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Pac-12 Championship Test Run At Levi's Stadium: A Quick Notebook of Cal vs. Oregon

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I was lucky enough to be at Friday's matchup between Cal and Oregon in what was a test run for the Pac-12 championship game in December. Here are some thoughts on the game and venue

Brian Bahr

On Friday December 5th, the champions of the Pac-12 North and South will converge on Levi's Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game. Last Friday Oregon and Cal played some drunken Pac-12 football in the stadium that blue jeans built and to be honest, it was quite lackluster for a preview. It was a "home" game for Cal, which equated to a 70% full stadium due to a struggling team that can't sell out their own stadium. There are also some more specific complaints that have been had by the folks at California Golden Blogs, who rightly wonder why Cal needed to send a home game down to Santa Clara when playing in Berkeley is much more conducive to a good time. But this will be a true neutral site game, in a shiny new stadium that has every pipe labeled still. Let's list some problems aside from the area specific ones from the Cal fans.

  • Obviously the first issue is with public transportation. Getting to the lots is confusing as hell and I think that the stadium is new enough so that no one knows how it all works. Getting on the light rail or one of the other trains wasn't much better, as from what I heard the VTA didn't seem to alleviate any of the stress of getting to the stadium.
  • Somehow, they need to make the game more accessible in trimming down ticket and concession prices. 11 dollars for a beer is ridiculous, and despite the Groupon offers for reduced ticket prices, I'm not sure how accessible it is to fill up that stadium
  • With a 68,500 person capacity, Levi's Stadium is a pretty tall order to fill up. Even with a local team and a popular team that has fans all over, the stadium didn't fill up too well. Even though whoever was running the video boards tried to pump everyone up, the excitement wasn't really there in the sterile environment of the house that Harbaugh built.
  • Someone did the Oregon band wrong. They were way up top on the upper deck, which didn't feel fair. You could still hear them incredibly well, so kudos to them.
  • This didn't feel like a college game, which is the crux of the problem. Keeping with the tradition of each team in the championship game is necessary to create an atmosphere that people will want to be at.

I think that despite these problems, this could be an opportunity for some good publicity for the new stadium if the fans of their respective teams can travel well. At this point, I feel like Oregon will represent the North as long as their isn't a third straight stumble against Stanford and that Arizona has the most momentum out of any team in the South and that this could be a rematch with teams with solid fanbases in the Bay Area. There are a few points that I think the stadium does well.

  • The stadium has been built up instead of out. If it can be filled up, the stadium is much more intimate than Candlestick or the majority of the stadiums in the Pac-12. It it reminiscent of Folsom Field where the fans are seemingly on top of the field. There could be a lot of noise going for the championship if those promoting the game can do a decent job. Though that may be as likely as Larry Scott firing all the referees.
  • Though aesthetics are a bit overrated and there's too much red, it really is a beautiful stadium. Maybe it's just the just out of the box feeling, but from the field everything looks just great. And there's a garden on the ninth floor, above the press box where they apparently have parties.
  • Lastly, they run a professional ship when it comes to the video boards and music, and with the right crowd it could be a lot better than it was last Friday night.

I'll admit that I was focused on the game for the most part, so I could be missing some other problems that various other attendees could have had. As long as those promoting the game can fill the place, and make it accessible so that they can fill it up, then they could have a decent game on their hands. If Oregon wins out, they could have a shot at the playoff on the line, which would build a lot of excitement which could draw more. I hope that those running the stadium don't try to make it an NFL game, but embrace the college game like their respective stadiums do. That can make it a great game, and for the good of the conference, it needs to be.