September 15, 2012
Lawrence A. Wien Stadium (Capacity: 17,000)
New York, NY
Columbia Lions vs Marist Red Foxes
Final Score: 10 – 9
New York City is home to many sports, but college football likely is not the first one that comes to mind. However, there is a Division I school that plays right in Manhattan and I took a visit to check them out on a very nice late summer day. Columbia University is part of the prestigious Ivy League and the school is the 5th oldest in the country. Research is a big focus as the number of undergraduates is vastly lower than those working on Masters and Post-Doctorates. Though Columbia is revered in many academic areas, athletics are not their specialty, especially with football. They have never won an Ivy League title outright (just one shared in 1961) and the team once lost 44 straight games in the 1980s. It has been a long time since their last winning season (1996) and they started this season with hope that streak would end. The Lions have played in the Baker Field complex since 1923, however their current home, Lawrence A. Wien Stadium replaced an older stadium in 1984. Despite the low ranking, I actually enjoyed my visit and was happy to see a Columbia win.
Prestige Ranking: 2 out of 5
Baker Field contains the football stadium, along with a few other outdoor athletic facilities. This sports complex is located on the northern tip of Manhattan in a neighborhood called Inwood. This is a fairly typical non-touristy NYC neighborhood with tightly clustered residential units. There are only a few restaurants about, along with a nearby deli and donuts place. Despite being in Manhattan, you are about as far as one can get to midtown. The Bronx Zoo and NY Botanical Garden are the closest nearby attractions and that isn’t worth the complicated hassle of trying to navigate. Another issue I have with the location is that it is not even close to Columbia’s campus, which is five miles away in the Morningside Heights section.
Location Ranking: 3.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
As for getting here, mass transit is the way to go. Subway stops from the 1 and A trains are just a half-mile walk away. On regional rail, the Metro-North also has a stop close by. Shuttle buses run to the stadium from the campus, which is good for the student base. Because, it cut my travel time in half, I chose to drive. Many major roads, like the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95), the Major Deegan (I-87), the Henry Hudson and Harlem River Drive lead close to the area. Broadway (US-9) is the main road through Inwood and that means dealing with a lot of the headaches of NYC driving (jammed intersections, buses and parallel parkers in the right lanes, people and pedestrians swerving in and out of the road). This was my first foray into driving in Manhattan and it’s something I would much rather not do. Plus roads can be trafficy, but with games always on Saturday afternoons, it could be worse. To complicate matters, there is no public parking at the complex (just a reserved lot for donors). There are parking garages down nearby 10th Ave and I made sure to get there very early to secure one (between W. 216th and W. 218th). I made it, but the valet service required was weird when attending a sporting event. If possible, use mass transit.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 4 out of 8
It’s hard to even see the outside of the stadium as there are trees in front that block the view. It’s not much of a look anyway as the concrete edifice is the back of the seating bowl and press box. Looking in, you can clearly see the concourse, along with the stepped design from the seating. Light blue letters for Columbia are spread through the width of the stadium, which is pointless since you can’t read it all in one spot. They should’ve put a more readable sign on the front.
Exterior Ranking: 3.5 out of 10
Concourse and Food
Though not part of the concourse, the Lions have set up a Pre-Game Picnic area just outside the main gates. Fans can sit at tables or on a nearby lawn while enjoying free water, soda and beer. That’s right, FREE! It’s a really good deal, plus there are samples from local restaurants in the area. It’s probably best to take advantage of this area or bring your own food into the stadium as the options inside are limited. Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, chicken sandwiches and sausage are pretty much it, along with the usual snacks found at a stadium. The concourse is behind the main seating bowl and there is a lot of concrete here from the walls, overhead ceiling and support beams. Columbia tries to spruce it up a bit with lettering, doors and concessions decorated in light blue, along with a sign above Gate 4 saying “Lawrence A. Wien Stadium” and “Welcome”. There’s enough width to allow room for the crowds usually here. There is an issue with getting to seats on the other side as Columbia does not allow you to walk on the track. Instead, fans have to exit the stadium and walk all the way around the side, re-entering via a stamp on the hand. Given that the visitor’s sideline only has restrooms, it’s a pain for those sitting over there.
