I don’t have a set formula for this ranking but there are a few items that I do consider: overall game day atmosphere, stadium location, seating, and some various items that stand out in my mind. Pacific is a little difficult for me to handle since I haven’t personally gone to one of their games yet (Linfield visits Pacific this year) so I reached out to a very good D3boards.com poster and Willamette fan who has covered the Bearcats diligently the past 4 years and asked him for feedback on Lincoln Park Stadium. I placed the Boxer’s digs based on his feedback.
Let’s just be thankful that Menlo College is no longer in the conference as they have hands down the worst small college facilities I have ever seen. Man, I feel just like adding them to rip them for their scissor lift coaching boxes, booty sod surface, "locker rooms", and frat house PA system. Good lord. So let’s get to the goods and start talking Northwest Conference football stadiums.
1. Linfield’s Maxwell Field/Memorial Stadium (aka “The ‘Catdome”)
Even the most adherent homer of other NWC schools would have a hard time claiming that the ‘Catdome isn’t at the top when it comes to Northwest Conference football facilities. The ‘Catdome always had an intimate feel but in the early 2000’s the facility was in need of a facelift and in 2004 the facility received upgrades of a value of $1.44 million that blended modern technology with the traditional feel of Memorial Stadium.
The result is just a gem of a Division III game day experience. Maxwell field has a field turf surface that is void of any of those ugly soccer/lacrosse lines that muddy up many of the synthetic surfaces around the conference. I had a chance to speak with a Field Turf rep that was at Linfield before the 2010 season and he said that Maxwell field is still one of the best installs they have done in the Pacific Northwest and the surface is still pristine 6 years after the initial installation.
Along with the surface, one of the best aspects of the ‘Catdome is fan access. Unlike most other facilities you can sit or stand at just about any spot around the field and during big games there isn’t a better site than having the entire field surrounded by fans.
Location is another awesome aspect of the ‘Catdome. A good percentage of the Linfield student body can literally walk across the street from their dorms/apartments and be at the field and in fact the front of Memorial stadium is an all-girls dorm (formerly a fraternity house) now known as Memorial Hall. There is easy/ample parking nearby the stadium. The school band has shown tremendous growth the past few years and the fan base is very vocal and knowledgeable. The ‘Catdome is just flat out a great small college game day experience.
The main negatives about the ‘Catdome are the 4 large posts that support the grandstand roof. These can cause some obstructive views for some fans and for those working in the press box. The other area that I don’t like is the banning of the North End Zone couches. I don’t know who made that call last season but it’s a ridiculously bad idea. The North End Zone has been known for years for the couches and they should always have a place in the ‘Catdome on fall Saturdays.
Plus: Great small college atmosphere, seats/standing room allowed around entire field, great field turf surface, video board, best Public Address Announcer in the conference, great location in heart of campus
Minus: Posts in grandstands, couches not being allowed anymore, locker room needs update
2. Whitworth’s The Pine Bowl
Whitworth may have blah uniforms but there is nothing blah about The Pine Bowl. It’s another 1st rate small college football experience that has its own unique touches. The Pine Bowl has a modest main grandstand that is flanked by two very nice landscaped grass slopes that Whitworth allows fans to throw down some blankets and watch the game if you chose. The effect is a very intimate and warm game day environment. The other aspect that most opponents compliment the Rats on is their pristine sod playing surface. The Rats well maintained grass field has been a point of pride of their facilities for a number of years and it should be. It’s a great surface that handles the harsh weather of Spokane beautify.
If you’re going to talk about the negatives of the Pine Bowl the first thing that jumps out at you are the press boxes and lack of a permanent restroom facilities. The Press Boxes are in pretty rough shape and only having pottapotty’s as your only options are not that great. However, in talking with folks at Whitworth there is the possibility of these issues being a thing of the past. There are tentative plans for Whitworth to resurface their track, rebuild the press box, creating restrooms on the grandstand side, and creating a welcome plaza/ticket booth/entrance. If these tentative plans come to fruition then an already fine Pine Bowl will be even better. However, there is one negative about the Pine Bowl that I don’t think that Whitworth will ever fix and that's the one-sided seating. Never like it when visiting team’s fans don’t have the option to sit behind their team’s bench.
