I spent the weekend in Champaign, Ill., visiting high school friends at the University of Illinois. I also managed to get my hands on free tickets to the Homecoming game against Michigan State. There's a lot to like -- and a lot not to like -- about game days at U of I. Here's how it compares to game days at Missouri:
Anyone who complains about parking at the University of Missouri needs to step foot on, well, any other campus for that matter. There are seven parking garages on the MU campus and two giant parking lots, all of which are free on football Saturdays. Illinois has five, but none is as large as Virginia Avenue or the new one on Stadium Boulevard. Most fans had to settle for parking downtown and walking or even parking in Urbana and taking a bus. Around the stadium, the U of I lots are gravel or grass. MU has paved lots.
Illinois fans can easily find a spot to set up a tent, grill and chairs around the stadium because of its location and numerous grass areas. Kirby Avenue is closed to traffic, setting up extra tailgating room. At MU, there isn't as much room around the stadium. Tailgating happens wherever there is room and is more scattered throughout the campus. It feels more like a pregame party at U of I.
Advantage: U of I
You would never guess by simply looking at the two stadiums, but Faurot Field actually holds more people (north hill included) than Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Although Illinois' Memorial Stadium looks more like a pro stadium with multiple decks and a mostly closed bowl, Missouri's Memorial Stadium has a nicer main scoreboard, a second scoreboard on the opposite side of the stadium, scoreboards with running scores from other games, and a better public address system. The south backdrop for Illinois' Memorial Stadium is Assembly Hall, which looks more like Space Mountain than a basketball arena. Also, the seat I was in had an obstructed view of the student section because of a light tower.
Anyone who has been to an Illinois/Missouri football game knows that the Illinois marching band is much more impressive than Missouri's band. They definitely put on a show. Starting with the synchronized marches, the Marching Illini look and sound sharp, and unlike Marching Mizzou, they change their pregame show before every game. At halftime, the band was the backdrop for a mini-melodrama show -- something you would never see on Faurot Field. The flyover included two jets weaving back and forth as they flew over the stadium.
Advantage: U of I
Having the students along the side of the field rather than in the end zone makes a huge difference. At Illinois, students are put behind the north end zone which impedes their ability to impact the game. Being down on the field at Faurot, I can say that the students can make a difference with their noise. At U of I, the students can barely be heard -- and that's coming from a guy sitting in the northeast section of the stadium. Missouri's M-I-Z ... Z-O-U chant is clear because the noise travels straight across the field both ways. When the Illinois students start their I-L-L ... I-N-I chant, it sounds like a jumbled mess because the I-N-I comes from the rest of the fans, and noise is traveling in different directions. In general, the fans showed up late to the game too. The stadium was only about two thirds full at kickoff. Maybe it has to do with Illinois being 1-4 or an 11 a.m. start, but either way, something like that would likely not be seen at Missouri.
Because the Illinois campus is integrated with its downtown, fans don't have to go far to get to the bars and restaurants for postgame celebrations. I saw a sea of orange throughout the day downtown and throughout the campus, with everyone seemingly having a good time despite the loss. Because U of I's downtown is bigger and more spread out, it has the look of a fun football atmosphere. At Missouri, the campus separates the stadium from downtown, which could be a reason why it isn't as lively.
Advantage: U of I