The plan made perfect sense. I'd drive down to Waco from Dallas in the late morning, tailgate for a little bit, go to the Baylor-TCU game, and be back on the road after the game. Sure, I'd miss the first half of the LSU-Florida game, but if all went according to plan, I'd be home in Dallas by halftime.
That didn't work out, right about the time the LSU game kicked off when Baylor had only just started the fourth quarter. The game ended up taking almost five hours, counting the time spent storming the field and then trying to exit the stadium as one giant mob. Luckily, I found a bar at which I could watch the LSU game before driving home. It was a great day of football for me, but it did strike me how different a Baylor game is from an LSU game. I don't want to say better or worse, but I thought it might be interesting to compare the game day fan experience.
Parking. It seems trivial to start off a review of the game day with something as mundane as parking, but let's face it, it's a big part of game day. LSU keeps shrinking free parking around campus and it's getting harder and harder to find a good place to park your car. Baylor solves this problem by having no even parking on campus whatsoever. OK, you can prepay for a spot and reserve a space in the stadium lots, but for the single game tourist like myself, there isn't just no free parking on campus, there are no pay lots either. I ended up parking a mile off campus, for free, and walking. Which, given the size of the respective campuses, is about the same as parking by the old Ag Center at LSU. Given the variety of options, I give the edge to LSU, though Baylor has virtually no game day traffic, so a huge edge there. Easy on, easy off. Right next to the interstate. Big win for Baylor there, though I'm not sure what LSU can ever do about traffic. Twice as many people go to an LSU game, and you also can't move Tiger Stadium.
Tailgating. There is simply no comparison. LSU's tailgating scene is diverse and amazing. If you're on the wrong side of campus at Baylor, you wouldn't even know a game is being played. Though, in their defense, I did stop by a tailgate sponsored by Blue Bell. And hot fudge sundaes are still delicious. The biggest difference is this: I did not have a single alcoholic beverage all day, nor was I offered one until I reached an off-campus bar after the game was over. I didn't see a beer until then, either. I'm sure someone was drinking somewhere on campus, but being Baptists, they were pretty good at hiding it.
The stadium. McLane Stadium is really pretty. Baylor should be proud of what they've done. They built an intimate, gorgeous stadium right on river with great sightlines and open concourses. The open end really adds to the family environment, as people set up blankets on the hill to close the crowd in. The seats were spacious, and you didn't want for comfort. But come on, it ain't Tiger Stadium. Tiger Stadium lacks for creature comforts, though it has done a great job with renovations in recent years, but it's just a glorious, intimidating environment. McLane can't get as loud by its very design and size. Baylor's stadium says: hey, we like football. Bring the kids to enjoy the game. LSU's stadium says: we worship football. Bring your kids so we may induct them into the cult and aid them in sacrificing their first rival fan. I regretted not having the Lil Poseur with me at the Baylor game, while I think an LSU game would still likely scare her to her very core.
Pre-game. Right about five minutes before kickoff, the TCU band played their school's fight song, and the masses of purple clad fans belted out their words, showing off their school spirit. Let me stress this: TCU's band was allowed to play their fight song right before kickoff and no one made any attempt to stop them. Baylor's band politely waited on the field for the Frogs to finish. It was like watching college football on Mars, it was so alien to me. The travelling band doesn't get to play their fight song right before kickoff, and the crowd doesn't respectfully stay quiet while the visiting fans get to sing their song in our stadium. I simply can't even imagine what would happen if Alabama's band tried that at LSU. There would be a damned riot. Which, let's be honest, is close to what happens at LSU pregame. The band whips the crowd into a frenzy and we get as loud as we can. That's the whole point of pregame, to get the fans lusting for the kill.
Baylor? Not so much. A pastor read convocation and we actually prayed before the kickoff, wishing both teams good fortune in all of their endeavors. Another thing that wouldn't fly at LSU, even forgetting the whole public school thing for a second. If we ever had a pregame prayer, it would be akin to a military prayer that asked for the destruction of our enemies. It's probably for the best we don't do that. They did play a genuinely cool video about the new stadium marking a new era for Baylor football, but that was as close as they came to pumping the crowd up. Really, I was struck by how nice it was. Way too much comity in the pre-game. I want to be destroying my enemies, not feeling all warm and nice.