Concourse Ranking: 2 out of 5
Food Ranking: 2.5 out of 8
Most of the seats are on the south side and it consists of a large section set in concrete that extends the length of the sideline. Seats are mostly bleachers and they go up for a ways before a slight arc occurs at the top. This is also where a two-level box is located, housing media and an alumni lounge. A sign on the bottom wall displays the name of the stadium. Towards the middle of the stadium, there are a good amount of light blue seats with chair backs, while higher up are molded seats, but with no backs. The other side of the stadium features a visitor’s sideline, where a much smaller set of metal bleachers are located. These are worn and weathered, plus they can get quite hot on a September day with the sun out. End zones are open. A downfall is the track that circles the stadium as that leads to both sides needing the seats further from the field. What makes Wien Stadium stand out is the neat view, especially from the top of the main seating bowl. Sitting in New York City, you would not expect a canopy of trees, but to the left is a peaceful view of Inwood Hill Park. Straight ahead is the Hudson River spilling into the Harlem River, along with the Henry Hudson Bridge, then to the right are those towering apartment buildings that are so familiar with the city. It’s a nice setting for football.
Interior Ranking: 7 out of 14
The main purpose of a scoreboard is to see the score and time. Columbia has failed to do that as the lights cannot be clearly seen in the sunlight. Given that Lions games typically start at 12:30 PM, this is an issue when the sun is out. Fans (including myself) were asking each other how much time is left. Not something that should be happening. It’s too bad because the light blue board design behind the East end zone is decent. Game info is at the bottom and at the top is a sign for the stadium name with the team logo. The middle is a video screen that was used nicely for continuous live game video and a few replays.
Scoreboard Ranking: 1 out of 4
There is a Lion sculpture on the grounds, but it is way too far from the stadium as one has to use a walkway towards an athletic building. The field is named after Robert K. Kraft, who is the owner of the New England Patriots and an alum, who has donated a lot to the University. A small sign honors him in the end zone. No Columbia honors were found and the flags behind the scoreboard flew the flags of each Ivy school. One neat touch (and it can only be seen from sitting at the top of the south side) is a large C in light blue that was painted on the rocky wall of the Spuyten Duyvill outside the stadium.
Displays Ranking: 1.5 out of 6
Affordability is awesome for a game at Wien Stadium, especially considering where the event takes place. Tickets are $10, while the seats with backs are $25. Usually, there are enough of these open seats where you can just buy a $10 seat and move over early in the game. Programs are free and I mentioned the free drinks given away. Concessions are OK with a hot dog going for $4, a small drink at $3.50 and chips kept at $1. Using mass transit does cut costs as well. If it weren’t for the high cost of driving to the game (the garage I parked at was $15, while crossing the GW Bridge was $12), this would be a perfect 8.
Cost Ranking: 7 out of 8
This might be the first time I ever thought the crowd was more than the announced number of 3,933. I thought the turnout was decent and there was a good mix of alumni, local neighbors and students. It took a quarter though for the crowd to arrive. Unfortunately, Columbia is perennially last in Ivy League attendance and they typically average between 4,000 and 5,000 per game (with the exception of homecoming, which brings out double the crowd).
Fan Support Ranking: 3.5 out of 8
Those in attendance displayed a good amount of enthusiasm as the start of the year brought a real nice energy. In fact, I’d argue the atmosphere was better than the ones I’ve seen at other Ivy stadiums (Cornell, Penn and Princeton). Big plays were met by the crowd rising to their feet and they went crazy when the Lions scored a touchdown. There were no special cheers or chants, though the scoreboard played a lion gargle occasionally. One note was the band, which is known for its jokes and antics. Their halftime show featured more comedy than music, which I can find fun, but with Columbia, their intentional disorganization didn’t really fit my taste.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7 out of 14
Take a deep breath before saying the full name of Columbia’s football home: Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Athletics Complex….Other tenants that use the field are track and lacrosse, while there are other outdoor sports in the complex…..In September, Columbia plays for the Liberty Cup against cross-borough rivals Fordham. This is a newer rivalry, starting back in 2002.
Despite the low scoring, this game was really good. Marist took a 3-0 lead into the half and then Columbia was fired up at the start of the 3rd. They marched down the field on their first possession and scored a TD. A botched punt attempt then gave Columbia great field position and they kicked a field goal on their next possession. The turning point of the game came late in the third when Marist’s Mike Rios caught a long pass and officials ruled him down at the 1 instead of giving him a score. The next play, Marist fumbled with Columbia recovering. The Red Foxes would seemingly recover by getting a big touchdown with 6:30 to play, but the extra point was blocked! With Columbia clinging to a 10-9 lead, the defense stepped up and had some big stops, including a pick by Zach Ollinger towards the end to seal the game. Marcorus Garrett ran 30 times for 115 yards.