Ranking the Best and Worst Venues in ACC Football

The ACC isn’t exactly known for its plethora of intimidating stadiums, nonetheless, with 14 teams now in the conference and Louisville replacing Maryland next season, there are plenty of good ones. As an alumnus of an ACC school I’ve always enjoyed traveling to a couple stadiums each season and have now visited most of the venues. This year, I’ll finish visiting all the ACC Charter schools (just in time, since Maryland is leaving).

So what are the best… and the worst venues in the Atlantic Coast Conference? I rank them below. Admittedly, this is purely subjective–I’m no architect–so don’t get too bent out of shape, but you can let me hear it on Twitter at @Ryan_Kantor.

Rankings considered both stadium appearance and ambiance. Because I am publishing this before my first trip to Byrd Stadium in College Park and because I am fond of the passionate Louisville fan base on social media (conversely, I’ve never got a comment from a Maryland fan on the countless posts I’ve written pertaining to them) I have included the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and excluded Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.

14. Wallace Wade
Duke University
2012 Average Attendance: 28,170

After this season, Wallace Wade will undergo some renovations to remove the surrounding track and add more seats. At that point, it may move up the list, because it isn’t dumpy by any stretch of the imagination, but as of now it is rather “dinky.” Lending to that is the pit like setup. You very well could be walking by and then realize you’re standing at the top of the stadium (you can see this in the picture below). On the bright side, the food is cheap.

Star News Online

Only visiting fans remain at a 11/3/2012 game in Wallace Wade

13. Carrier Dome
Syracuse University
2012 Average Attendance: 39,507

The Carrier Dome is the home for Syracuse football, basketball, lacrosse, and a bevy of major concerts and shows. While I’m grateful they have an indoor facility–Miami didn’t sign up to play in freezing temperatures when they joined the ACC– this seems like a fairly unimpressive one. For one, it is pretty ugly from the outside. It also has no A/C (admittedly it’s probably only needs for a game or two each season). Finally, they average less than 40,000. If they filled it to capacity (49,262) and got rowdy, I bet it would get pretty loud inside the dome. Something just feels wrong about lacing up to go play on FieldTurf under a fiberglass roof that has basketball banners hanging off it.

Photo: The Business Center of New York

12. Sun Life Stadium
    University of Miami
    2012 Average Attendance: 47,719

Sun Life Stadium, previously Landshark Stadium, previously Dolphin Stadium, previously Pro Player Stadium, previously 100 other names is hardly a college football stadium. Luckily, the Marlins have a new stadium elsewhere so there isn’t a base path awkwardly cutting through the field, but they still share it with the Dolphins and in end it lacks character. It’s 20 miles from campus and attendance is less than what you’d expect from the Miami Hurricanes. I don’t believe the Hurricanes can ever get back to the dominant program from the 80s, however they can and are growing back into a very solid program. Imagine what they could do with a smaller, on-campus stadium they could actually fill. I’m thinking 60,000 seats with oodles of luxury suites.

A tarp covers some of the less desirable seats in a mostly empty Sun Life Stadium.

Photo: RyanKantor.com

Photo: RyanKantor.com

11. BB&T Field
    Wake Forest University
    2012 Average Attendance: 28,912

Since the 2006 ACC Championship and succeeding Orange Bowl, Jim Grobe’s program has declined, declined some more, and is now crumbling. With that, fan support has dwindled. In a 2008 visit to BB&T Field I found a lively crowd, but in a 2012 visit they were outnumbered by opposing fans, and students abandoned ship at halftime.

Wake Forest has themselves a small, but nice single-decker stadium. A recent project added the “Deacon Tower” which adds a lot to the overall appeal of the venue, making it look much less dinky. Overall, a nice stadium, but very small and the fans don’t necessarily fill the little sucker. The surface is also FieldTurf, which is claimed to be safer, but it looks funny in person.