Plus: Fantastic grass field, picnic/grass seating, good backdrop, very good atmosphere, good concessions, good parking, good campus location
Minus: one sided seating, poor press box, long walk for visiting team to field (feels like a mile)
3. Willamette’s Ted Ogdahl Field/McCulloch Stadium
Ted Ogdahl Field and McCulloch Stadium is a very good venue for football. The Bearcat’s grandstand is the best structure in the conference with ample covered seating, a cool elevated landing by the concessions for people to watch the game and enjoy their meal, and the Bearcats have very nice locker rooms for both the home and visiting teams (does get a little cramped for larger teams). The press/coaches boxes are built towards the front of the roof and offer up a great view of the action for coaches, press, and administration. Willamette recently added a video scoreboard to the facility that is larger than Linfield’s and they run CCTV’s feed through the board for replays during the game. It’s a very nice board and looks great sitting beyond the North Endzone.
The Bearcats are the 1st team in the NWC to install field turf (2003). The surface is still solid but was looking a little worn out on my last visit in 2009 so I can’t imagine it’s looking any better in 2011. Playability, the surface is still great, but it’s looking a little haggard. However, there are 3 main things that keep Ogdahl/McCulloch out of the same class of the Catdome and Pine Bowl. The facility is near campus but it’s still off campus in Salem’s Bush Park. I can’t imagine it’s that big of a walk for students but still not nearly as convenient as the Pine Bowl or Catdome. Second, the parking situation is downright terrible. If you don’t get to Bush Park early then good luck finding a spot in the parking lot. Last, I’m not a huge fan of the backdrop (if you're sitting in the main grandstand) or one-sided seating. Willamette offers some bleachers in the north end zone but there is no reason why the Bearcats couldn’t have bleachers behind the visitor’s bench and allow fans more access near the field. I think that would add a great dimension to their game day experience. Plus, it has to be a little embarrassing to have more Linfield fans in the grandstands than Willamette fans when the ‘Cats come to town.
Plus: Very good main grandstand, nice video board, good concessions, good lockers, good press box
Minus: one sided seating, bad parking, slightly off campus, not the best backdrop
4. Lewis & Clark’s Fred Wilson Field/Griswold Stadium
Hands down the best backdrop in the Northwest Conference. The tree line that surrounds Griswold Stadium is beautiful and creates a fine backdrop to play a small college football game. While L&C hasn’t had most successful teams in more recent times there is no disputing the Pios play in a cool setting. For as beautiful as the tree line is at Griswold Stadium up to 2010 the old style astroturf was just as equally ugly and dangerous. Nobody like playing on it and it was a torn ACL just waiting to happen. The Pioneers finally tore up the old astroturf and replaced the surface with the Astroturf’s answer for Field Turf. While the surface is a MAJOR upgrade there is just something off about the surface when you 1st walk on it. It sounds like your walking on a fresh snow pack with the way it crunches under your feet and the surface is beyond ugly with all the soccer, LAX lines, and the unfortunate end zone striping. I understand the Pios don’t have a choice as Fred Wilson field serves both the Pios soccer and Lacrosse teams along with football but it’s still ugly as sin and takes the facility down a peg or two.
Griswold Stadium itself is a large grandstand that is partially covered. The Pioneers haven’t had a major following in a long time so finding seats has never been an issue for visiting teams. To me that makes the one sided seating less of an issue. Lewis and Clark is getting better as a football program and as they improve I suspect the gameday experience will get ratcheted up a few notches and make an already decent facility that much more enjoyable.
Plus: Best backdrop in the conference, updated playing surface
Minus: One sided seating, soccer lines on field, old scoreboard, so-so lockers
5. Pacific’s Lincoln Park Stadium
This is a tough one to slot because I have yet to go to a game hosted by the Boxers but thankfully D3boards.com poster and Willamette Bearcat backer “Bearcat Press” attended Willamette’s victory over Pacific this past season. I reached out to B-Press and here is his rundown:
“Going off my gut, I'd probably stick Pacific in the middle of the pack, about on par with L&C - because while the Pios have the better setting, the Boxers' facilities are MUCH more modern. The press box is easily the nicest in the NWC, and the brick facade is a nice touch. There's also a nice area they've got set aside for tailgating. They really do "atmosphere" right. That being said, Pacific has two noticeable problems:
1.) No roof (aside from the press box). The day I visited Forest Grove was absolutely miserable weather-wise, and I felt really bad for the fans who had to sit out in it. I could see that as a real limiting factor in their attendance down the road.
