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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
While the Division I – Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) grapples with the logistics around creating a four team postseason playoff, the next level down (Division I – Football Championship Subdivision; FCS) is moving full steam ahead having expanded their playoff system from 16 teams to 20 in 2010 and is scheduled to increase to 24 seeds in 2013. In the FCS, the national champion must earn their title on the field through a multi-week playoff instead of trying to win through the polls. The NCAA Division I Football Championship game has been hosted at several sites since 1978 until finding a long-term home in Finley Stadium on the campus of Tennessee-Chattanooga between 1997 and 2009. A bidding process opened up and FC Dallas Stadium (formerly Pizza Hut Park) in Frisco, Texas was selected as the new home of the Championship game beginning with the 2010 season.
FC Dallas Stadium is named (obviously so) for its primary tenant, FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. The stadium was originally named Pizza Hut Park but changed to simply FC Dallas Stadium in 2012 when the contract with Pizza Hut expired. The venue was built and is owned by the City of Frisco. Opened in 2005, FC Dallas Stadium has a listed capacity of 20,500. Three FCS Championship games have been hosted at the stadium (2010-2012 seasons) and are scheduled to remain as the host site through at least 2015.
The overall experience at the FCS Championship game is one certainly worthy of consideration for travelers. Before heading out to Frisco for the game, be sure to check out the FANFARE rating below for tips and notes about the stadium experience.
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".
Compared to other FCS venues, there's a ton of concession options for fans to enjoy at FC Dallas Stadium. Major built-in concession booths inside the stadium include Lone Star Café / Bent Buckle (BBQ), Vaqueros (street tacos), Texas Burger House, and booths which sell your traditional stadium fare.
There are several mobile stands in the north gate concourse ranging from CiCi's Pizza, Fletcher Corny Dogs and Funnel Cakes, and the Holy Smokers (turkey legs). As you walk around the main stadium concourse, you'll find several other mobile stands. In all, I'd be surprised if someone couldn't find a bite to satisfy their craving. Personally, I'd recommend stopping at the Bent Buckle stand and grabbing a BBQ plate (when in Texas, do as the Texans do). If that doesn't float your boat, give the street tacos a try at Vaqueros. Prices are a little high, but you'd expect nothing else from a stadium that belongs to a professional team.
This is one of the few stadiums in the nation that offers RC Cola as their primary soda beverage. You're normally faced with either a selection of Coca-Cola products or Pepsi. At FC Dallas Stadium, you'll get neither but will have Dr. Pepper as an option as well as 7UP, IBC Root Beer, and Sunkist. The stadium is equipped to sell alcohol, but the items weren't for sale during this collegiate championship event.
The pre-game experience is almost as electric as the in-game experience. Constructed just outside the stadium, the NCAA "Tailgate Town" is a one of a kind experience. Here you'll find a live band and several interactive events like a football toss and combine challenge. There will also be guest star experiences. For the 2011 season championship, former FCS superstar Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) was on hand and the 2012 championship featured Drew Pearson (University of Tulsa).
You really can't ask for a better atmosphere for an FCS college football game. Personally, I'd rank it pretty high compared to most of the FBS bowl games. Though excuses continue to mount for why a major playoff system isn't feasible at the FBS level, FCS and lower levels of the NCAA continue to show examples of what a major football championship would look like. The atmosphere is simply electric. The crowds are consistently in the game as the opposing team takes the field. Both program bands are on display for all to see in the north endzone and cheerleader squads are in the stands leading chants and cheers.
FC Dallas Stadium has a great layout for the FCS Championship game. The horseshoe style venue has seating wrapping from the northwest corner, into the south endzone, and back around to the northeast corner. The seating areas are built into the ground so that the concourses are ground level and the seating areas are below.
Considering that field level is below ground, the backdrop of the open north endzone is pretty unique with a concrete wall covered by vines and a stage area primarily used for post-game concerts after FC Dallas matches. This will be the area the post-game festivities will take place including the awarding of the National Championship trophy to the winning program. Two video scoreboards are located on each side of the north endzone. On the west side, just below the pressbox and suites you'll find a ribbon video display which stretches along the west side.
Since an MLS team is the primary tenant for the venue, the field surface is natural grass. FC Dallas Stadium does a great job of making fans feel like they are at the FCS Championship game and not just another neutral site stadium. Banners cover the stadium featuring logos for both participating teams, the NCAA logo, and the Division I National Championship Trophy. There isn't a bad seat in the house, but the 50 yard line on the east side is personally my favorite location. This gives you a great view of the field, a clear path up and down the seating area to a spacious concourse, and easy access to concession/restroom facilities.