The student section. Baylor reserves all of the closest sections behind the opposing team's sideline for the students. The seats are even painted gold, contrasting with the silver of the rest of the bleachers. The Baylor Line is a legitimately cool tradition, as all of the freshmen dress in gold and run onto the field before the football team. They then filed into the bleachers right behind TCU. Look, LSU is never going to allow its students to run onto the field before the game, but the idea of giving students the best seats in the house is a great one. College football should be about the student body first and foremost. I know the school would be giving up a revenue stream, something they loathe to do, but having the students right on the opposing team's sideline is a huge advantage. Gary Patterson even got into an argument with the student section, which was not his best idea. He probably should have spent more time coaching his team than picking a fight with a bunch of teenagers in the crowd.
Still, the Baylor Line is the sort of thing that creates fans for life. Students get to feel like they are a part of the football program. LSU is losing this, with its incredible shrinking student section and giving better seats to the less rowdy Greeks than the general population. LSU sees this problem manifest itself with alumni less likely to stay the whole game. You're building lifelong fans in the student section, give them better seats. It's good for the future bottom line, as they'll be the ones buying tickets in 10-20 years and it's good from a competitive environment standpoint. Put your loudest, craziest fans behind the other team's bench. It's brilliant.
Visiting fans. As great as Baylor is about student seating, that's how bad they are about their visiting fan ticketing policy. McLane only has one enclosed end, and two full sections right behind the goalposts were full of nothing but TCU fans. They at least put them in the upper deck, but geez, guys. Had the game gone to overtime, the enclosed end would have been just as loud for both offenses. Move the visiting fans to the corner, at least. LSU gives fans the lower bowl treatment, which I don't mind at all, but they don't give them the whole end zone, and certainly not the only enclosed end of the stadium. You can be nice to the opposing fans without giving up home field. LSU gets this one right.
The band. Baylor's band is a total non-factor in the game. This isn't to say they have a bad band, but they simply don't have the tradition LSU has of stadium cheers cued from the band's playlist. The band is right on the field, which hurts their ability to project sound. They also are on the enclosed end, so they end up playing to the boats on the river at times. LSU's band is designed to whip the crowd into a further frenzy, which is just awesome.
However, to Baylor's credit, they make a disadvantage an advantage. Without the binds of tradition, Baylor uses a ton of pumped in music. That might make a lot of y'all's hearts sink, but they do it to great effect. Instead of pumping up the crowd, the music is designed to pump up the team. The playlist isn't country or ‘80s hair metal, the preferred stadium music choice of generic white people. No, it's nothing but hip hop, and almost all of it recent. They are playing stuff the players like, and they get into it. The sideline was constantly jumping around and dancing to the stadium music, particularly after big plays. I wouldn't mind if LSU did this occasionally because I like tradition, but I like winning more. This was something designed to help the players' play better. They enjoyed it, and let's face it, it worked. The players got jacked up and erases a 21-point deficit. Of course, LSU did the same thing against MSU with the benefit of a traditional band. Tiger Stadium is beginning to pump in more music, so here's my request: more Nelly, less Guns ‘n Roses. I don't care what you like, I care what the players like.
Overall. I like Baylor football, but I love LSU. This isn't really a fair comparison, and I'm always going to side with LSU. But it's not about what is better, it's about the differences, and what LSU can borrow for its own purposes. Baylor's entire feel is far more geared to the casual fan and families. It's like an NBA game almost, with tons of flashing lights and distractions to keep the crowd entertained at all times. LSU games are all about the football and there's no real attempt to hook in the casual fan. If you're here, you're amongst the converted. This isn't recruitment, this is church.
I do think Baylor shows how a team can better use technology and all of the modern comforts. It's not as big of a stadium, but it's objectively "nicer". Of course, that niceness carries over to the product as Baylor seems to bend over backwards to make sure the visiting team has a good time as well. They could use a little bit more of the SEC's cutthroat attitude. Urine bombs are optional. Even after a huge win in one of the best games I've ever seen in person, the crowd never got THAT loud. Fans cheer just as loudly and passionately in Waco, but the stadium design works against them. Tiger Stadium for the Mississippi state game was louder than McLane for TCU. There are times in Tiger Stadium the noise is downright uncomfortable. Baylor puts comfort first.
We like to complain a lot. It's our right as fans. But going to a game elsewhere made me truly appreciate the atmosphere around Baton Rouge on game day. There is nothing like it. Yes, traffic is awful and the parking situation could be handled a lot better. But at least we can park on campus at all. And LSU has done a good job of incorporating modern touches into an event that is bound by tradition. There's only so much you can change without the fans rioting, and not in a good way. LSU's done a pretty good job with that balance.
I still wouldn't trade Saturday Night in Death Valley for anything.