2.) The sight-lines are kind of weird. Pacific's stadium was originally built for soccer, which typically uses a field that's a tad wider and shorter than a football field (for example, the Portland Timbers' surface at Jeld-Wen Field is 110x70 yards - compared to a 120x53.3 yard football field - and its considered narrow for soccer). What this translates to for the press box is that we can't see much of the end zones. What it means for the fans is that the field and players can both seem pretty far away.
So again, I'd put them at 4 or 5.”
Thanks B-Press for the feedback and since I’ve yet to seen it with my own eyes I’ll have to give L&C the benefit of the doubt. Not having a roof over the grandstands of a small college stadium is an unforgivable sin in in this part of the country. Whitworth can get away with it up in Spokane but that’s tough sledding for folks out here in the Portland Metro area.
Plus: Very good Press Box, good atmosphere, seating all over the field, good campus location
Minus: Small main grandstand, no roof on grandstand, weird sightlines from stadium, soccer/lax lines all over the field.
6. PLU’s Sparks Stadium
I feel conflicted about having PLU’s Spark Stadium this low but their biggest minus is just way too large to ignore and I can’t in good faith rank it higher. It all comes down to location. Sparks Stadium is located in Puyallup, Washington while PLU’s campus is located in Parkland. It’s a about a 15-20 minute drive via freeway for PLU to play their home games. That is just too big of a trek compared to the other schools in the conference.
However, when talking about Sparks Stadium and the game day experience itself, if the stadium was located on PLU’s campus I would have Sparks ranked much higher on this list. Sparks is a shared community field and PLU does a great job each home game in making the facility their own. Sparks isn’t exactly a beautiful structure but it’s a VERY comfortable facility with not only a large covered area for the home crowd but also a very nice grandstand for the visiting crowd. The visiting locker room is a great space for larger teams to get comfortably ready and the city of Puyallup installed a new Field Turf surface recently that felt great under your feet (even with the unsightly soccer lines mucking up the field). Linfield and PLU traditionally have a larger crowd on hand and the sound stays trapped on the field of play and the atmosphere can get rocking.
There is still talk and rumor about PLU building an on-campus football facility and I’m sure Frosty is working behind the scenes on trying to raise the funds needed but until then Sparks is stuck low on the list and it’s not because of the actual facility or football experience itself but because no on-campus student should have to drive 20 minutes to watch their team play a home game.
Plus: Good football atmosphere, both visitor and home grandstands covered, good parking
Minus: 20 minutes drive away from campus, not PLU’s facility, soccer lines on field
7. UPS’s Peyton Field/Baker Stadium
Anybody who’s read Advantage Catdome for any period of time knows that I’m not a very big fan of Peyton Field/Baker Stadium. Traditionally, it just has very little to offer in terms of any football atmosphere and the sod surface is the worst in the conference. Their sod being the worst just baffles my mind since just a few yards away from the stadium surface is a field turf practice field with “Puget Sound” end zone graphics. That just seems so backwards to have a field turf practice field but nasty game surface. It’s maddening.
To get back to the Logger game day atmosphere for a minute, I don’t know what it is but the students just don’t seem be into Logger football…at all. It’s strange considering that the Loggers Memorial Field House has a big reputation of being a rocking crowd for basketball games. Yeah the attendance numbers look good on paper but that doesn't seem to be the reality. Yeah, the fact that Logger football has been in the dumps for so long and the basketball program had a great fun in the 2000’s probably plays into that. UPS’s new staff is working to reestablish the program and we’ll see if that translates into a more enthusiastic fan base but for now this is where the Loggers football facility belongs.
Plus: Two-Sided seating, Fun to watch C130’s fly over head, good band on last visit
Minus: Worst surface in the conference, bad backdrop, bad football atmosphere
Agree with Wildcat11? Disagree with Wildcat11 and think he's off his rocker? Leave a comment and leave your rankings of the NWC facilities.