Deacon Tower

10. Alumni Stadium
Boston College
2012 Average Attendance: 37,020

Built in 1957 and seating 44,500, Alumni Stadium is the home to the Boston College Eagles. The biggest problem though is that Boston is a professional sports town, attendance and atmosphere is really lacking. The facility is adequate, but the fans are fickle. In 2012, like Wake Forest, they installed FieldTurf.

 

South Facade facing Beacon Street

9. Heinz Field
University of Pittsburgh
2012 Average Attendance: 41,494

Home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and secondarily the Pittsburgh Panthers, Heinz Field opened in 2001. If this list was published in an architectural digest it would be in the top three, but here we are looking at this a little more holistically and Heinz Field has NFL written all over it. The biggest knock is that they averaged 41,494 per game. Another way to say that would be “they averaged 24,006 empty seats per game.” On a better note, it did host a scene for my favorite movie–Dark Knight Rises.

Photo: TheTravelingSportsFan.Wordpress.com

8. Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field
Georgia Tech
2012 Average Attendance: 43,955

With a capacity of 55,000, you wouldn’t think there would be a bad seat in the house, but the endzone upper deck is awfully high and the scoreboard is insanely bright and irritating during night games. Built deep into the ground, only Bobby Dodd’s upper decks protrude above ground level making for an extremely underwhelming view from the outside.

Bobby Dodd also has a lot going for it and from here forward all the stadiums on the list get a thumbs up. The sight lines of downtown are impressive and while the crowds are quick to quiet down, they’ll also get loud for a big third down stop. The student section does a fairly good job and has a bit of their own personality with some inside jokes (Budweiser Song, Dancing Bananas) that I’m not quite sure I understand, but at least they are there doing their thing. It even has some cool history as it was built by its own academically gifted students in 1913.

7. Kenan Memorial Stadium
University of North Carolina
2012 Average Attendance: 50,286

Once you stop laughing at all the Continental Tire Bowl signs, you’ll realize Kenan Memorial is actually pretty darn nice. It is reminiscent of a miniature Sanford Stadium (UGA), which is just perfect because Chapel Hill feels a little bit like a mini-Athens. They even have hedges. I toured the stadium during a bye week so I can’t criticize, but most say the atmosphere is lacking. Another drawback would be the abundance of bleacher style seating. It seats 62,980 which is all they need given the average attendance. They’re working on renovations to further improve the amenities. ESPN ACC bloggers says it already is “one of the most picturesque places to watch a game.”

Photo: RyanKantor.com The Lesser Known Hedges of Kenan Memorial Stadium

Photo: RyanKantor.com
The Lesser Known Hedges of Kenan Memorial Stadium

Photo: RyanKantor.com From this view you can see the abundance of bleacher seats. You can also quickly see why Heather Dinich called it the most pictureesque place for football.

Photo: RyanKantor.com
From this view you can see the abundance of bleacher seats. You can also quickly see why Heather Dinich called it one of the most picturesque place to watch a game.

6. Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
University of Louisville
2012 Average Attendance: 49,991

It opened in 1998–brand new by stadium standards–and was recently expanded to a capacity of 55,000. Every one of them has a seatback which is pretty luxurious if you ask me. They approach capacity on a regular basis (about 92% full on average).

Although the program lacks a ton of tradition (their Wikipedia page lists players’ postgame high-fiving fans as a “tradition”) StadiumJournal.com shares some cool history about the stadium.

One of the premier aspects of the design is its history with the land which originally was the South Louisville Rail Yard, a historic rail car repair shop. The factory’s shift horn was saved and installed in the stadium’s north end zone scoreboard and sounds every time the Cardinals score. There are also multiple cabooses that tailgaters can rent on game days.

They do play on FieldTurf, but that hardly takes away from the fan experience in what looks to be one of the nicest, newest stadiums in major college football. It would be higher if not for the lack of tradition and sheer size. This is a road trip I’d like to make in the near future.

