Road trip to the best FCS stadiums
Washington-Grizzly Stadium has an intimate feel with seats right on top of the action.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Get your tailgate fare organized and gas up the RV.
Road trip season is fast approaching for college football fans.
Is there any better way to spend a fall weekend? Hardly, considering the many touchdowns and traditions at various schools across the country.
The fun is there on any level, too. The Football Championship Subdivision usually doesn't have the size and spectacle of the Bowl Subdivision (or the prices), but its stadiums tend to bring fans closer to the action and make them feel more like they are supporting a hometown school.
If You Can Pick Five
|If you aren't committed to games in a certain conference and want to visit the best of the FCS stadiums, make these your top choices:|
1. Montana, Washington-Grizzly Stadium
2. Appalachian State, Kidd Brewer Stadium
3. North Dakota State, Fargodome
4. James Madison, Bridgeforth Stadium
5. Montana State, Bobcat Stadium
Whether it be the food, the music, the school's involvement, the stadium, the football itself - and the list can go on - the experience brings fans back for more every season. Last season, FCS games drew nearly six million fans.
If you can only pick one stadium to visit within your favorite conference, the following is the one to choose:
BIG SKY CONFERENCE
Montana, Washington-Grizzly Stadium
Location: Missoula, Mont.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 25,236 (No. 2 in FCS; No. 1 in Big Sky)
What's Great: Feel the fresh air, Montana football at Washington-Grizzly Stadium is the place to be, epitomizing FCS football at its highest level.
Even when the stadium is filled, there's an intimate feel, as the seats are right on top of the action. In fact, the fans in the North end zone seats are among the loudest in college football. Many opponents may think they are ready for the environment, but they often are incorrect.
From the tailgating to the sky divers to the music to the 26-by-36-foot video screen, the experience is top-notch even before the football. And the Grizzlies play a mean brand of it as well, having gone 174-24 (.879) all-time at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Another Must-See: Montana State, Bobcat Stadium (a stadium expansion to 17,777 and an occasional switch to night-time football have taken the three- time defending Big Sky co-champions to new heights. The tailgating rocks.).
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Liberty, Williams Stadium
Location: Lynchburg, Va.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 16,318 (No. 11 in FCS; No. 1 in Big South)
What's Great: Let the five-story football tower located above the west bleachers and between two light towers guide you to Williams Stadium. Or, better yet, listen for the vuvuzelas.
There's an FBS-type atmosphere, and that's the level the Rev. Jerry Falwell's university is pointing toward for the future under coach Turner Gill, who's been there before in head coaching stints at Buffalo and Kansas.
Students arrive early to fill the seats behind the visitor's bench. Plus the football is very good. The Flames have won a record 18 consecutive Big South games since 2006.
James Madison, Bridgeforth Stadium
Location: Harrisonburg, Va.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 22,783 (No. 3 in FCS; No. 1 in CAA Football)
What's Great: JMU's $62.5 million expansion project that was completed before the 2011 season has made Bridgeforth Stadium a state-of-the art facility for the FCS. There's great fan amenities, including new seating, suites, a club level and perhaps the best video board in the FCS at 24 by 60 feet.
The addition of a second deck on the stadium's west side stretches to FBS- level heights, and it's easily seen in the distance, which adds to the anticipation as fans approach the stadium.
The Dukes won the 2004 FCS (then-Division I-AA) title under coach Mickey Matthews, so they take their football seriously. The crowd stays involved in the action and a big-time feel is in the air.
Another Must-See: Delaware, Delaware Stadium (At 22,000, the ol' stadium is still grand for FCS standards, though it's starting to show its age after 61 years. Still, when it's filled, there's a terrific atmosphere as the Delaware players enter the field through a tunnel under the student bleachers and wage battle between the hedges that are planted behind each team bench).
