All the Way Home

This isn't professional sports that we're covering here. New stadia don't pop up every year in the Big Ten. Yes, most of our football palaces undergo face-lifts from time to time. In fact, Indiana's Memorial Stadium is completing hers next month. Michigan's Big House is scheduled to be done by the 2010 opener.

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But a new stadium? That just doesn't happen that often. In fact, when the Golden Gophers open TCF Bank Stadium with a game against the Air Force on September 12, 2009, it will be the first new stadium in the Big Ten since...Do you know? Answer's after the jump.

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The last new Big Ten Stadium was the Metrodome.  Minnesota started calling the dome "home" with a 57-7 win over Ohio on September 11, 1982.  It would take more than two years before the Gophers would win a Big Ten game in the Dome, finally beating a winless Indiana squad 33-24 on October 6, 1984.

As Minnesota follows through the on Big Ten's LIFO stadium accounting principle, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at TCF Bank Stadium (have the Gopher fans agreed on a nickname yet?) and see just what the Gophers, their opponents, and their fans are in for.

I. Play of the Game

A. Surface

The Gophers are installing Field Turf as the playing surface at TCF Bank Stadium. This season will see seven Big Ten teams playing their home games on Field Turf (Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin will also play home games on the stuff). Minnesota AD Joel Maturi stated "when we selected the field for TCF Bank Stadium, our goal was to install the best possible playing surface for our student-athletes." I'm not questioning the quality of the synthetic grass, but I'm still looking for the AD who says that they decided against the best surface. "Well, we looked at that Field Turf stuff, but we thought it would toughen our players up if we just rolled this old Brady Bunch carpet out over asphalt." The Gophers should be familiar with the turf; it's what the Metrodome had last year.

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I haven't figured out what the 'W' in the middle of the Field Turf stands for on this artist's rendering.

B. Wind/Orientation

It will take a season or two of field goals and punts before we can really know just how the wind will affect game play. This much is certain, though - there will be more wind than in the Dome.

One aesthetic choice that Minnesota made may have some impact on games. The stadium is positioned with an East endzone and a West endzone. This is different than every other Big Ten stadia (all of which run North-South). Also, Minnesota left open the West endzone.

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You'll notice the giant open space to the left of the scoreboard.

This design, and the lack of any Western facade to the stadium, allows a view of downtown Minneapolis from the stadium. That's great, but here are my questions:

  1. Will this create a wind tunnel effect, as the Fall Minnesota wind blows in from the West?
  2. If Minnesota is playing an 2:30 PM CST game on a sunny November Saturday, where is the sun going to be for the first two hours of the game? Will a QB driving west be blinded as he looks for his receivers? Will WRs heading East be able to pick up the ball as they turn around in their hook routes?
  3. Has Minnesota built a stadium where calling a side of the field is more important than calling possession on the coin toss?  

C. Temperature

Let's be clear about this: it was 72 degrees on the field during Minnesota's final home game last year. It may be 72 degrees for this year's home opener, but it won't be when the Gophers close out their home schedule on November 14, 2009 against South Dakota State.

But will it be that cold outside in The Cities? Will it be that different than the other Big Ten stadia? Let's go to the averages...

City September High September Low October High October Low November High November Low
Evanston 76 57 64 46 48 35
Iowa City 78 56 66 44 48 31
East Lansing 72 49 60 39 46 30
Madison 74 47 62 36 46 25
Minneapolis 71 51 58 39 40 25

If you assume that you'll get those monthly average highs for the afternoon games, it will be colder - but not by that much - in Minneapolis. It's on the extremes where some crazy temperatures can happen. For example, on November 14th, the record low temperature is -2 degrees. OK, you're thinking, but that was likely recorded at night.  True enough.  The lowest daily high temperature ever recorded was 12 degrees. Think about that. 11 AM kickoff temperature for the Gophers and Jackrabbits is 12 degrees. And then the temperature starts dropping. Let's just say that Coach Brewster shouldn't bring the recruits from Florida to that game.   

D. Precipitation

There is nothing cooler than football games in the snow. There is nothing cooler than football in the snow. Even the ESSSS  EEEEE  SEEEEE agrees, there is nothing cooler than football in the snow.

And let's be honest, when you heard that Minnesota was heading outdoors, the first thing you thought was, "I hope it snows." Here's the sad truth...November is not a wet month in Minnesota. Yes, there are snow storms that occur, but most of the snow will fall between December and February. In fact, Minneapolis gets less precipitation than every other Big Ten city in the month of November. The good news is that when the precipitation does fall, there is a better chance that it will be cold enough for snow. The takeaway: don't count on a yearly Gopher Snow Bowl. It will happen some years, but it won't be an annual event.

