October 12, 2019
Stambaugh Stadium (Capacity: 20,630)
Youngstown State Penguins vs South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Final Score: 28 – 38
Anchoring the Mahoning Valley in Eastern Ohio is Youngstown and it was the site for our second football game of the day. As a rust belt city, Y-town has really struggled as they have lost more than 60% of their population over the last several decades. This was precipitated by the fall of the steel industry and they haven’t really recovered as only small pockets of economic success exists. Youngstown State University is a big part of the city as this public research university has 15,000 students, many of them considered commuters. Their sports teams have the nickname “Penguins” and they have plenty of football achievements with 4 National Championships at the FCS level. All of those titles came in the 90s under Jim Tressel. He’s back at YSU currently, but as school president, an unusual position for a former football coach that left Ohio State with a show-cause penalty. The ‘Guins have made 11 playoff appearances, with their most recent coming in 2016 when they made it back to the championship game. Since 1982, Stambaugh Stadium has been home and it is an old-school facility that is made better by a great view.
Prestige Ranking: 3.5 out of 5
YSU is located within the city and the tight-on-space campus is just a bit north of downtown. That downtown area is generally quiet, but it does have some activity along a section of West Federal Street. Youngstown’s limited attractions are centered on museums and their locations are in a good spot as there are multiple ones both within and near to YSU. Running through campus is Wick Ave, where you can find the well-regarded Butler Institute of American Art. The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor is right where YSU begins to give way to downtown. Stambaugh Stadium is in the northeast part of campus, within a cluster of athletic facilities. Food around the stadium stinks as it consists of a McDonald’s across the street and other fast food joints nearby. Around the center of campus are college eats. The best option is a 15-minute walk to the east, where the historic restaurant “MVR” is located (open ‘til 12 AM).
Location Ranking: 5.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Being between Cleveland and Pittsburgh means good interstate access. I-80 and I-76 are the major nearby highways with I-680 going into the city. The stadium is next to 5th Ave, just off the Madison Ave Expressway (Route 422). There are multiple surface lots and parking decks around, but YSU’s game-day information is poor. They said that the M-30 garage is a parking option, but we found it gated off to students only. Driving around to find another option saw a lack of directional signs until we settled on the ridiculously tight M-60 garage that featured a clearance of only 6’3”. The M-70 lot southwest of the stadium is where the tailgating takes place and it looked like a busy, festive scene. Traffic coming in was non-existent, while leaving was also sparse as most people left the game before the final whistle.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
This is a unique stadium because of the hilly, geographic location. Each side has its own face and the north end is facing the highway, so you don’t get to see that unless driving by (the visual is a team mural on the back of a scoreboard). The other end is at the bottom of a hill and a rocky slope fills the space between walkway and field. The primary exterior appearance comes from the back of the west side, where the towering structure is outlined in concrete square and rectangular blocks. In fact, Stambaugh is the tallest building in Youngstown. At the top, is an out-of-place glass structure protruding outward. Some color is added by the huge vertical banners that feature the Penguin mascot and say “Y and Proud”. The other side is quite different as the new slate and silver Don Constantini Multimedia Center covers the concrete seating structure.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
There is more misinformation from YSU as they state that you cannot move back and forth between each sideline seating section (which is stupid). However, I found that there is a small walkway behind the north end zone that does indeed connect the two seating sections. The much smaller east side has a traditional concourse, while the west side has a little more depth. Most won’t see it, but there is actually a lobby at ground-level and it features stone accents and several displays. An elevator to the loge/media level is found here and then the upcoming red hallway provides access to a large gym (completely random). You can use that hallway to reach a public elevator and that will bring you to the main, fourth-level concourse for general ticket holders. I wouldn’t rely heavily on the elevator as it is runs infrequently. Thus, many have to use a series of long ramps to reach an ancient concrete concourse that extends the length of the sideline in the middle of the bowl. How ancient? There was a campus telephone, because you know, so many students have landlines. Steps from the seating bowl loom overhead. No way can this area accommodate the roughly 17,000 that the west sideline holds, so expect a very slow go at halftime and the end of a game. Men’s bathrooms feature the always disgusting trough.
Concourse Ranking: 2 out of 5
The food at Stambaugh Stadium is bland as we had a chicken sandwich that was dry and dull. Then a hot chocolate later in the night was served lukewarm. It’s mostly stadium dreck and there aren’t even any French Fries to go with Hot Dogs or Burgers. A Pepperoni Roll was the only somewhat unique thing. One positive is that they sell beer and having local breweries is an added bonus. Penguin City Beer (made in Youngstown) or a beer from Great Lakes (Cleveland) are the options.
