What better thing to rank than the 13 homes of the MACtion that we enjoy so much? The stadiums, and the very environment they help create, are at the very heart of the college football experience. While the venues of the Mid-American Conference are not the cathedrals located in places like Ann Arbor or Columbus, our fields of glory have a charm all of their own.
It's college football without all of the bells and whistles and ricketa-racketa that is really unnecessary. And even though you aren't part of a six-figure crowd, it can be an intimate environment, and you know how passionate your fellow MAC fans are going to be.
Now, before we get on with the rankings, here is a quick note about this set. We cooked up this list using the two criteria that are most important -- attendance and wins. If your stadium isn't bringing in people and thus helping your team win more, what good is it? Besides, criteria like parking, concessions and beauty are all very subjective. Also, they could be lists of their own.
On with the list!
13. Rynearson Stadium (Eastern Michigan University) -- This is pretty easy. Even if the stadium is okay to look at, experience is big, and there's no experience to be had at an empty place. The Eagles have won just one-third of their home games over the last ten years and are dead last in the league for attendance. According to the NCAA, EMU has averaged fewer than 7,500 fans per game in four of the last eight seasons. Unfortunately, this trend is getting worse -- they've managed this feat in three of the last four, including both 2011 and 2012. Their total attendance in the last eight years is just over 365,000, which is nearly 150,000 below the next closes MAC school. Rynearson is in the middle of the pack for MAC venues in terms of age, and it is as good as any other for watching football. Unfortunately, EMU has a terrible combo going -- they don't win and Ypsilanti is right next to Ann Arbor.
12. Gillette Stadium (University of Massachusetts) -- UMass is renovating their "real" home stadium, McGuirk Alumni Stadium, so that should explain the move to the home of the NFL's New England Patriots. That home, by the way, isn't exactly close to campus. The Minutemen played at Gillette full-time last year and will do that again this year. Inexplicably, they'll split home games between campus and Gillette from 2014-2016. Why? At McGuirk, they have a .697 winning percentage all-time. They're 0-5 at the Patriots' palace. I'd guess that part of that might just have to do with the crowd. On campus, they generally do a good job drawing fans and filling seats. At Gillette, they're playing in what amounts to a canyon. Three of every four seats (if they're lucky) are empty. I get the one-off games that MAC teams play at big stadiums, but to do it multiple times for several years in a row is nuts. On Sundays, Gillette is one of the best venues in the country. When UMass is playing there, it's just embarrassing.
11. Dix Stadium (Kent State University) -- Does Dix Stadium draw fans? Absolutely, when the Golden Flashes are winning. Over the last decade, they have seen many more fans come through the turnstiles as their fortunes have improved and become more consistent. In 2012, KSU drew just shy of 90,000 fans, and I fully expect that number to jump as people flock to see Dri Archer play. However, on a long-term basis, wins and attendance still lag behind most other MAC schools, so that's why the Flashes are here. As with EMU, Kent State is in the middle of the pack in terms of stadium age, and they've done a good job in doing some recent renovations (as have most MAC schools). But don't worry about the ranking; this program appears to be on the rise, and next year, Dix may deserve a bump.
10. Scheumann Stadium (Ball State University) -- The Cardinals have produced some really up and down seasons in recent years at Scheumann Stadium, but none more magical than the 12-2 campaign in 2008 that saw over 115,000 fans visit Ball State's home field. With Keith Wenning at the helm in 2013, this could be another magical year for the redbirds, but it will take a few more really good seasons for Scheumann Stadium to crack the block of better venues ahead of it. One thing of note here: Ball State has one of the smallest stadium capacities in the MAC, and that helped the Cardinals have their stadium packed for every home game in 2008. If this were a one-year ranking off of that season, Scheumann would be my #1.
9. InfoCision Stadium (University of Akron) -- From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Akron's new house of pain is probably the best-looking one in the conference. Even with a capacity of just 30,000, the Zips really tried to set themselves apart. While virtually every other MAC school was busy renovating a decades-old facility, they built something entirely new. It is the youngest stadium in the league by 16 years. Honestly, that bought them some points for this list. Attendance also wasn't bad in the first three years, with the per-game average running about half of capacity. For a team that wins as little as the Zips, that's not bad. Unfortunately, that's true -- they rarely win, and attendance dropped by nearly 50% from 2011 to 2012. Akron averaged fewer than 10,000 fans at their new home last season. To their credit, when Akron does win, they do it at home. They are 6-18 at InfoCision in the stadium's five-year history. A winning percentage of .250 might not sound like much, but those six wins are it for Akron since 2009.
