when the home team is winning. Maybe it’s because Iowa has experienced success here more than most visitors, but it’s just not as consistently loud as the stadiums in my Top 3. It hasn’t helped that the Huskers have been limping to the finish line for Iowa’s last few trips the Lincoln.
3. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Reasoning: It’s always loud here. The tailgating and entrance into the stadium impresses. For being so far apart geographically, there’s a rivalry between Iowa and Penn State. They’ve played some really pressure-filled games here, including the 6-4 war of attrition back in ’04. I have no love for this place for off-field reasons, but will give it its due when ranking league stadiums.
2. Camp Randall, Wisconsin
Reasoning: If I couldn’t live in Iowa City anymore and had to pick another Big Ten town in which to lay down roots, Madison would be it by a landslide. Great restaurants and bars welcome you in. Much of the tailgating happens on the streets of the city. Inside, you have a large student section that literally rocks the building to Jump Around at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
1. Kinnick Stadium, Iowa
Reasoning: What, you expected me to pick somewhere else for numero uno? Call me a homer. I can live with that. Kinnick has it all from a neighborhood feel, to fans on top of the field to the sports’ greatest tradition – The Wave. Back in Black and Enter Sandman usher The Swarm into a sea of cheers that will hurt your hearing. It’s where opponents’ national title dreams go to die.