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Welcome to football season! Personally, I feel the best level of football to watch is college. A big part of makes college football special is the pageantry and excitement that goes along with it. From the marching bands and cheerleaders to tailgating with old friends, the college football experience is much more than just a game. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your college football experience this season.
I have learned over our many years of attending college football games that our overall experience is much better if I do some research before the day of the game day. It always saves us time, money, and frustration on game day. Here are a few things to look at before your trip to campus:
First and foremost, check the weather forecast. While you want to pay close attention to the forecast for the three or so hours during the game, you also want to look at those pre-game temps. More than once, I forgot to check the weather and I paid for it by wearing the wrong clothes to the game! There is nothing more miserable than that! If the temperature will be fluctuating, dress in layers or bring extra clothes to put on as the mercury drops.
The next thing you want to research is parking. Every campus is different when it comes to parking for games. Some have a general parking lot or two. But at some schools, all of the parking lots are reserved for those with parking permits. If there are general lots, take note of the cost. You want to have cash on hand for parking. If there are not public lots, look at the area around campus. Usually, you can find a place to park in the surrounding neighborhoods or on other parts of campus. The school’s athletic website should have information about the game day experience, including a parking map.
The other thing to look for is traffic flow changes. Some universities, like Notre Dame, close down the streets near the stadium a few hours before the game. If that’s the case, you need to get on campus prior to the road closures or avoid those streets. No one wants to miss the fun because you are sitting in a traffic jam.
The next thing you want to research is the list of the stadium’s banned items. Every stadium has this list, which you can normally find on the athletic website. Some common things not allowed in college stadiums are: umbrellas, noise makers, alcohol, guns and other weapons, outside food, and large bags. At TCU, for instance, only clear bags are allowed in the stadium. You don’t want to walk a mile to the stadium and then find out that you can’t bring in your purse or diaper bag. This is definitely something you need to know about in advance!
What Color Should I Wear?
In recent years, more and more schools have started coordinating the colors worn by fans in the stands. At Tennessee, they sometimes create a checkerboard pattern in the stands. Other schools “stripe” their stadiums for games. “Blackout” games are also popular. The school’s athletic website will tell you if you should wear a particular color shirt, depending on where your seats are. This is a fun and easy way to be a part of the college football experience.
Part of the fun of game day is eating, drinking, and watching other games before heading into the stadium. The most popular way to do this, of course, is by tailgating. However, there are other ways to get that college football experience.
If you are going to a university that you are not familiar with, please be sure to check out the policies on tailgating before you get there. You can find these on the school’s website along with the other game day information. Many schools have rules governing where and how you can tailgate. For instance, at Southern Miss and Mississippi State, the tailgating is done on the grassy areas of campus. But, at TCU, most of the tailgating is in the parking lots because they do NOT want people using the manicured lawns for tailgating. At many schools, kegs or glass bottles are prohibited in tailgating areas. At Mississippi State, alcohol must be in plastic cups. See our packing tips for tailgating success for more ideas on what to bring to your tailgate.
If you would like to experience the tailgating scene, but don’t want to set up your own, just walk through this part of campus. It’s amazing how much of the school’s vibe you can pick up on just by strolling through the tailgate area. Additionally, if you are polite, usually you can find some tailgaters who will invite you to join them.
Our favorite non-tailgating pregame activity is hanging at a nearby sports bar. At most schools, there is an area close to campus filled with bars and restaurants that cater to the university crowd. They will almost always be full of people who will be heading to the game. This is a great way to watch other games and eat before your game starts.
If you have kids with you, you may be looking for a more family-friendly way to enjoy the scene before taking your seats. Most schools have activities on campus that are more inviting to kids than tailgating. Check the athletic department’s website for a list of activities, times, and locations.
One of the more popular activities on campus is the player walk. Usually 3-4 hours before kickoff, the players for the home team parade through a portion of campus on their way to the stadium. This gives your kids a chance to see the players up close. Many times, the players will high-five kids along the way. There is nothing more exciting to a little boy than getting a high five from the star quarterback before the game!
Some schools have a kids zone set up before the game. Most of the time, these activities will be free! At TCU, Frog Alley opens 3 hours prior to kickoff right outside the stadium. It features live music, bounce houses, face painters, and free giveaways from local businesses.
The marching band at any university provides a big piece of the game day entertainment. Many times, these bands perform somewhere on campus prior to the start of the game. This may be a concert or a parade or both. At Notre Dame, the band performs a couple different times on the day of the game. Many times, the cheerleaders and mascot will be with the band during these performances.
I’m not sure if any other school does this or not, or if it is exclusive to TCU. Kids 12 and under, referred to as “bleacher creatures”, are allowed to run the field moments before the team comes out of the tunnel. It’s free. You just have to line up in the corner of the stadium 20 minutes prior to kickoff. Parents are able to run the field with them. It’s kinda neat to see hundreds of kids running like mad the length of the field with the mascot. My son loves doing this.
Be sure to be in your seats at least 20-30 minutes prior to kickoff. This will allow your family to enjoy all of the on-field pregame festivities. This usually includes the band performing, the teams running out on the field, and the cheerleaders tumbling and performing stunts on the field. It also usually includes a motivational video on the video board. Sometimes, it includes a flyover by military planes and/or skydivers. At Air Force, their live mascot falcon also does a flyover.
The college football experience is so much more than just going to the game. It includes a day full of cheering, hanging out, and having fun. Be sure to arrive early to take full advantage of all the fun that your favorite school has to offer. There are plenty of things to do prior to the game that will entertain you and your kids. And, I’m sure, that if you take full advantage of it all, it will be a day your kids won’t soon forget! To see the schedule for all Football Bowl Series schools, go to cbssports.com. For more tips, see our tips for tailgating with toddlers, how to maximize your bowl game experience, and tips on getting your football tickets. Happy travels!