Look at all those beautiful red seatbacks

5. Scott Stadium
University of Virginia
2012 Average Attendance: 46,650

The stories you hear about the wine and cheese crowd in Charlottesville are true. You’ll see more than your fair share of men wearing scarves and drinking Cabernet at tailgates. That said, they have a lovely stadium. Scott Stadium is a pleasure. It holds 61,500 and was mostly full when I visited in 2008. It is set-up very similar to Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, though smaller and less intimidating. Like Clemson, they have a hill that fans can sit on, but unlike Clemson they actually sit. One aspect that adds a lot of personality is the line of white columns outlining the hill. It’s a beautiful venue, but it’s not an especially tough place to play.

4. Carter-Finley Stadium
North Carolina State University
2012 Average Attendance: 54,106

Nobody would call Carter-Finley the best venue in college football, but I would call it one of the most underrated. With an enrollment pushing 35,000 they have a very large and fairly raucous student section. The tailgate scene is impressive. The whole thing was alluring enough to convince Tom O’Brien to leave his position at Boston College where he was very successful and take a chance in Raleigh (SPOILER: Didn’t work out).

Between the first and second quarter of this year’s Clemson/NCSU game, they pulled of a “card stunt,” pictured below. UNC (or as they call them, UNC-Carrboro) is obviously on their mind quite often. The stunt was pretty impressive though. They also have a pass-out policy (as do some other ACC schools) where you can leave at halftime to recharge at a tailgate and return. I’ve said it before, NC State is a sleeping giant.

Photo: RyanKantor.com

 

Photo: RyanKantor.com

3. Lane Stadium
Virginia Tech
2012 Average Attendance: 65,632

Some lists made the leap to put Lane Stadium #2, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. With the third best attendance, capacity (save Miami which sometimes covers seats with tarps), and pre-game entrance, Lane Stadium deserves accolades as the third most impressive venue in the conference.

Lane Stadium has earned a reputation for being an extremely tough place to play. Nestled in the scenic mountains of Virginia, it’s altitude (2,057 ft above sea level) is the highest of any stadium in major college football. Virginia Tech tends to get into physical tussles and the crowd is in the fight with them 100%. Their blue-collar attitude, as symbolized by their “Lunch Pail Defense,” makes it all the more gritty. The outside of Lane Stadium is largely stonework which looks nice, but the inside is pretty generic. Overall, one of the better venues in all of college football, let alone the ACC.

2. Doak Campbell Stadium
Florida State University
2012 Average Attendance: 75,601

As Jimbo Fisher has revived the Seminoles, “The Doak” has regained its edge. While fans can be a bit rude and the war chant does get a shade repetitive, the tradition, pageantry, and crowd noise is top-notch. Chief Osceola’s entrance on his the horse, Renegade, and his famous spear plant is college football tradition at it’s finest. Despite its large capacity, “The Doak” is only a single-decker. The interior is nice enough, nothing to write home about, but the outside is absolutely gorgeous, quite possibly the nicest in the nation.

Photo: Seminoles.com

Photo: FSU.edu

1. Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium
Clemson University
2012 Average Attendance: 79,429

The tradition and pageantry here is unrivaled across the conference. Between the hill, the rock, and the 84,000 screaming orange-clad fans, Death Valley–as it is called–has it all. It has the highest average attendance and is widely acknowledged as the loudest in the conference. In fact, fans there set the record for the loudest decibel level in a college football game (since broken).

It’s not just a big ugly, intimidating behemoth either. The West Endzone Project has remodeled the seating opposite the famous hill to add high-end shaded seats. Luxury suites are situated between the decks and a beautiful tree is stands near the hill, adding a touch of nature and washing away the concrete jungle feel that so many large stadiums have. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of Tallahassee that wouldn’t call Death Valley the most impressive venue in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Now please watch the video below or I’ve wasted my time with this whole list.

View of West Endzone from South stands

Unlike other schools with hill seating, the East endzone pictured above is not for picnics. It is packed even with everyone standing. From this view, you can also see the tree inside the stadium.

All attendance figures are 2012 and courtesy ESPN.

Ryan Kantor is an author at Sports-Kings. He is a life-long Yankees fan and a proud Clemson alumnus, residing in North Carolina, where he works in marketing research. For more stories like this, you can visit his personal blog at RyanKantor.com and follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Kantor.





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