II. Player Amenities

A. Locker Rooms

I will admit that I have never set foot in one of the Big Ten stadia's locker rooms. So when Minnesota players brag that this will be the best locker room in the conference country, I can neither confirm nor deny their statement. I will say this, the home locker room looks huge in the virtual tour.

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B. Offices

 

Coach Brewster has an office (and private bath). The assistant coaches share an office. The band has an entire wing of the stadium for their own (under the NE corner of the stadium). This includes a gigantic practice room, locker rooms and several smaller rooms. There is also a separate room for recruits and their families.

C. Recruiting

This can only boost recruiting. One thing that I haven't mentioned yet, this stadium is on campus -- no more shuttles downtown to the Metrodome. That's a nice selling point for the Gophers to win hearts and minds. The recruiting room, a place for high school athletes and their families to gather during games is a big addition as well. It is next to the locker room, and will allow the Coach to talk to his recruits immediately before or after he talks to his team. That's huge. The Minnesota student paper compared it to their previous arrangement in the Metrodome.

Yet another advantage for Tim Brewster, something he said he is very excited about is the recruiting room being built near the locker room. It will play host to recruits and their families on game days where they’ll be fed and hear some words from Brewster before and after the game.

At the Metrodome, the Gophers were at a large recruiting disadvantage as they used a tent located outside the Dome to host recruits.

They were putting recruits outside in tents...in Minnesota...in November. Wow.

 

III. Fan Experience

A. Weather

My guess is that within the next five years, Gopher fans will see games in 90+ degree heat, sub-freezing cold, early-Fall rains, late-Fall snows, and crisp 50 degree October afternoons. In three years in Iowa City, I watched a game in each of those, and I loved them all. The beauty of Midwestern football - something that the South can't replicate - is the way that the experience changes throughout the season.  The weather causes a lot of that. I have a feeling that after twenty-seven climate-controlled years, the Gopher fans will appreciate it every bit as much as I did.

B. Boxes

Here's where the college stadium gives way to pro-style money making. The south side of the stadium will have outdoor club seats, indoor club seats, loge boxes, and private suites. There is also a "DQ Club Room" so that the customers in the expensive seats can socialize.  

A drawback for the fat cats...last month the University banned the sale of alcohol anywhere in the stadium (essentially because the legislature made the University do it). The initial plan was to only allow alcohol for the premium seats. Minnesota is too egalitarian for that...

C. Food/Amenities

Aramark will be the food provider for the stadium. I haven't found much about this. My assumption is that it will be standard stadium fare (and a bit nicer for the boxes). The concourses will be about double the size of the Metrodome. That will make for easier walks to and from the No-Tell Motel bathrooms. There will also be plenty of places to buy your assorted Gopher memorabilia and sweatshirts.

D. Watching the Game

Isn't this what maters most? The seats start 15 feet closer to the field than the Metrodome. It's something that you can notice in the pictures. I don't know that if it will feel like the fans are right on top of the field (I don't think that they'll be as close as Kinnick, which has the narrowest sidelines in the Big Ten), but it may help increase fan volume heard on the field.

Something that I look forward to seeing is whether the stadium holds noise. The stadium seems very spread and open. That is wonderful for sight lines. It also tends to allow noise to go up and out. That will be a big change after having the roof to keep the noise in.

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The student section and band area look to be very close.

The stadium will hold just over 50,000 fans - making it the second smallest stadium in the Big Ten (Northwestern checks in at 49,200).  The Gophers designed the stadium for easy expansion.  Filling in the West endzone will put the stadium near 80,000 seats.  So, if this is the dawn of the next golden era of Golden Gopher football, there will be the opportunity to grow.  As it is, I think the athletic department is hoping to sell out the stadium and create some demand for seats.  That is something that never happened in the Metrodome -- unless the opponent created that demand.

IV. The Rivalry, Esq. Notes

I'm excited about the opening. As a Hawkeye fan, it's easy to take potshots at the small size. But let's face it, the dome was a horrible place for college football. TCF Bank Stadium looks to be a great place for the Gophers. This should be a huge step forward for Minnesota football. If I lived closer, I would make the effort to see a game there this year. And by next year, you'll even be able to play a game in the stadium on NCAA 2011.

Big Ten Stadia Openings
November 3, 1917 Wisconsin Camp Randall Stadium
October 7, 1922 Ohio State Ohio Stadium
October 6, 1923 Michigan State Spartan Stadium
November 3, 1923 Illinois Memorial Stadium
November 22, 1924 Purdue Ross-Ade Stadium
October 7, 1926 Northwestern Dyche Stadium (Ryan Field)
October 1, 1927 Michigan Michigan Stadium
October 5, 1929 Iowa Kinnick Stadium
September 17, 1960 Penn State Beaver Stadium
October 8, 1960 Indiana Memorial Stadium
September 12, 2009 Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium
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