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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
After a string of Division II success, which included national championships in softball, men's basketball, and men's and women's tennis, UC Davis began play as a Division I school in 2007. Corresponding with the move up the division ladder, Aggie Stadium opened up that same year with a capacity of 10,743.
The UC system is very academically focused so the movement for a new stadium for the Aggies came as a bit of a surprise. As it is, only 3 of the 10 UC schools field a football team. I'd imagine the reason is two fold; one, the expensive nature of a football program and two, the lack of college football passion compared to schools in the Midwest or the South.
While the other UC schools (Cal and UCLA) compete in the FBS' PAC-12, the Aggies compete in the FCS subdivision. UC Davis competes in the Big Sky Conference with Causeway Classic rivals Sacramento State for football only. For most other sports they compete in the Big West Conference.
The field is named after former head coach and College Football Hall of Famer Jim Sochor. Their current coach Bob Biggs will retire at the end of the 2012 season, his 20th as the head football coach.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Aggie Stadium has two main concession stands, one above each sideline grandstand. At these stands you have a decent selection that includes: hot dogs ($4.50), Polish dogs ($5.50), hot links ($5.50), pretzel w/cheese ($4.75), nachos ($4.50), and burritos ($5.50) w/meat ($6.50). Snacks include churro, popcorn, and boxed candy ($3). Bottled water is $3 and a souvenir soda is $6, refills just $3.
I ate at Star Ginger, a Vietnamese food truck, parked inside Aggie Stadium. They have a variety of rice bowls for $7 and Banh Mi, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches, for $6. I don't know if Star Ginger is there every week or if others come and go in their stead but it's clear that food trucks are wildly popular in California. There are food festivals dedicated solely to food trucks and I've seen them pop-up at sporting events, including San Jose Earthquakes and Stanford Cardinal games.
Aggie Stadium has simple, stream-lined seating for football games, each side a mirror image of the other. There are two bleacher sections on the sidelines. One side hosts the Aggie Band, the Aggie Pack, and the visiting fans. The other side consists of some general admission seats alongside the premium seats.
All seating is accessible by going down to either your seat or a grassy area. Eventually the plan is to expand Aggie Stadium to 30,000 seats by filling in the grassy knolls and to add to upper deck seating. A rendering of what this may look like can be seen here.
Personally, I love the look of the small, aesthetically pleasing stadium and wonder if they can really triple the size without having too many empty seats. Since there isn't a grandstand to block your view, you can see the surrounding agriculture, as well as the UC Davis water tower.
The UC Davis campus butts up against the downtown Davis neighborhood. This area is a vibrant mix of students and families and visitors should take advantage of the atmosphere that the neighborhood provides.
Popular restaurants downtown are Froggy's Grill, Woodstock's Pizza, and Burgers and Brew.
The best place for a pregame beer is The Grad. It's your typical college-town sports bar with plenty of TVs, 50 plus beers on tap, and a full kitchen. All this within staggering distance to the front gates.
Microbrew enthusiasts take note that there is indeed a brewery in Davis serving up some suds. Sudwerk is a brewery that creates their own versions of traditional German-style beers while still providing some of the California staples like pale ales and IPAs.
A farmer's market is held year-round, rain or shine, on Saturdays at Central Park.
Davis is a well-known bicycle paradise; heck, a bicycle is even in their town logo. Davis is also the home to the US Bicycling Hall of Fame and has plenty of bike lanes. There were over 1,000 bike parking spots outside Aggie Stadium, all of them in use.
The Aggie faithful were certainly into the game throughout, albeit laid back.
In my eyes, there were two strange things about the seating. First, and funny to me, was the huge crowds that chose to pass on their seats and sit in the shadow of the scoreboard on the hot day. The shadow was completely covered by fans. Second, was the empty seating section between the band and the student section, near midfield. These were the two most boisterous sections in the stadium and it was odd that they were separated from each other by an empty section.
Kids are certainly welcome at Aggie Stadium as it was a very family-friendly feel. Many of the kids chose to roll down the hills over and over again, at either end of the stadium. There was no notable drinking or swearing and that would make any family feel welcome.
Still, at 80 percent capacity, I wonder if their expansion plans make any sense. Granted, I'd imagine they would draw better against Cal Poly or Sacramento State than the Portland State Vikings, whom I saw.
The UC Davis campus is located conveniently off of highway 80, 15 miles west of Sacramento and 75 miles east of San Francisco. Getting there isn't difficult but you should certainly expect significant traffic during peak hours after work.
Downtown Davis is easy to get around for first-timers as many of the streets progress numerically and alphabetically, so you never feel like you're unsure of your location.
There is a local bus service, UniTrans, operated by UC Davis that services much of the city and all of the campus. Buses are driven by university students and cater to the inevitably odd schedules of college students.
Beyond the local buses, there is also an Amtrak stop that stops downtown. This train goes through Sacramento with bus connections that can take passengers as far as Tahoe and Reno. Going the other direction, the "Capitol Corridor" train passes through Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose, with connections to San Francisco.
There's one designated parking lot on a grass field outside the stadium but you can park at most of the UC Davis parking lots (don't park in residential lots!) for free on weekends. Make sure to check for signs in case there is a dual event at the Mondavi Center. I parked at the UC Davis Health and Wellness Center for free (you must pay during the week) and walked the ten minutes to Aggie Stadium.
Getting around once inside Aggie Stadium is a breeze. There are plenty of restrooms and the concession and merchandise stands are well staffed and lines move quickly. Getting to your seat is easy since the sections are a bit narrow, thus plenty of staircases to access. I appreciate that since you don't have to walk over a bunch of people to get to your seat. They seem to be well set up to expand, whenever that may be.
General admission tickets start at $15 and jump to $25 for premium general admission, closer to midfield. Concessions aren't unreasonable and you can park for free if you look. Unfortunately, the UC Davis football team has been pretty poor during the 2012 season and the product on the field isn't the best. That being said, a day game at Aggie Stadium is delightful. I'd love to make it back for a Causeway Classic matchup.
The Tavernetti Bell is outside of the main gate to Aggie Stadium. It is named after Thomas Tavernetti and is rung after every Davis victory.
Due to the newness of Aggie Stadium there isn't much in the way of historical significance but they do have a wall listing all the top athletic donors and a UC Davis Fire Department fire truck in stadium, belonging to the Aggie Pack. A couple firefighters were atop the truck, checking out the game.
I have to believe that Aggie Stadium is one of the finer venues in the FCS and is certainly worth checking out.
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