Couch: Ranking the Big Ten football stadiums, Iowa through Purdue
I get a thrill from walking into half-empty, run-down minor league baseball parks and high school football stadiums tucked into cornfields: The green grass (even artificial turf), the metal bleachers, helmets reflecting the lights …
I find charm in even the most dilapidated college football venues. I loved Akron’s old Rubber Bowl, for example. And so, you might imagine, every Big Ten football stadium warms my soul. It never gets old.
But these aren’t children. They aren’t all created equal. Some Big Ten football stadiums are better than others — in terms of experience, aesthetics and hospitality.
Here’s how I rank the 14 Big Ten football stadiums — including my own biases and game experiences — followed by the opinions of other Big Ten writers on their favorite (and least favorite) venues.
1. Iowa — Kinnick Stadium
There is nowhere else in the Big Ten where you can be so close to the game — I once sat with my feet on the field in the end zone. More than that, Kinnick has a classic feel, with the brick and arches, and a welcoming vibe. You aren’t likely to be spit on by the home fans. The new tradition of waving to the patients and families watching from up high at Children’s Hospital makes this a bucket-list college football venue.
“Another old building with so much charm and a crazy fan base that just adores their football team, good or bad. Iowa is college football at its purest. Doesn’t get much better. The new children’s hospital wave is probably the best thing in the game today.” — Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Couch: It's hard to hate Iowa
2. Wisconsin — Camp Randall Stadium
I’ve been to one game here, hung over, with an oncoming cold, sweating after walking more than mile in a sports coat while carrying a heavy work bag on a miserably sunny day, only to watch two struggling offenses play to a 10-10 tie at the end of regulation. And I still adore the place. Camp Randall is quintessential college football — a stadium with character and amenities and fans who don’t take winning for granted. You know “Jump Around” is coming. It’s still really cool to experience.
“Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium, especially when the “Jump Around” thing gets going after the third quarter, is a combination of impressive, historic and fun. (I swear the press box is going to crash to the ground during that one of these years.) The game-day environment in Madison reminds me most of Iowa City.” — Chad Leistikow, Des Moines Register
3. Michigan — Michigan Stadium
The Big House is one of the more awesome structures I’ve ever stepped foot in. The sheer size of this massive crater in the earth is something when you think about it. I’m in awe of the place. It’s a sweet venue to cover a game. It’s better as a fan. It isn’t the loudest venue or the easiest stadium to quickly get to a bathroom. But the tailgating scene, the world’s best fight song, the sea of yellow — it’s up there with the must-do college football experiences. Michigan State and Ohio State fans have enjoyed it lately, too.
“I like walking in the cross walk into Michigan Stadium. There’s someone on a microphone directing traffic, and it’s a mob scene, but you feel like you’re part of something, everyone heading in together.” — Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com
4. Nebraska — Memorial Stadium
Several years ago I began an informal survey of visiting Big Ten fans, which of course I never completed. One of the questions: On your travels, what are the nicest and nastiest fan bases you’ve encountered. Everyone had all sorts of different experiences, but there were two universal truths — the nicest home fans were at Nebraska and the worst to deal with were at Ohio State. The Huskers take pride in their kindness. Lincoln on game day is one of the best places on earth. The energy is incredible.
“Last season, Rutgers was (at Nebraska) days after the AD Shawn Eichorst was fired, and they had just lost to Northern Illinois. Didn’t matter. The student section was full and the place was rocking for what turned out to be a bad Cornhuskers team. I saw Michigan last year, I’ve been to Penn State multiple times. Nebraska has them both beat.” — Josh Newman, Asbury Park Press
5. Ohio State — Ohio Stadium
That survey (see above) that singled out Nebraska’s fans for their kindness, didn’t paint a friendly picture of the Ohio State faithful. I’ve had only good experiences in Columbus. And Ohio Stadium is worth the trip. It has a classic exterior and hasn’t been entirely stripped of character inside as it's grown and been redone. It’s a massive place. Not every seat is great. The prices are steep. But it has NFL-like amenities and an awesome band.
