What we know as the arms race in the Southeastern Conference is far more than stadiums and arenas, but to understand why there is such a race, we first have to take a look at the football stadiums and basketball arenas. From a football standpoint, the SEC takes a backseat to no one in terms of fine football stadiums. You might be surprised as well at the quality of basketball arenas.
We’ll graduate to practice facilities, dorms, etc. for football and basketball tomorrow and then Friday take a look at the minor sports venues and rank the entire league top to bottom in overall sports facilities.
The football stadiums:
Alabama (101,821): The stadium is as big as it’s going to be. There is no more room to expand but demand for tickets far exceeds capacity and that means ticket prices will go through the roof. As long as Nick Saban has Alabama winning like it has since 2008 (112-13 record) no one will complain. The stadium holds noise extremely well and is quite intimidating and the recruiting room is best in the SEC.
Arkansas (72,000): Reynolds Stadium is in the midst of a $160 million facelift that will raise capacity to 76,800 and will include completely renovated luxury boxes. The eyesore that is the north end zone will get a double deck and luxury boxes on top. The north end zone will also include a recruiting room and a few other amenities.
Auburn (87,451): From the standpoint of fans, this is probably the best place to actually see a football game in the SEC. It’s got great sightlines and there are fewer bad seats than any stadium in the SEC. Auburn has resisted the urge to match Alabama seat-for-seat, instead pouring its money into making the stadium more fan friendly than increasing capacity.
Florida (88,548): The urge to expand is curtailed by Florida Gym’s presence on the National Register of Historical Places. So the only place to expand (East stands) will remain as they are and capacity will remain the same. There have been renovations that have made it more fan friendly. Nothing has to be done to make it more intimidating for opponents however. The stadium playing surface is 30 feet below street level and the tall, steep stands hold the noise in so well. Other than LSU, there is no louder place to play in college football.
Georgia (92,746): Other than Auburn, Sanford Stadium has the best sight lines of any SEC stadium. It’s a gorgeous setting and it doesn’t hurt that the bulk of the fan base is just an hour away in Atlanta. The hedges that surround the field make Sanford one of the classic venues in college football. This is one of the reasons Georgia recruits so well.
Kentucky (61,000): UK spent $120 million on Commonwealth Stadium, downsizing by 6,000 seats but coming up with a more fan friendly and more booster friendly stadium in doing so. Among the renovations was a new recruiting room that the UK coaches swear has dramatically improved their ability to lure better talent to Lexington.
LSU (102,321): Tiger Stadium is known as Death Valley but the Tigers haven’t exactly defended the home turf quite as well in the last 3-4 years. Still, it’s a formidable place to play and has one of the greatest game day atmospheres in all of college football. When the Tigers are playing well and the fans have had all day to consume adult beverages, this is the loudest place to play in the country.
Mississippi State (61,337): The current stadium began as Scott Field 102 years ago. It has undergone constant expansion and renovation over the last 30 years and there are thoughts of turning it into a complete bowl by filling in the south end zone and raising capacity to 70,000. Now that Dan Mullen has the Bulldogs winning this is considered a serious home field advantage.
Missouri (71,168): The stadium expanded to its current capacity in 2014 and there are plans to increase by at least another 4,000 seas. The stadium is on the site of old Memorial Stadium, which first opened its doors in 1926. The place lacks SEC atmosphere.
Ole Miss (64,038): Vaught Hemingway Stadium was turned into a bowl with the expansion of the south end zone. This was part of a $200 million campaign to upgrade all facilities that included the building of the new basketball arena and substantial upgrades to the football stadium. The stadium sits on the same site as the original football stadium from 100 years ago, but the current foundation of the east and west stands was set in 1941. Game day in The Grove is worth the trip to Oxford.
South Carolina (80,250): There was some talk about decking the north end zone, but that idea was ditched in favor of making it more fan friendly. This stadium has come a long, long way from the 40,000-seat fire trap it once was at the Fairgrounds. South Carolina fans routinely sell the place out and give the Gamecocks a home field advantage they didn’t have for years and years.
Tennessee (102,455): Tennessee has undergone a 3-step renovation of Neyland that has actually reduced the capacity to the current 102,455. Located across the street from the Tennessee River, Neyland is one of the more scenic stadiums in the country. Game day atmosphere is one of the best in college football.
Texas A&M (102,733): They say no one has more money than the Aggies other than God and the Longhorns. Kyle Field is living proof. The Aggies built a brand new stadium from the ground up in two years without ever having to lose a game to construction. Cost was $450 million paid in cash. Old rickety Kyle Field was replaced by the best stadium in the SEC. The new ball yard is an absolute palace. If the Aggies ever decide to win big, this place will really be intimidating.
Vanderbilt (40,550): It’s the smallest stadium in the SEC and would rarely be more than half-filled if not for the fact it’s in Nashville and opposing SEC fans are happy to snap up cheap seats and spend a weekend in Music City. More than any team in the SEC Vandy needs a home field advantage, but Vanderbilt Stadium offers very little help and that helps kill recruiting.
How I rate the stadiums (capacity, fan friendly, amenities, home field advantage):
1. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
10. Ole Miss
11. Mississippi State
The basketball arenas:
Alabama (15,383): They’ve renovated Coleman Coliseum but they can’t change the fact they’ve got a 15,000-seat dinosaur on their hands. What they really need is a brand new arena but that’s not going to happen.
Arkansas (19,200): In terms of fan friendliness, sightlines, noise level, home court advantage and capacity, Bud Walton is one of the top five arenas in all of college basketball, bought and paid for by those friendly folks at Walmart which is headquartered just up the road from Fayetteville.
