Ivy League stadium rankings

Here we are in the 9th Month of Covid and there was a glimmer of hope for me to get back to a quasi-normal stadium experience as I was eying a neutral-site championship game for Pennsylvania High School football. Alas, capacity restrictions, potential cancellations and virus surges have kept me from heading to one of the 10,000-seat stadiums in Erie, Altoona and Bethlehem. I’ve resigned to the reality that Spring will be the earliest that I could get close to a normal sports stadium return. Again, I fully understand this is first-world problems and I certainly hope for the best and everyone to be healthy.

So to pass the time, let’s take a look at Ivy League Football. Last November, I completed a trip to each stadium and I thought it would be fun to take a look at how each school ranks when it comes to visiting for a game. For more details as to how each aspect is ranked, check out the details here at the bottom of the page. We’ll begin an overview (out of 100 points) and then break down each category. Enjoy!

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Overall Stadium Experience

  1. Dartmouth – 65
  2. Harvard – 63.5
  3. Penn – 62.5
  4. Princeton – 62.5
  5. Yale – 50.5
  6. Brown – 49.5
  7. Columbia – 45.5
  8. Cornell – 44

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Location
Top: Penn (9.5 out of 10)
Bottom: Columbia (3.5 out of 10)

Pretty much the whole league is worthy of a daytrip to visit the often-beautiful campus and surrounding area. Thanks to being right in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania stands out as the best. Within walking distance to the stadium are museums, restaurants and the attractions of Center City across the river. Franklin Field is also within campus grounds, offering a bucolic retreat amongst an urban landscape. On the other end of the urban spectrum is Columbia. The stadium is not even close to the school and the Inwood neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan offers very little to visitors.

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ACCESSIBILITY AND PARKING
Top: Yale (7 out of 8)
Bottom: Harvard (4 out of 8)

There is literally only one game that I had a simple, hassle-free experience: Brown doesn’t have a lot and you have to park on a neighborhood street. Penn and Columbia are expensive urban jungles and so is Harvard, which I didn’t even use the car and instead settled for the T and experienced the worst parking garage ever (at the Alewife Station). At Dartmouth, the shuttle bus never came to pick us up. Cornell is a pain to get to from I-81 and in Princeton you have to hope the parking decks in town aren’t full. Only Yale was trouble-free in their grassy lots.

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EXTERIOR
Top: Dartmouth (8.5 out of 10)
Bottom: Yale (2.5 out of 10)

Overall, the outside of Ivy stadiums are generally bland, but refreshingly old-school. The one that really stood out was Memorial Field and that likely was because of the perfect time of year that I visited. The Ivy on the brick walls were turning beautiful reds and yellows for the October game I saw and being in the quaint New England town of Hanover at the time, just set the stage perfectly for football as I entered into the stadium. Yale was at the bottom because…well, there really isn’t an exterior. I was expecting a grand introduction to a historic stadium and instead got an understated 10-foot beige wall.

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CONCOURSE
Top: Princeton (4 out of 5)
Bottom: Yale (0.5 out of 5)

Yale remains at the bottom because there is no concourse at their excavated field. A short little tunnel leads you to the seating bowl leaving an exposed walkway around the stadium beforehand to act as a concourse. Bathrooms were perhaps the biggest joke as separate structures include the dreaded pee troughs for guys. Things don’t get much better around the league with all but one team rated a 2 or lower when it comes to the concourse. Princeton Stadium is the lone place where it is a treat to walk around thanks to cover and some pleasant landscaping (the walls just need some color).

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FOOD
Top: Harvard (6 out of 8)
Bottom: Cornell (1 out of 8)

Yuck. If you can sneak something in, please do so because it is guaranteed to be better than the dreck that is generally offered around the league. The Crimson get the win thanks to an open food court of sorts located in the grassy area in the northwest end. Food trucks offered decent grilled food including BBQ and Greek. Plus, you could get beer and there was a local option in the form of Jack’s Abby.