Old Dominion, S.B. Ballard Stadium at Foreman Field
Location: Norfolk, Va.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 20,037 (No. 4 in FCS; No. 2 in CAA Football)
What's Great: The FBS-bound Monarchs have been a hit since they restarted their program in 2009. Their stadium underwent a $24.8 million makeover and is located in the heart of campus, and it has been sold out for all 29 of its home games the last four seasons. The season-ticket waiting list has surpassed 4,500.
Rabid Monarchs fans are on top of the action, especially those in the game-day building built behind the south end zone, and have been treated to offensive fireworks in the team's short stay in the FCS, which is entering its fifth and final season.
Yale, Yale Bowl
Location: New Haven, Conn.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 12,453 (No. 20 in FCS; No. 1 in Ivy League)
What's Great: The historic Yale Bowl, which is classified as a National Historic Landmark, starts with tailgating, a lot of intelligent conversation and a feeling of yesteryear in college football. It's just short of 100 years since ground was first broken on a venue that the Rose Bowl was patterned after.
A Harvard-Yale game is the best time to be at the Yale Bowl, as a crowd over 50,000 is still common for the largest FCS stadium that is owned by the university.
Another Must-See: Princeton, Princeton University Stadium (Unlike the Yale Bowl, and some of the great old stadiums in the league, including Harvard Stadium and Franklin Field at Penn, there's still a new feel to Princeton's terrific 27,773-seat enclosed stadium, which opened in 1998. It's nestled within a terrific college town).
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
North Carolina A&T, Aggie Stadium
Location: Greensboro, N.C.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 11,787 (No. 24 in FCS; No. 4 in MEAC)
What's Great: It's the lively atmosphere at A&T games that make for a terrific fan experience. The Aggies have a strong fan base and, of course, the MEAC is known for its entertaining marching bands, like A&T's Blue and Gold Marching Machine. Plus, the school has done a good job of improving its horse-shoe stadium, from the lighting to the press box tower to the jumbotron, which is designed as if it's in the school mascot's clutches.
There are no bad seats and the tailgating starts early and goes on well after games.
MISSOURI VALLEY FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
North Dakota State, Fargodome
Location: Fargo, N.D.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 18,516 (No. 6 in FCS; No. 1 Missouri Valley)
What's Great: The roof often seems as if it's about to come off the indoor home of the two-time defending FCS national champions. The crowds have grown in recent seasons and the decibel level has skyrocketed to ridiculous levels for the opposition.
The pyrotechnics, music and video board integration with screens across the dome are unmatched by other conference institutions.
And the tailgating makes for a full-day event, so when the Bison start beating up on the opposition, the good folk of Fargo are in a winning mood. It's hard for any fan to leave disappointed.
Another Must-See: Northern Iowa, UNI-Dome (OK, NDSU has the "Thunderdome" magic, but Northern Iowa's "Interlude Dance" is pulsating as well).
Robert Morris, Joe Walton Stadium
Location: Moon Township, Pa.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 1,737 (No. 120 in FCS; No. 9 in NEC)
What's Great: The NEC isn't a big attendance draw, so RMU is not anybody's first thought for a tradition-rich program. But its campus and stadium sit just outside football-crazed Pittsburgh.
Joe Walton Stadium is named for the only head coach in the history of the Colonials program and lights were added last season. It's so intimate that most of the seating is confined to one side of the stadium behind the home team's bench (the other side overlooks a shopping center).
There's decent tailgating and decent football. In fact, when rival Duquesne visits for the Steel City Showdown, the energy level soars considerably.
OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE
Jacksonville State, Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium
Location: Jacksonville, Ala.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 16,006 (No. 13 in FCS; No. 2 in OVC)
What's Great: An adjoining dorm facility proves that one can live at JSU Stadium. The top three levels of the seven-story facility feature sky boxes and the press area, and the bottom four floors are student apartments outside the field.
The students come to revel in Gamecocks football, which has become the OVC's most consistent program, and the band adds to the festive atmosphere.
