Is Bigger Better?

One thing about being in the Southeastern Conference is that week-in and week-out you are going to be in a nice football stadium. Although SEC teams play a few out-of-conference games on the road, in most seasons the three or four non-conference games and four of the eight SEC games are in the home stadium and there are four trips to other SEC stadiums.

I'll admit to a prejudice that makes me rank Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama as second to none in the SEC and as good as any in the nation. I have probably been to more stadiums than at least 99 per cent of those who read this, but I have sat in the stands of those arenas fewer than that same 99 per cent. I have not been in the stands for a college football game since the final regular season game of 1967, when Kenny Stabler ran through the mud for a game-winning touchdown against Auburn in Birmingham's Legion Field.

On September 2, Alabama will open the 2006 season hosting Hawaii in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The arena will almost certainly be filled to capacity, some 92,138 in the seats, including those in 121 luxury skyboxes and those in the attractive new club level. There will be more than that with journalists and broadcasters and ushers and concessions workers, et al, who do not count in tickets but who will be figured into the final capacity.

At 92,138, Bryant-Denny will be the sixth-largest stadium in college football. But it is about more than size. The stadium is also getting a summer facelift, painting and sprucing up. There are five new elevators and new rest rooms and concessions areas. Even the players benefit from a new lockerroom in the revamped North end zone. And visiting teams will be in the old Alabama lockerroom, meaning most visiting players will be in a larger, nicer dressing room than the one they have for their home games.

Although sizes vary from Tennessee's 104,079 (third largest in the nation) to Vanderbilt's 41,203, the SEC has very attractive football homes. The exception is Vandy. Even relatively small stadiums at Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have their charm. The large stadiums are all excellent.

Speaking of Tennessee, Alabama could have added seats with a paintbrush, but Crimson Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore elected to keep seats the same size, even in the new visitors' bleachers high in the North end zone. Moore recognizes the reality of alumni butts.

Will Alabama expand again? The South end zone presents a problem, but it is likely that Bryant-Denny will eventually close that end with a limited number of seats, almost certainly the majority in skyboxes. The reality is that skyboxes are in great demand and produce great revenue. And as long as football is having to pay the bills for most other sports, revenue production has to rank high in expansion plans.

The South end is currently dominated by the JumboTron. Beginning this fall, Bryant-Denny will also have two new large video boards in the Northeast and Northwest corners. Also, four-foot high ribbons of message boards will span the lengths of the East and West sides, some 420 feet long, the longest in any college stadium.

Although it doesn't affect capacity, a major addition to the stadium is its new presence on University Boulevard. A plaza area will stretch from the new end zone addition to the main street through campus.

Michigan has the largest stadium with 107,501 cramped seats. Penn State has more generous fanny room and 107,282 seats. After Tennessee's Neyland Stadium is Ohio Stadium on the campus of Ohio State with 101,568.

Ohio State and Texas A&M are about to up the ante, according to various reports. Ohio State has committed to an expansion that will take four years and cost $250 million and take capacity beginning in 2010 to approximately 126,000. Texas A&M has also talked of expanding Kyle Field to the 125,000 range. The Aggies are currently in a stadium that seats 82,600, just behind where Bryant-Denny was before the current expansion.

The current top ten in stadium capacity: 1. Michigan, 2. Penn State, 3. Tennessee, 4. Ohio State, 5. Georgia (Sanford Stadum 92,746), 6. Alabama, 7. USC (Los Angeles Coliseum, 92,000), 8. LSU (91,600), 9. UCLA (Rose Bowl, 91,136), 10. Clemson (Memorial Stadium, 86,400).

But consider the world's largest football stadium: Rungnado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, 150,000, for the brand of football we know as soccer.

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