Auburn (9,121): This is a marvelous arena with great sightlines and no seat more than 43 feet from the court. Auburn elected to downsize by about 1,500 seats when the old Auburn Arena was ditched in favor of this new building. It has the intimacy of a high school gym and could be a ferocious home court advantage if Auburn could start winning games.
Florida (10,500): The old plastic, cheap looking O-Dome is no longer after a gut job that has turned the place into one that Mike White isn’t embarrassed to bring recruits to anymore. The old arena was dingy and poorly lit. The new arena uses LED lighting and is up to NBA standards. You can actually get to a concession stand without a fight. The nose bleed is still the nose bleed but there is luxury seating and the cheap plastic seats have been replaced by wider, comfortable seats. Capacity was reduced to 10,500 but it’s still deafening when the Gators get it going.
Georgia (10,523): The Atlanta area annually produces some of the best talent in the country but it’s rare when one of Atlanta’s best signs with Georgia. The reason is simple. Stegman Coliseum is an outmoded dump, the second oldest arena in the SEC. It’s not the kind of place kids want to go play and it’s killing Mark Fox in recruiting. They’ve done some renovation but it’s like putting a necktie on a pig. All they have is a pig wearing a necktie.
Kentucky (23,500): There was a lot of talk about building a 35,000-seat on campus arena that would be the largest in college basketball but that idea fizzled. Rupp Arena has had some renovation work done in 2014 and again in 2015 so it’s where the Wildcats are going to be for a few more years but demand far exceeds capacity and you have to wonder how long that revenue stream will be ignored?
LSU (13,215): They’ve cut the capacity and tried to upgrade it, but this is an arena that needs a complete makeover. The last renovation (2005-06) just didn’t cut it. It’s quite the home court advantage when the Tigers have a well coached team (pretty rare these days) and fill The Maravich Center but the large number of empty seats only exposes that LSU needs to do to Maravich what Florida did to the O-Dome. Either that or build a brand new building. If this were football what do you think they would do?
Mississippi State (10,575): No arena in the SEC has undergone more renovations than The Hump. It’s not a bad place to play ball, just not up to the standards of the rest of the SEC. If Ben Howland can get the Bulldogs winning the way they did when Rick Stansbury was the coach, it could turn into a decent home court advantage again.
Missouri (15,061): This is a great arena and when the Tigers are playing well (haven’t since Frank Haith essentially gutted the program) the student group called The Antlers can make life hell for visiting teams. When the Tigers are playing poorly, the atmosphere totally sucks.
Ole Miss (9,500): The Tad Pad is a thing of the past and now the Rebels play in the palatial new Pavilion, built by the same people who built Auburn Arena only this one has more bells and whistles. We’ll have to wait and see if a new arena can help Andy Kennedy convince those talented Memphis kids to play college ball an hour away.
South Carolina (18,000): Now that Frank Martin has South Carolina winning, the crowds are filling the place and making it a legitimate home court advantage. They don’t need that old hippie jumping up and down on the aluminum of the retractable stands to get people screaming “Defense!” anymore. There are nice sightlines, luxury boxes and club seating. Colonial Life Arena replaced the old McGuire Arena, capacity 14,000.
Tennessee (21,768): When Tennessee originally built Thompson-Boling Arena the idea was a bigger arena than Rupp. Problem was the Vols hardly ever sold it out. So they downsized and upgraded everything. It doesn’t seat as many as Rupp but it has much better amenities such as outstanding luxury boxes.
Texas A&M (12,989): The arena is 18 years old and doesn’t need any renovation. Until the Aggies start winning big there isn’t tremendous demand for tickets or substantial upgrades. Still, it’s not a bad place to play.
Vanderbilt (14,126): Memorial Gym is famous for team benches on opposite ends of the court. Opposing coaches hate it and the SEC should step in and make Vandy do some renovation. That would mean maybe losing some of the seats that would actually fall below the elevated arena but Vandy so rarely sells out they wouldn’t be missed. As a home court, it’s a big time advantage, therefore, Vandy resists renovating.
How I rate the arenas:
4. Ole Miss
6. South Carolina
10. Texas A&M
13. Mississippi State
If #3 Gonzaga can win Thursday night at San Diego and then Saturday night at Pepperdine, the Zags will be #1 when the polls are released next week. That’s a no brainer because #1 Villanova, #2 Kansas and #4 Kentucky all lost on the road Tuesday night. Nova was taken down 74-72 by Marquette, Kansas was blown away by #18 West Virginia 85-69, and Kentucky lost to Tennessee in Knoxville 82-80.
Michigan has become the first college football program to pay three assistants $1 million. Defensive coordinator Don Brown, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton will each make $1 million in 2016 with incentives that could raise their pay quite a bit.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney warns that NFL teams that pass on QB Deshaun Watson are going to feel like the NBA teams that let Michael Jordan slip to the #3 selection in 1984. Houston took Hakeem Olajuwon with the first pick while the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie.
Ben Roethlisberger will not commit to coming back to play in 2017. The Pittsburgh Steelers QB says he “will consider all options” including retirement.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are the best SEC football stadiums other than Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that you’ve been to in person?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
After listening earlier in the day to Sea Level’s “On the Edge” album from 1978 I did a search and came up with this live concert from 1977 from the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. The band was an offshoot of the Allman Brothers after the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley formed by keyboardist Chuck Leavell, drummer Jaimoe and bassist Lamar Williams.