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INTERIOR
Top: Princeton (10 out of 14)
Bottom: Yale (3 out of 14)

I love how these stadiums are just focused on watching football and there is little modern-day distraction. The facilities are historic and although most are plain, there are several that offer uniqueness. From a design standpoint, Princeton Stadium is tops as being the newest certainly helps. Having an upper-deck is a bonus and sightlines throughout the seating bowl are excellent. No track puts the seats closer to the field. The surrounding wall that horseshoes the stadium is something different that leads to a more intimate feel. Other stadiums that didn’t rank as high but I still enjoyed include Harvard (the colonnade and the fascinating concrete-slab seating), Penn (unique seating structure and a skyline view), Columbia (view of the Spuyten Duyvil) and Cornell (gorgeous panoramic). What I didn’t like: Yale. Yeah, the bowl shape is cool, but when I went in 2013, those seats were horrendous! Literally crumbling and downright dangerous with splinters everywhere. Recent pictures show they may have finally fixed them, thank goodness.

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SCOREBOARD
Top: Dartmouth (3.5 out of 4)
Bottom: Columbia (1 out of 4)

Given that these games came across a 14-year span, this is one category that ages fast and recent visits I made have the advantage. Most stadiums got around 2 or 2.5 points, but there were a couple that stood out. Dartmouth just put a new video display in before I arrived in 2013 and it was a beauty with a clear display. It also withstood the sun quite well, something that was a big problem at Columbia, where fans had to ask each other how much time was left because it was so hard to see thanks to sun glare.

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DISPLAYS
Top: Penn (4.5 out of 6)
Bottom: Cornell (0 out of 6)

Why? Why? Why? There is a ton that each Ivy League school could do with their stadium and instead many of them let their drab walls fade. Each stadium could use more color and more historical displays. Penn at least stood out for their several plaques and statues including one for Ben Franklin outside the grounds (it is Franklin Field after all). Players and championships are nicely represented inside and they added a unique element by having a mural of the Eagles’ years when their NFL games were held in the stadium.

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COST
Top: Dartmouth (8 out of 8)
Bottom: Harvard (4.5 out of 8)

Back in 2013, a game at Dartmouth was only $10. Combine that with the ability to find free parking and affordable concessions (just $3.75 for a cheeseburger) and you have high value for an afternoon out. Harvard was the opposite as a $20 ticket went up another $5 if you bought it the day of the game. The poor price point is even more evident by going to the secondary market, where I found seats for $10 that even included fees. Concessions mimicked a typical jacked-up sporting experience.

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FanS
Top: Yale (6 out of 8)
Bottom: Brown (3 out of 8)

Most games look poorly attended because of the large stadium size at each school. There is a clear distinction between two groups when it comes to fan support, but within the groups there is not much separation. At the top, you have Yale, Penn, Harvard and Princeton. I rated the Bulldogs the highest despite diminishing attendance in recent years. The bottom tier for Fan Support includes Brown, Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth. Only a few thousand came out for the game I saw last year at Brown Stadium and it is widely noted in league circles the general apathy that the local area has for Bears football.

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ATMOSPHERE
Top: Penn (8.5 out of 14)
Bottom: Cornell (4 out of 14)

Saturday afternoons usually feature a wine-and-cheese crowd at Ivy games as one should not expect a loud stadium with the crowd at full throat. I enjoyed Penn because the stadium dynamics helped enhance the occasional noise. Plus, the Toast Throwing at the end of the 3rd quarter when the band plays “Drink a Highball” was fun. I also have to give a shoutout to Columbia. While they perennially struggle on the field, those in the stands gave great appreciation and encouragement. They snuck out a 10-9 win in the game I saw and there were multiple occasions when the fans got on their feet and there were plenty of high fives when they scored a touchdown. The crowd at Cornell was spread out and quiet, making for a blah atmosphere (though the scenic view made up for it). I did enjoy the full-sized Big Red Marching Band, which put on a nice halftime show. For the rest of the league, why do they all have to do those goofy, discombobulated performances. Outside of Cornell, each one I saw consisted of 15-30 band members just running around and giving half efforts at being funny.

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PRESTIGE
Top: Harvard (4.5 out of 5)
Bottom: Brown (2.5 out of 5)

It’s rare to have the majority of teams in a conference worth going out of your way to attend a game at, but that is the case in the Ivy League as I really enjoyed each visit. While Harvard came in at #2 in the overall rankings (mainly because of poor access), it was my favorite overall as the stadium was so unique and Cambridge is a great place to visit. Plus you have all that history, helping the “prestige” factor. Brown is, well, Brown, but don’t sleep on it because outside of Lambeau, it is highly unusual to see a stadium plopped in the middle of neighborhood with houses all around. Providence is a fun city and so is the College Hill section, where the University sits not too far away.

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