For nearly a century, Ohio Stadium has housed Ohio State football.
It's not going anywhere anytime soon. In the modern age, though, is it a good enough stadium for the Buckeyes, or do they deserve better?
We're here to end the debate.
Take: Ohio Stadium Is A Tremendous Venue For The Buckeyes
Matt Gutridge: Before we jump into why Ohio Stadium is awesome, let's take a few moments to dispel two ill-conceived notions that are floating around about our pristine chapel.
“Ohio Stadium’s atmosphere sucks!” The atmosphere of the building is in direct correlation to the people attending. Against some opponents, yes, Ohio Stadium does resemble a morgue. However, that has occurred because of ticket pricing, student seating and the Buckeyes' opponent. It’s hard for the masses to get excited for payday seekers like Tulsa, UNLV and Tulane.
Abandon the concept of every ticket price being the same price. A person sitting on the 50-yard line in A-deck should not pay the same price as a fan sitting in D-deck and the corner of the end zone. One idea: bring the students down to field level. Have the kids in A-deck and wrap them around the end zone from the home and visiting 10 yard lines. The students bring the most energy and will give the Buckeyes even more of a home field advantage. It also might be a good idea to put the kids behind the opposing team’s bench.
“The WiFi in the shoe sucks.” Really? You’re going to the game and you’re concerned about the WiFi? That might be a contributing factor as to why you think the atmosphere sucks. If you attend a game, put your stupid phone in your stupid pocket and watch the freaking game. Unlike his dating life, the dork that is concerned about the lack of WiFi needs to understand the action is on the grass, not in the palm of his hand.
Has the environment in the stadium changed over the years? Yes. Is that the fault of the stadium? No. Blame the sterile and corporate environment that has permeated the Neoclassical architecture on an outdated ticket policy and some fans that are more concerned about their social media status rather than the team on the field.
Enough of that. Let’s get into why Ohio Stadium is awesome.
The Horseshoe, The Shoe, The House That Harley Built
On the banks of the Olentangy River sits the iconic home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The 98-year old stadium is more than 40,000 cubic yards of concrete, 4,000 tons of steel and 1.8 million feet of lumber. It is the congregation point for the Buckeye faithful. It is the heart and soul of the program.
Harley built this house. In 1916 and 1917, Chic brought Ohio State its first two Big Ten championships. In 1919, he gave the Buckeyes their first win against Michigan. When his playing days were completed, Chic was the first Buckeye to earn three All-American honors. Harley’s football exploits inspired the city of Columbus to rally around building an epic stadium for their beloved Buckeyes.
Inspiring. Recruits that experience game days at field level experience the full magnitude of the beautiful Buckeye abode. When standing on the sidelines of the Scarlet and Gray, the stadium is awe-inspiring. The magnitude of the athletic arena’s height and the heartbeat of the fans is palatable when on the field. The Shoe has inspired many recruits to commit to Ohio State.
Over the years, the rotunda at Ohio Stadium has been the backdrop for engagement, wedding and graduation pictures. Not sure how many times a new stadium would be the go-to spot, but pretty sure it would not be the iconic spot Ohio Stadium is.
Saturdays belong in Ohio Stadium. Want to build a modern stadium? Three words should put an end to that ill-conceived thought: The Schottenstein Center.
Tailgating is ideal around the stadium inspired by Neoclassical architecture. Pregame get-togethers comprise an essential part of the game day ritual. Ohio Stadium is in an ideal spot for fans to congregate before attending their church for college football. If a new stadium is built, where would it be located? If the answer is the current spot, the Buckeyes will be without a home until Ohio Stadium is torn down (sacrilege) and the new stadium is constructed.
Award-winning. After the stadium’s construction, Howard Dwight Smith won the American Institute of Architects gold medal in public architecture. In 1974, the National Park Service added Ohio Stadium to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Ohio Stadium is a registered historic place.
Don’t blame the current blasé environment on the stadium. That blame falls squarely on a poor ticket pricing policy and student seating. The university has out-priced the common fan, removed the impact of the students and created a corporate feel. To get life back into the stadium, put the students in A-deck seats surrounding both end zones. This would produce a hostile environment for opposing teams when they enter the red zone.
I have shared many great experiences with family members and friends in Ohio Stadium. There is something special about being in a building that has hosted millions of like-minded people. There is something special knowing that fans 20, 50 or even 100 years from now will witness Ohio State football in the same venue that we do today.
Unique. The iconic building was the first double-decked horseshoe-shaped stadium in the country. At the time of its construction, capacity attendance in Ohio Stadium made the gathering of fans the third-largest population in our great state.
Memorable moments aplenty at 410 Woody Hayes Drive. Here’s a run-on sentence to remind you of some of those moments. Red Grange’s last collegiate football game in 1925, Francis Schmidt and the Buckeyes beating Michigan 34-0 in 1934, Paul Brown returns in 1944, the 1950 Snow Bowl, the Buckeyes defeating No. 1 Iowa in 1985, John Cooper quitting against USC in 1990, Eddie George’s 314 yards against Illinois in 1995, the Texas thriller in 2006, the Brooklyn Dagger and a double-overtime victory in 2016, J.T. Barrett’s comeback against our non-rival in 2017.
“Ohio Stadium represents more than one of the most spectacular venues for college football. It represents audacity, confidence, and most of all, genius.”– Knowlton School
Yes, Ohio Stadium is all of those things. Ohio Stadium is awesome.