8. University of Buffalo Stadium (University of Buffalo) -- The Bulls actually had the youngest stadium in the MAC until Akron opened InfoCision. Now, they have a facility that is over twenty years old and looks like any other home of the MACtion. One thing that sets Buffalo's stadium apart from others in the MAC is the track that surrounds the field. While I didn't devalue them in this list for that, I believe that hurts the intimacy value. It keeps fans away from the field and thus away from the action. It also makes the stadium more open and prone to weather issues, especially wind. And there's no shortage of weather in Buffalo. However, as with Kent State, Buffalo seems to be a program on the rise. They've had some great seasons in recent years, and attendance has increased quite a bit as a result. With some of the best returning players in the MAC at the Bulls' disposal, fans should have plenty of reasons to go to UB Stadium in 2013. Well, except for the fact that the last home game isn't at UB Stadium. That one is at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
7. Yager Stadium (Miami University) -- Alright, now we are getting into some of the more iconic stadiums in the MAC. The Redhawks average about 15-16,000 fans out of a capacity of 24,000 per game, and they win more than half of their ball games at home. Over the last ten years, they've won 29 of 52 games. In Yager's 29 previous seasons, the stadium has provided Miami with 83 wins and just 54 losses. That is very good. In renovations over the last 15 years, Miami actually reduced capacity. In the process, they made the stadium look better and created a better overall experience. Fans are closer together, and the place is noticeably louder. Miami's in a down time right now, but people never seem to need RedHawk wins to be drawn to Yager Stadium, and I would expect that to continue in 2013.
6. Doyt L. Perry Stadium (Bowling Green State University) -- This is the stadium and fan base that I am probably most familiar with. Like Miami, the Falcons have had moderate success at home over the last decade. And like Miami at Yager, they have won well over 60 percent of their home games in Perry Stadium history. MU and BGSU are also very, very similar in attendance -- fan numbers at the Doyt are very stable over the last decade. So why do I have BGSU ahead in the rankings? The Falcons have just had better numbers over the last two seasons, and that should be no different in 2013. Bowling Green starts the season with a huge game against Conference USA stalwart Tulsa and has another huge home game against Ohio. Then comes the game against Toledo. If both teams are as good as their potential suggests, the Battle of I-75 this year could be one of the most intense for fan experience in the entire history of the series. Better have your ticket for that one early; a sellout is almost guaranteed.
5. Kelly/Shorts Stadium (Central Michigan Stadium) -- The Chips are in the MAC's top five for attendance, and they win a bunch at home. Obviously, they ought to be in this list's top five. CMU was also able to get Michigan State to come play in Mount Pleasant. I know that MAC teams can occasionally get the "bad" Big Ten schools to come to campus -- teams like Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana. But Michigan State? That ought to merit a first-place vote for this list by itself. Could they work that magic with Michigan or even Ohio State? Yeah, good luck with that...but I suppose if Kelly/Shorts can host the Spartans, anything is possible.
T-3. Peden Stadium (Ohio University) -- The MAC's oldest stadium is entering it's 85th year in 2013, and you can rest assured that fans will continue pouring into the venerable facility. Ohio is the only MAC school to achieve six-figure attendance in each of the last four years and for good reason -- they don't lose at home. Over the last ten yeas, the Bobcats are 37-19 at Peden Stadium. Okay, they lose, but much less often than they win. I've read that the goal was to make Peden the "Wrigley Field" of college football. That sounds like a good marketing ploy to me. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a guy like Frank Solich patrolling the sidelines. Or to have a quarterback like Tyler Tettleton. Or a running back like Beau Blankenship. Actually, why wouldn't people want to go to Peden Stadium? That's why it's top-three.
T-3. Waldo Stadium (Western Michigan University) -- Unlike with BGSU and Miami, I split the difference with Ohio and Western Michigan. Their won-loss record at home over the last decade is nearly identical, and the Broncos' attendance is not appreciably lower (although they do have a higher capacity). It appears that WMU has tried to go for a newer look with their renovations to Waldo Stadium, in contrast to how Ohio has maintained their home field. Not making a judgement -- just an observation. You can see that contrast of new versus old in how the two programs approach style of play. Tied with Ohio or not, however, the Broncos clearly belong in this part of the list. Waldo Stadium is one difficult place for opponents to play.
2. Glass Bowl (University of Toledo) -- Even on the other side of the I-75 rivalry, I don't have any problem saying that the Glass Bowl is one of the best places to watch a football game in the MAC. Or even outside the MAC, it really doesn't matter. Fans flock there in numbers that no other MAC school can match over the last eight years. UT has welcomed over 100,000 fans seven times in eight years and has averaged 20,000 per game in four of those seasons. Those numbers come despite a stadium capacity of just over 26,000. If you think that packing fans in like that would lead to an electric atmosphere, you would be correct. And boy, does that lead to wins. The Rockets have 41 home victories over the last ten years. Averaging four wins per year at home in the MAC will go a long, long, long way to getting you to a bowl game. Will any of that change this year? Nope, and just wait until Northern Illinois visits at the end of November.
1. Huskie Stadium (Northern Illinois University) -- Now, for all that I just said about the Glass Bowl, Huskie Stadium has just been a little bit better. NIU is number one in the MAC for attendance, with nearly one million fans over the last eight years. That includes 146,139 in 2012 and 150,819 in 2007, which are the two best yearly figures in the MAC since 2005 -- by over 13,000 fans. Of course, NIU has managed this fan bonanza with good reason. They win. Since 2000, the Huskies have won at least six games in every season except 2007. In the last three seasons, they are 34-8 overall and 23-1 in MAC games. Did I happen to mention that they went to the Orange Bowl in 2012 and that they're the favorites to win the MAC in 2013? Right now, Huskie Stadium is the best home-field advantage in the MAC. Teams don't want to go to DeKalb, and when I think of "best stadium", that's what it is all about.
The best stadiums have a packed house that cheers their team to victory every week. In that regard, NIU is the clear king of the MAC.