There's electricity in the air at night-time games, which make it a southern treat.
Lehigh, Goodman Stadium
Location: Bethlehem, Pa.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 7,206 (No. 63 in FCS; No. 3 in Patriot League)
What's Great: Located in a rural valley with the scenic South Mountain and its fall foliage serving as a backdrop, it's hard to beat the outdoor setting surrounding a Lehigh home game. The students come out to tailgate in a big way and fans take advantage of the grassy hill overlooking the south end zone, bringing an intimate feeling to a game.
Plus the academically strong league takes its football seriously, with football scholarships being introduced this season to raise the level of play even higher.
Mountain Hawks fans support the home team well. Their rivalry with Lafayette is the most-played in college football (it hits 149 on Nov. 23 at Goodman Stadium).
PIONEER FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Campbell, Barker-Lane Stadium
Location: Buies Creek, N.C.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 3,620 (No. 100 in FCS; No. 2 in PFL)
What's Great: Campbell's young program (2008) has a new stadium to go along with it and the university has done a good job building the game-day experience.
Actually, this season will be the first in which Barker-Lane Stadium will be a finished product. Campbell's bench has been on the visitor's side, but the Camels will switch sides this season - the midfield logo was flipped recently - to the larger stands, where the press box tower will soar above them.
Lights were added before last season and the field house behind the north end zone is state-of-the-art.
The atmosphere is growing, too, with a lively school band, in-game promotions and a fan base itching for the program to grow into a consistent winner.
Appalachian Stadium, Kidd Brewer Stadium
Location: Boone, N.C.
What's Great: Boone is a terrific college town that supports its Mountaineers, and Kidd Brewer Stadium, affectionately known as "The Rock," is built on a spectacular location 3,280 feet up in the High Country. A superb game day is fitting for the only FCS program to win three straight national titles (2005-07).
The stadium celebrated its 50-year anniversary last year, but it's still a modern, impressive structure, and it will only get better as ASU moves toward the FBS next year (sad news for the FCS, of course).
The music, pyrotechnics and fan involvement is top-notch. The additional lawn seating has brought the average attendance over the stadium's official capacity for more than four decades. In fact, ASU has led the FCS in attendance in five of the last six seasons.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 26,358 (No. 1 in FCS; No. 1 in Southern Conference)
Another Must-See: Georgia Southern, Paulsen Stadium (Like Appalachian State, this is the last year GSU will play in the FCS. Legendary Eagles coach Erk Russell called the home of the six-time national champions "the prettiest little stadium in America." The fan base ranked No. 7 nationally in attendance average last year and makes it hard on the visiting team).
Central Arkansas, Estes Stadium
Location: Conway, Ark.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 8,550 (No. 51 in FCS; No. 5 in Southland)
What's Great: The attraction is the purple-and-gray striped artificial turf, but there's so much more to game day at UCA.
Bruce Street, which is adjacent to the stadium along the north end zone, shuts down the night before a Bears game for a four-block span to set up game-day tailgating. There's a "Bear Walk" 2 1/2 hours before the game and features the marching band and cheer squads leading the football team and coaching staff through the tailgating.
Once at the rather small stadium, the Bears know what to do. With their fans cheering them on, they have yet to lose in their first two seasons on the striped turf.
SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Alabama State, Hornet Stadium
Location: Montgomery, Ala.
2012 FCS Attendance Average: 15,514 (No. 14 in FCS; No. 2 in SWAC)
What's Great: The new stadium at ASU, which debuted last Thanksgiving, gives the Hornets a major recruiting advantage within the conference. It's modern, attractive and brings fans back from an off-campus stadium and puts them right on top of the action.
There are plenty of luxury-type seats, additional hillside lawn seating and a concourse that encloses the stadium is an added bonus for taking in the sights.
Like other SWAC stadiums, it is lively, too, as the band and dance team rev up the crowd. Homecoming is always a raucous day at SWAC schools.