“My favorite is the Horseshoe. It’s enormous. It’s daunting. It’s packed. The energy is ridiculous. You feel the program’s history, if that’s possible.” Steve Sipple, Lincoln Journal Star
6. TCF Bank Stadium — Minnesota
If the Gophers ever begin to fill their new stadium, it would climb this list. Relative to the Metrodome, no Big Ten school has improved its home field more. TCF Bank Stadium is less than a decade old but has a vintage feel with its brick exterior, to go with modern and spacious amenities on a campus tucked in an awesome city. It’s cold in November there. Really cold. But this is one of the better Big Ten venues for the first two months of the season.
“Favorite Big Ten stadium has to be TCF Bank Stadium. With a seating capacity of around 51,000 it is an intimate setting. With the open end of the stadium facing West toward downtown Minneapolis the views can be spectacular.” — Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
7. Michigan State — Spartan Stadium
I grew up in Lansing, so Spartan Stadium is as much college football to me as anywhere. And for home fans, you love your stadium and your traditions and your game days. And that bias is natural. But Spartan Stadium is a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten venue, even with improving amenities, terrific sight lines and massive video boards. This isn’t a ranking of player locker rooms and recruiting facilities — MSU would probably be higher up this list on those fronts. For fans, it’s a good, solid stadium on a beautiful campus. And if it’s yours and your nostalgia, it’s the best.
“Honestly, I've never been a huge fan of Michigan State. It feels partly urban, partly rural and doesn’t leave much of an impression either way to me. What’s the best thing about Spartan Stadium on game day? I have no idea.” — Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com
8. Penn State — Beaver Stadium
Once Penn State completes its makeover to Beaver Stadium, it might be among the elite venues in the Big Ten. For night games, the energy and atmosphere is as good as it gets. The stadium itself is aging and massive, with good views of the game from most seats. But overall, it’s just OK. Like with Spartan Stadium, Penn State fans will disagree. But they’re emotionally attached to it, as they should be. Note: If the press box were taken into account, Beaver Stadium would be last on this list.
9. Northwestern — Ryan Field
When I surveyed other writers, Ryan Field came up a lot as the Big Ten’s worst stadium. I like the place. I like that you can get your arms around it, that you can watch a Big Ten game in a stadium too small and without enough frills for most Texas High Schools. There are better small stadiums in college football and in the Midwest. Northwestern is not the intimate college football experience it could be. But it’s the closest you’ll find to one in the Big Ten.
“Best part about Northwestern is leaving and grabbing a brat from Mustard’s Last Stand across the street from the stadium.” — Mike Carmin, Lafayette Journal & Courier
10. Indiana — Memorial Stadium
The Hoosiers’ version of Memorial Stadium (one of the league's three with that name), arguably, could be a spot or two higher on this list, given the latest round of upgrades. It’s a very different stadium than it was not so long ago — it feels like a college football stadium these days. It’s not bad looking inside or out, either. If Indiana ever started winning, and packing the place, the stadium might be more revered.
11. Illinois — Memorial Stadium
I love the exterior of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium — the history, the columns, the brick. The inside is just, eh. The losing is killing the crowd and the experience.
12. Maryland — Maryland Stadium
I once kicked a 24-yard field goal with a nerf football at Maryland Stadium after sneaking onto the field with my sister when she was in grad school. So I’ve always had a strange nostalgic affinity for the place. Most think it leaves something to be desired as a college football venue. They’re probably right. I love that it’s plopped in the center of campus.
13. Rutgers — HighPoint.com Stadium
I have nothing against Rutgers’ stadium, other than it’s in Piscataway, New Jersey. It’s just up against a lot of classic Big Ten venues. It’s not a bad place to watch a game.
14. Purdue — Ross-Ade Stadium
I’ll remind you of the opening paragraphs in this column — just because Ross-Ade Stadium is last on this list, doesn’t mean I don’t find it endearing. I do. I love that it’s open on one end, that it’s old and easy to navigate. It’s a good place to watch college football and feel like you’re in 1950. If I grew up in West Lafayette, it would probably be my favorite college football venue. I didn’t.
“I hate to always pick on Purdue. But ... it’s never full and it doesn’t feel like a Big Ten venue.” — Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Graham_Couch