Frisco is a suburb of Dallas on the north side of the city approximately 30 miles away. The Dallas / Forth Worth area has tons of quality food options and attractions, but Frisco is a unique area with much to offer as well. An absolute must stop while you're in town is Babe's Chicken Dinner House. They make homemade fried chicken that will rival any other outside recipe. Add in family servings of mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans and it's almost worth a trip to the Dallas area in itself.
You'll find plenty of Rudy's BBQ stations around Texas, but if you're not from the area make sure you stop in and give it a try. Everything on the menu is amazing and I'm always torn between the turkey and ribs when I'm in line. Their BBQ sauce is hands-down my favorite. Don't feel like a sissy if their "Sissy" sauce is a tastier alternative to their regular sauce which has a pretty hot kick to it. Burger Girl is another unique stop that includes tasty burgers and "friendly servers".
Though Frisco isn't overflowing with attractions, you'll definitely enjoy your stay in the area for championship weekend. Whether it's mingling with friends and foes in Frisco Square or enjoying the RV tailgate land that comes together in the days leading up to the game, good times await. If you're into museums, you'll find a unique one in the area in the Museum of the American Railroad. There's also a pretty fun (though a tad pricey) indoor go-kart racing facility named Pole Position Raceway.
My recommendation for lodging is the Comfort Suites Frisco Square which is literally across the street from FC Dallas Stadium.
At the time of this particular review, three championships games have been hosted at FC Dallas Stadium: Eastern Washington versus Delaware in 2010 and two games between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State (2011-2012). When the championship was hosted in Chattanooga, the attendance ranged between a low of approximately 12,000 to a high of 23,000. The three championship games at FC Dallas Stadium have recorded attendance figures of 12,027 (2010), 20,586 (2011), and 21,411 (2012).
Without any doubt, the venue has benefited from hosting two straight championships games between the home state Sam Houston State Bearkats and arguably the best traveling fans in the FCS (and likely better than many in the FBS) from the North Dakota State Bison. In the first match-up between ND State and SHSU, Bison fans surprisingly slightly outnumbered Bearkat fans by about 55% to 45%. The 2012 season finale was clearly in favor of the Bison both in the stands and on the field as the Bison took two straight championship games over the Bearkats and dominated the stands in green and gold colors with at least 70% of the stadium.
There's no moment in sports like when a field or court is rushed by fans of a college program after a signature win and seeing North Dakota State rush the field for the second straight year was something even disappointed Bearkat fans have to appreciate.
The low attendance of the first game in 2010 was either a blip on the radar or a sign of what the game in Frisco will look like without a home state team or the best traveling fans in the subdivision. Frisco was a long haul for both fans in Eastern Washington and Delaware. Many of the current and traditional powerhouses in FCS are located on the East Coast and northern states so a similar situation could be replicated in the future. With that said, it's hard to give a consistent fan rating knowing that participating teams will change each year. However, there's little doubt that the fans who do show up will bleed their school colors and create an amazing atmosphere.
The location of the venue was a leading factor in switching from Chattanooga to Frisco. The DFW Airport is a half-hour from Frisco which allows for a massive and accessible airport to facilitate traveling fans. The venue is located just off Dallas Parkway. It doesn't get much more accessible. Both times I've visited there really wasn't much traffic congestion and it was pretty easy to find a parking spot. Expect to pay about $10 for a close parking spot, which isn't too bad. You'll complete a brisk walk to the gate and be faced with a bit of a line, but don't fret, it moves pretty quickly. Restroom facilities are available around the venue and are both clean and accessible.
Depending on the matchup, ticket prices will vary. If you get them early, before participating teams are selected, you can get a pretty good deal. This option only works for overly optimistic fans and those who are just going for the enjoyment of the game, regardless of who's playing. I was able to score tickets for $40 for both the 2011 and 2012 season ending events. Though that's certainly high for the average FCS fan, it's nothing when you consider the lasting memories created watching your alma mater or favorite college program playing in a national championship game.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For FC Dallas Stadium, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
You absolutely have to give Babe's Chicken Dinner House a try. You'll be hooked from the first taste of homemade fried chicken and addicted after a heaping spoon of mashed potatoes and gravy.
I'll always remember seeing Jerry Rice in person at the 2011 championship. The chance to mingle with a former college and pro star is a possibility at the event in the pre-game TailgateTown.
No kidding, college football championships can actually be decided through a playoff system. Don't buy the lie, football championships are meant to be settled on the field and there's no valid excuse for not doing so. The FCS Championship game is proof.
Personally, nothing is better than seeing smaller programs on a big stage. Many of the fans you'll meet at the FCS Championship game have a bit of a chip on their shoulder as larger area programs steal all the press during the regular season. To finally have a share of the spotlight creates a moment none of these fans will ever forget; win or lose.
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