Counter-Take: Ohio Stadium Is Not A Good Venue For Ohio State Football
Johnny Ginter: In addition to receiving two diplomas within its confines, by my count I've attended somewhere around 40 Ohio State football games in Ohio Stadium with friends, family, and colleagues. Some of my favorite, most treasured memories take place inside one of America's oldest continuously-used football stadiums.
So it's important to start off by saying that despite everything that I'm about to write, the Horseshoe is truly a place I hold near and dear to my heart.
I've watched Urban Meyer annihilate foes from the most remote corners of C-deck, cheered on Ted Ginn from Block O in both the north and south stands, happily dealt with the cramped quarters and obstructed views of B-deck, and watched Ryan Hamby drop a winning touchdown pass from 15 yards away in A-deck. I've had seats two rows up on the 50-yard line and reported on games from the press box and stormed the field twice, both times after wins against Michigan.
In short, I have spent an enormous amount of time in and around Ohio Stadium watching the Buckeyes from every possible angle, and because of my own personal history with a place I consider near-sacred, it brings me no pleasure to report that Ohio Stadium is in fact Not A Good Venue For Ohio State Football.
Its edifice is cracked, its concourse is a Soviet-era brutalist wind tunnel, its seats are small and uncomfortable, and just because we've deemed it socially acceptable to poop in a closet at large public events doesn't mean that Ohio Stadium's many portable toilets add to the ambiance.
Does Ohio State the Football Program Deserve Ohio Stadium the football venue?
When the gigantic shell was added to the original in the late 1990s, it might've seemed like an interesting way to contrast new and old, while reminding people of the stadium's storied history. Two decades later the discolored concrete of the 1922 building looks less "historic" and more "concerning." As a history teacher, I fully understand and appreciate the need to preserve the original look of historical buildings as much as possible, but the Italians don't let the Duomo in Florence fall to shit just because it was built in the 1300s.
The outside of the stadium matches the utilitarian exercise inside of it. From the time you enter the gates to when you sit down in your seat, you're confronted with nothing but giant slabs of concrete punctuated by a lattice of industrial piping. The concourse is a drafty, wet, mostly unadorned corridor designed to shuttle 100,000 fans in and out of the stadium as quickly as possible while also allowing for easy vomit cleanup.
I can't deny the thrill of walking into the stadium proper and feeling a 100,000 seat building expand in front of you, but let's talk about what happens once you get to your seat.
In 1922, the average height and weight of the adult American male was somewhere around 5 feet and 97 pounds, meaning that even while wearing a suit and a top hat, your typical Roaring Twenties bootlegger could fit nicely into the foot and a half of space allocated for their ass. Almost a century of genetically modified fast food and the CIA putting growth hormone in our water supply later and a robust 21st century third-grader outpaces the WW I-era coed in girth. Even with a seat back (which should come standard but does not) it's almost preferable to stand for the entire three and a half hours of game time, but these days you'll get yelled at in virtually every section of the stadium if you do.
Everything else designed for "comfort" is either unremarkable or simply bad. The food and available souvenirs are fine but not interesting. WiFi was just recently, mercifully added, and works well, but doesn't offset the hundreds of dollars you'll spend in relative discomfort to watch the Buckeyes throttle a Sun Belt team.
Which is the ultimate problem with Ohio Stadium; even admitting the brilliance of Ohio State football, or Script Ohio, or Dotting the I, or Carmen Ohio, or even Quick Cals if you're a weirdo, the fan experience is simply not commensurate with the cost of attending a game. No matter how good the team on the field is, piles of your hard-earned cash are worth more than lukewarm hot dogs, bench seating, and obstructed views of a flex-priced blowout that was the only fiscally-responsible game option available.
The powers-that-be at Ohio State know this, too. Legitimate worries about declining attendance and an inability to compete with a nice comfy couch, 52 inch HD TV, and a six-pack have lead to some minor stadium upgrades. But that's really missing the fact that to draw fans in consistently, a modern sporting venue needs to be, well... modern. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and built over a decade ago, has half the seating of Ohio Stadium and three times the bathrooms. Makes you think.
Woody Hayes was right: you win with people. Not Stadiums. That last part was implied but I'm pretty sure that's what he meant
The amazing, beautiful moments that we've seen in the Horseshoe over the years are memorable because of who created them, not because of the cramped bench seating or a field level DJ or HD TVs instead of yellowed CRT monitors from 1983. When I watched Troy Smith zig zag his way around Michigan defenders in 2004, I didn't think "HELL YEAH I LOVE C DECK!" When OSU lost to Illinois in 2007 for my last home game as a student, I didn't mutter to myself "Well, at least I got this commemorative cup." When OSU fans somehow successfully pulled off a blackout against Penn State in 2015, I was proud to be a part of the crowd that did it, not proud to be in the stadium that held the crowd.
I love the Ohio State football team, the fans, and the band. Wherever they're doing their thing, I'll be there cheering them on. But that doesn't necessitate a wildly overpriced ticket to an outmoded sports experience, and I hope that changes soon.
In the same year that Ohio Stadium opened, James Joyce published Ulysses, Lenin was keeping a wary eye on a young upstart named Josef Stalin, and one in four people on the planet were subjects of the British Empire.
Maybe, just maybe, it's time to look to the future when it comes to the needs of Ohio State football and its fans.
Photo of Ohio Stadium courtesy of Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports.