Conference USA’s football stadiums have played host to some the game’s most legendary contests and various historic events. From Super Bowls, to the NBA Finals and even presidential speeches, the buildings that house C-USA teams are rich with history.
How does each stadium hold up, heading into the 24th year of league play? Let’s take a look at 13 of the facilities for their positives, negatives and from various fan perspectives.
Author’s note: For the stadiums I’ve personally visited (FIU, FAU, Charlotte, Marshall), I’ll add my own notes. Additionally, ODU will not be included due to current renovations.
1. Joan C. Edwards Stadium- Huntington, WV (Marshall)
Positives: What makes “The Joan” unique is its atmosphere. From the moment you walk upon the stadium, you’re greeted with a sense of history surrounding the Marshall program and the 1970 plane crash tragedy.
The exterior of the building has been well kept in its 28 years of existence, and at 38,000 seats, it’s larger than most C-USA stadiums, but Marshall isn’t lacking in fan support.
Negatives: There isn’t much to say in the way of negatives for the stadium. Lines can be long for concessions, but that can be said about any stadium and there isn’t much around the surrounding neighborhood.
Fan Perspective: One of the most popular things noted about Joan C. Edwards is that they allow re-entry during the game.
Personally, I’d like to see more of the smaller venues allow for re-entry, so that fans can grab a bite to eat outside the stadium, if they so choose.
Fans also noted that the stadium is compact, so sight lines are great all over and some of the chairs have seat backs.
2. Apogee Stadium- Denton, TX (North Texas)
Upon arrival to Denton’s Apogee Stadium, visitors are welcomed by Pro Football Hall-of-Famer “Mean” Joe Greene’s statue, as the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler and North Texas legend played for the school from 1965-1968.
Apogee is one of the newer C-USA stadiums, opening on September 10, 2011, replacing Fouts Field which housed the Mean Green for 58 years.
Positives: At a capacity of 30,850, Apogee is an adequate enough size to entice bigger-named programs to take a visit, knowing that they could handle a visiting fanbase, yet it’s appropriately sized for a C-USA program.
Attendance has been an ebb and flow for UNT, but, when the program is winning, as they are currently during the Mason Fine-era, they have no problems filling the stadium.
With it being one of the newer facilities, the premium seating and suites are excellent, compared to other stadiums.
Negatives: The tailgate scene can be lacking, especially in comparison to the rest of the conference. Additionally, Texas (surprise) is known to be hot.
Apogee’s design doesn’t provide for much escape from the heat, and as a result attendance for early season games in September and October can suffer as a result.
Fan Perspective: Fans noted the sales of beer (as various C-USA stadiums allow) as a positive, along with the selection of over 15-plus beers for sale. Also, the student section has been filled in make up about a third of the seating and has reached in excess of 10,000 students at points during last season.
3. Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium- Bowling Green, KY (Western Kentucky)
Positives: It’s hard to think that a fanbase could make or break a stadium, but it’s been noted that the Tops fanbase are one of the most engaged and knowledgeable in the country.
Negatives: There aren’t many bells and whistles at Smith Stadium. While it probably is time for an upgrade (the last renovations took place in 2006), the stadium is certainly adequate enough to the team and fans alike.
At 22,000 seats, it is one of the smallest stadiums in FBS football. Parking can also be tricky, but because of the aforementioned small capacity, it’s not a major issue.
Fan Perspective: Tops fans noted that there isn’t a bad seat in the house for watching the action and that the atmosphere, when crowds show up, can be festive. However, the past two seasons of the Mike Sanford-era have played a part in dulling enthusiasm surrounding the program.
4. Joe Aillet Stadium- Ruston, LA (La Tech)
Positives: There have been some major upgrades done to Joe Aillet over the years. However, they were made for the football program and media members.
A new press box was completed recently and the 70,000 square foot, $22-million-dollar Davison Athletics Complex in the south endzone are great facilities.
Negatives: There’s two sets of stadiums in C-USA. Those that were built within the past 15 years and those that were built a generation ago. Joe Aillet fits in that category. It opened in 1968 and in some areas of the stadium, it shows.
Fan Perspective: As can be said for various college football stadiums, when the fans show up, the atmosphere can be downright euphoric. As long as the team is competitive, the need for certain renovations won’t be as glaring. This isn’t to say “The Joe” isn’t functional, but compared to another similar stadium in Apogee, its age shows.
5. Floyd Stadium- Murfreesboro, TN (MTSU)
Positives: The second-oldest stadium in C-USA belongs to MTSU, as Floyd Stadium was originally constructed in 1933, with a $25 million dollar renovation in 1997. Its 30,788 seats are appropriate for a C-USA program.
The facility, from the exterior and the field have been renovated and maintained over the years, so they do not look its age.
Additionally, they have 54 executive suites, which is higher than most teams in the conference. Attached to the stadium are the football facilities, which house a 10,000-square-foot weight room and academic center.
Negatives: The Blue Raiders have done their fair share of winning during the Rick Stockstill-era, however, fan support has been an ebb and flow. When it’s full, the stadium can be downright noisy, but at anything less than half-capacity, it can be the exact opposite.
Fan Perspective: Fans noted that the stadium is very compact and intimate, so when compared to other larger facilities, you don’t feel too far away from the action. Also, it’s noted how clean and well-kept Floyd Stadium is on gameday.
6. Jerry Richardson Stadium- Charlotte, NC (Charlotte)
The first thing you’re struck by upon reaching Jerry Richardson Stadium, is just how scenic the venue and surrounding area is.
Because it’s a smaller structure, the beauty of the surrounding campus can be taken in from any seat in the building. The facility is nestled away 10 minutes off of Interstate 85, just past the entrance to the university.
Unlike many venues where the fans enter at ground level, the entrances to the stadium are on a hill, which allows you to look down onto the playing surface and seats.
Quite frankly, once the stadium seating is expanded and crowds are consistent, Jerry Richardson Stadium will be one of the premier venues among G5 programs.
Positives: With the stadium being just six years old, it looks and feels like a state-of-the-art facility. The concourse and other areas for congregating are wide open, which allows for easy pathways to seating/concessions.
The tailgate scene is somewhat hard to assess, because there’s so much room around the stadium, but the fans are friendly and welcoming, should you struggle to find your way to the gates.
Additionally, there’s legitimately not a bad seat in the house and it’s a very intimate setting.
So much so, that the press box sits about seven feet high from the seats and fans have been known to “politely” welcome visiting teams coaching staff seated in the coaching box.
FIU needs a win to keep control of their own destiny. Charlotte has to win out in order to become bowl eligible. Should be a good one from Jerry Richardson stadium. #PawsUp #GoldStandard pic.twitter.com/ixVjKAcQRb— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) November 17, 2018
Negatives: As I mentioned, the stadium is somewhat tucked away and as it’s not the largest structure ever created, so believe it or not, it can actually be hard to spot from the drop-off area via public transit.
The stadium also fits the reoccurring theme of being smaller in seating and as a result, until its expanded, it may be a hard sell to bring in a premier opponent.
Fan Perspective: Cleanliness and the litany of food options were noted by fans, along with how easy it is to get in and out of the stadium for games. However, because of the layout of the stadium, the home sidelines can get very cold during the later months. (I can attest to this as well, the difference between 2 P.M. and 6 P.M. in November was at least 20 degrees.)
7. Alamodome- San Antonio, TX (UTSA)
Positives: The Alamodome was built to house a potential NFL franchise in San Antonio. As a result, it has one of the largest seating capacities in C-USA (64,000) and is a massive structure.
While it hasn’t been able to land an NFL team, the city of San Antonio hasn’t stopped keeping the facility up-to-date. They’ve invested in upgrading the locker rooms, concourses, and video boards.
Negatives: With it not being an on-campus stadium, getting students from UTSA to the dome can be an ordeal. Also, because it’s essentially a “professional” football stadium, it can lack a true college football feel.
If the stadium isn’t at least one-third to capacity, it can feel very cavernous, so you won’t hear the band or cheerleaders like you may in other CFB venues.
Fan Perspective: Even with smaller crowds, the game-day atmosphere can be very impressive because of the building and it can get loud.
Once again, because it was built with professional football in mind, and has hosted NBA Finals and NCAA basketball championships, the surrounding area for parking and tailgating is top-notch.
8. FAU Stadium- Boca Raton, FL (FAU)
What makes FAU Stadium one of the unique venues in C-USA is its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean (which is a major debate between the Owls and rival FIU) and the fact that, depending on where you are in the venue, you may have a view of the Atlantic.
At just under 30,000 seats, it’s the appropriate size for a university with an enrollment of 31,000 and a growing fanbase.
Positives: Opened in 2011, FAU Stadium is the crown-jewel of the campus at Florida Atlantic University. It’s easily accessible from either Interstate 95 or Florida’s Turnpike, which, in traffic-heavy South Florida is a major plus.
The construction of the stadium and press box provide shadow and relief from the Florida sun (depending on which side of the stadium you’re on), which can be unbearable during the earlier months of the season. Another often-overlooked feature are the seats, which all have seat-backs attached.
Negatives: With it being a newer building, there’s not a ton to complain about. As is a theme throughout this piece, the atmosphere, or lack of one, is determined by people showing up. Lane Kiffin has brought a renewed energy to the program, but the attendance has been hit or miss.
Fan Perspective: The atmosphere can be up and down, however, the students usually do a solid job of showing up. In-between 3,000-5,000 per game.
A negative is that when bigger crowds are on hand, the concessions can be very slow, which makes for a crowded concourse area.
9. M. M. Roberts Stadium- Hattiesburg, MS (Southern Miss)
Positives: “The Rock” is your standard football atmosphere. There’s no shortage of smart football fans who are engaged and are loyal to the Golden Eagles. The facility itself has undergone various renovations, with the latest of which came in 2013 (artificial turf, press box, video board).
Negatives: Outside of the reoccurring theme throughout CFB being attendance, M.M. Roberts holds up well among its conference counterparts.