Food Ranking: 3 out of 8
All of the seating is on the sideline and the west stands is the main one as it goes a mile up with a whopping 70 rows. It’s steep and outdated given that the steps are narrow to climb and the underside of each first corner seat featured mold on the concrete base. However, the sightlines to the field are outstanding and the view is fantastic as even in those in the middle of the bowl are treated to a beautiful panoramic of the tree-filled Mahoning Valley in the distance. To the far right is the campus and city skyline. There’s an 8-foot wall between the first row and the field, while the absence of a track allows for close proximity to the field of play. Back to the seating structure, there’s a very slight curve to it. In the middle are three sections of comfy red chairs. All other seats are metal bleachers and while the seat isn’t comfortable, the legroom isn’t bad. At the top of the west side is an enclosed stadium club that is expansive and features 26 loge sections. The other side of the stadium was constructed in 1997 and it has bleacher seating that extends to the 10-yard lines. It’s much smaller, helping to preserve the view. A walkway splits up the structure and the media box is located above the seats. Students and the band sit on this side.
Interior Ranking: 8.5 out of 14
Just above ground-level in the north endzone is a new-ish scoreboard that is diminished somewhat by ads that surround all four sides. A video screen centers the scoreboard and the bottom segment is used for time, score, etc. The screen has game footage the entire time and using the ESPN+ feed means that replays are frequent. The quality and size leave a little to be desired as it is difficult to make out the football. A simpler scoreboard with just game information is located in the other endzone.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
This is where Youngstown gets it right. In the main concourse, there is the Thomas F. Mosure Hall of Gridiron Glory. This room is chockful of memorabilia, pictures, trophies and historical displays. I spent the entire halftime perusing and it is a terrific nod to the long history of this football program. More great displays can be found in the hallway underneath the stadium, where wall columns have descriptive info graphics on each title game appearance. Inside the stadium, championship and finalist teams get honored with their years on the scoreboard and on flags in the endzone. There are two retired numbers (#79 Jim Zdelar and #58 Jermaine Hopkins), but I did not come across their displays.
Displays Ranking: 5.5 out of 6
Tickets go for $20 across the board, which I thought was a generally fair price for team quality and experience. It ranks a little higher than several other MVFC schools (where football is not as popular), however it isn’t close to the average ticket price for those in the Dakotas or UNI. Also nice is that the online fees for purchasing a ticket are minimal. Parking is $5 in non-premium / tailgating lots. Food prices aren’t crazy: $3.50 for a hot dog, $6 for a cheeseburger, $3.50 for water and $6-7 for beer.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
There was a palpable buzz walking to the stadium that this was going to be a little different than your normal FCS game. As tailgating was abundant and many were flocking to the stadium in their red, white and black YSU shirts, it was evident that the Penguins get good support. Year-after-year, Youngstown State is ranked #2 or #3 for conference attendance and within FCS, they are usually Top 15. It’s not all roses however, because Stambaugh Stadium holds around 20,000 and the stadium is almost never full. The game we saw featured the #3 team in the country, on a seasonable Saturday Evening, during homecoming and there wasn’t really an uptick in attendance as I estimated 10,000 to 11,000 on hand. Many of them also left with six minutes remaining and the final result not a foregone conclusion. The last time the stadium was sold out was in the year 2000. Home playoff attendance in the Penguins’ last appearance (2016) averaged 6,700.
Fan Support Ranking: 6 out of 8
The atmosphere in the Ice Castle was pretty good as the crowd made decent noise. There were times it was loud and a particular 4th down stop featured a good pop with many raising their arms. About 25% of the crowd gets on their feet when a touchdown is scored. Student turnout and participation is adequate on the other side of the stadium. One unique element to a YSU game is the steam whistle in the rocky part of the south endzone. Created in 2016 by five students in the Mechanical Engineering program, the steam whistle is a part of Youngstown culture as it could be heard often in the steel mills all around town to signify a shift change or an emergency. It’s a great addition made by students that is special to the school and city and it can be heard many times throughout the game. Also enhancing the atmosphere is the YSU Marching Pride. The band doesn’t play much during the game, but they put on a great pre-game and halftime show.
Atmosphere Ranking: 10.5 out of 14
Who is Stambaugh? His first name is Arnold and he was a benefactor for the University…..Did you know that Youngstown State is the only Division I school with the nickname “Penguins”? Their mascots are Pete and Penny……The stadium is nicknamed “The Ice Castle”……Embedded into the seats in the upper middle sections of the west side are subtle, dark red letters that spell out “YSU”. Nice touch…..There is a huge (and I mean huge) American flag in the southwest corner of the stadium…..Supposedly, the penalty flag was invented here in the 1930s, by long-time coach Dick Beede…..Famous alumni include Ron Jaworski and Ed O’Neill.
The Penguins did what they needed to do in the first half to try and upset the talented, #3-ranked Jackrabbits. With the defense making key stops, Youngstown was up 14-3 at the break. Then the wheels fell off as they threw a pick-six a few minutes into the third quarter. That would be the first of a whopping 35 second-half points for SDSU. The Jackrabbits were up 31-21 late, when YSU backup QB Joe Craycraft came in cold off the bench for injured starter Nathan Mays and threw a beautiful 17-yard TD pass. However, the ‘Guins couldn’t make a stop and SDSU’s J’Bore Gibbs ran for a 63-yard score on a third down play with a minute left to drop the hammer.