When you travel around to visit different Major League Baseball ballparks, you’re often going for the setting as much as for the game itself. Each ballpark is unique in its architecture, its dimensions, its nooks and crannies and bells and whistles.
When fans venture to a college football game, on the other hand, they’re going for just that — the game. It’s about the action on the field and the atmosphere in the stadium, helped along by the band, the mascots and the fans themselves. Few people ever marvel at the architectural majesty of a college football stadium.
And then McLane Stadium came along, and flipped that thinking on its ear.
McLane is like a big-league ballpark crossed with a campus football venue. From a sheer aesthetic standpoint, I’ve never seen a more beautiful setting in all of college football. My colleague John Werner agreed, and between the two of us we’ve entered the gates of at least 50 college stadiums around the country.
As McLane Stadium celebrates its fifth birthday, I’d contend that the $266 million facility looks as gorgeous as the day it was born.
A river runs past (not through) it
The river makes all the difference in the world. Floyd Casey Stadium, which served as Baylor’s home from 1950 through the 2013 season, was a landlocked soup bowl. That’s fairly common on campuses all over America, as few are located near a body of water, save maybe a man-made fountain or something.
Having the Brazos as a backdrop opened up a flood of opportunities for Baylor. (OK, maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words. McLane is built on a flood plain, after all.)
McLane Stadium, from start to finish: 2013-14 construction on the Brazos
Photos by Rod Aydelotte and Jerry Larson
Populous, the Kansas City-based firm that dreamed up Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Denver’s Coors Field, nailed the design on McLane. Utilizing the horseshoe shape was a master stroke. For what good is having a beachfront view if you never open the window to enjoy it? Granted, the scoreboard partially obstructs that view, but that’s part of doing business in the 21st century. Even when we go to the games in person, modern sports fans demand a shiny big-screen TV.
You can’t find a bad seat at McLane Stadium. Go ahead. Try it. That’s another thing Baylor got right. Former BU athletic director Ian McCaw preferred to use the term “right-sized” when the stadium was still under construction. McCaw and his administrative team wanted to create ticket demand. They wanted to make sellouts more common.
In the planning process, Baylor hired a consultant, Convention Sports and Leisure, to help determine where capacity should land. They settled on just over 45,000 seats – a 5,000-seat reduction from Floyd Casey. At the time, that raised a few eyebrows, considering the Bears were in the midst of one of the most successful stretches in program history.
But it worked. Consider this — even with average attendance dropping to 41,336 last season, the low-water mark of the McLane era, the stadium’s single-season averages rank first (2014), second (2015), fourth (2016), fifth (2017) and seventh (2018) in school history. Floyd Casey Stadium drew an average crowd of 40,000 just nine seasons in its 63-year history; McLane has averaged at least 41K in five straight.
Also, Baylor recorded only seven sellouts at the Case, with a program-record 51,728 fans showing up for the bone-chilling final game on Dec. 7, 2013, against Texas. (I think there’s still a few Bear fans who haven’t thawed from that one. It was coooooooold.) On the flip side, McLane Stadium has witnessed 16 sellouts, including a standing-room only gathering of 49,875 against Oklahoma in 2015.
It’s better when it’s full, y’all. May the tarp rest in peace.
Baylor also wisely carved out 8,000 student seats near the field at McLane, including the Baylor Line section. That’s exactly where they belong. When the students are excited and engaged, it elevates the college football experience. (Conversely, when they leave at halftime, it’s lame. Don’t be lame, kids.)
On a wing and a prayer
It’s fitting that a statue of Robert Griffin III stands, triumphantly, outside McLane’s south end. This place is the House That RG3 Built. No doubt about it. When Griffin tossed his memorable game-winning touchdown pass to Terrance Williams against Oklahoma in 2011, it did more than clinch the quarterback the Heisman Trophy. It breathed life to the idea of an on-campus stadium.
As Williams came down with the catch, former Baylor facilities vice president Brian Nicholson sent a text to Reagan Ramsower, the university’s then-vice president. “That pass just cost us $250 million,” Nicholson texted. Ramsower texted back, “Yep, it did,” as the Trib’s J.B. Smith recounted in a 2014 story.
There’s a lot to love about McLane, especially in direct comparison to Baylor’s previous digs. The concourse is no longer a cave. The parking situation improved dramatically. (I can remember praying that I wouldn’t tip over as I drove the 45-degree angle across the lawn to my spot at the Case.) The increased number of elevators and restrooms, the Baylor Club, the Umphrey Bridge, the sa