Fan Perspective: The biggest thing noted from Southern Miss fans was the lack of parking near the stadium. Also, the stadium is visible throughout campus, so visiting fans won’t have any problems finding the building.
10. Riccardo Silva Stadium- Miami, FL (FIU)
South Florida is home to various multi-use facilities. “The Cage” is no different, which is the issue.
When it was built in the mid-1990’s, then FIU Community Stadium served as track facility, that had the potential to house the football program, which began play seven years later. Since then, track, college football and professional soccer have all called Riccardo Silva home.
As a result, while it’s an adequate venue for football with plans to expand, it doesn’t quite have a traditional football stadium feel.
A similar comparison would be the StubHub Center in Carson, California, which houses the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, but was built as a multi-use venue.
Positives: The stadium can easily be accessed from nearby highways and parking isn’t an issue.
Once inside, the corridors are spacious, so fans don’t have to worry about trying to maneuver through jam-packed areas. The Cage seats 20,000 (with room to expand to 23,000 if needed), so there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
The school has made efforts to put its own uniqueness on the stadium, by renovating the west endzone to be a student-only Biscayne Bay themed area, along with an Everglades theme as fans walk through the north concourse.
The school is making an effort with the in-game atmosphere. There’s very few dull moments in-between plays, with either the band, cheerleaders or an in-house DJ playing music.
However, none of those things can solve the issue below in the negatives category.
Negatives: No matter how state-of-the-art or dilapidated the facility, fan support can make or break a stadium. There’s no two ways around it. Lack of attendance hurts this venue tremendously.
The same goes for the tailgate and game-day atmosphere. Which is a shame, because RSS has the ability to be very loud when it’s even filled to half-capacity.
The fans who do show up are passionate, and do the best they can. Certain areas of the stadium will have to be addressed in the near future to keep up with newer C-USA stadiums.
Fan Perspective: Panther fans are seemingly split on the stadium.
There are those, who feel that the emphasis should be on creating more of a game-day atmosphere, to entice crowds to come. Then, there’s others, who feel that the focus should be on enhancing the stadium itself.
11. Sun Bowl- El Paso, TX (UTEP)
Positives: El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium is one of the most unique settings in all of sports. Overlooking the Mexican border on the southern end of the UTEP campus, the stadium was built in 1963 and its current capacity sits 51,000.
For better or worse, this will be the home of Miner football. So with it being an older facility, renovations are in order.
The latest of which were scheduled to be complete in time for this season, however, the timeline now has it being completed by the same time next year.
Despite being on the larger side of C-USA stadiums, sight lines are excellent and the exterior of the stadium has been well kept.
Also, the stadium is one of the few in CFB, that’s open to the public. Locals have been known to go for a jog in the afternoon, given the access.
Negatives: It comes down to fans when creating a great game-day atmosphere. The program has seen better days under former head coach Mike Price, but during the current rebuild, the Sun Bowl is mostly empty for Miner games.
There isn’t much in terms of a surrounding neighborhood, but that can’t be held too harshly, as few stadiums can say they sit on the border of another country.
Fan Perspective: Most noted by fans were the bench seating instead of actual seats and that when the stadium is full, parking can be a hassle.
12. Rice Stadium- Houston, TX (Rice)
Positives: Rice Stadium has tremendous history. The 69-year-old stadium was the original host to the Houston Oliers, Super Bowl VIII and even former president John F. Kennedy in 1962.
Fast forward to today and the biggest thing the stadium has going for it is that it’s an on-campus facility. The seats lie close to the field, unlike other stadiums near its size (47,000) and there are plans to try and bring the aging building up-to-par with its newer counterparts.
Negatives: 47,000 seats are just way too much than the Owls need on a week-to-week basis. In the near future, that will need to be addressed and is something that is being talked about. Renovations to various spectator areas and the press box are in order as well.
Fan Perspective: Because of the lack of crowds, fans can get down close to the action and it’s a great seat no matter where you sit.
However, a myriad of things need to be addressed. Starting with the premium seating areas (or lack thereof), restrooms, and widening the concourses.
13. Legion Field- Birmingham, AL (UAB)
Positives: Since the return of UAB football, the fans have been tremendous. Both, in their support of the program and on game-days surrounding Legion Field, creating a noticeable tailgate environment.
However, the facts are the facts. Legion Field is a historic stadium, that has hosted many Iron Bowl contests and bowl games. But in 2019, it’s an outdated facility, that the Blazers will be best served by leaving for the new home, scheduled to be completed in 2020.
Negatives: In being fair to Legion Field, I’ll start with the biggest negative, which is the fact that it’s an off-campus facility.
That always puts a program at a disadvantage when drawing fan support. It’s a massive stadium. At its peak, it seated over 83,000, and currently has a capacity of 72,000.
Fan Perspective: The building has an outdated feel from the moment you walk up. It’s definitely one of the last of its kind from that era, and as a result, it has a very sterile feel to it.
That isn’t helped the stadium only being half-full, at best. Which isn’t a slight on the fans, there’s just no way that UAB is going to fill over 70-thousand seats.