As college football's newest independent, BYU is making a concerted effort to stand out from the crowd. The football program is guided by three principles touted by head coach Bronco Mendenhall since his hiring: Tradition, Spirit, and Honor.
Just how much do these principles matter to BYU? Not only will you find them littered throughout LaVell Edwards Stadium, you'll find them emblazoned on the fields in lieu of a conference logo.
For a school with aspirations of becoming a globally recognized brand, it helps to have a nice stadium to show off. Does LES fit the bill? Let's explore.
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".
Much like its basketball counterpart, the Marriott Center, LES has a vast array of offerings. There are plenty of stands featuring stadium staples: "Cougar" Dogs ($3.50), Polishes ($4.50), popcorn ($4), nachos ($4), candy ($3.50), peanuts (3.50), burgers ($6 w/ chips), and chicken sandwiches ($7 w/ chips).
Drinks include Coke products ($4 for 32 oz., $6.50 for souvenir cup w/ unlimited in-game refills), bottled water ($3) and, on this frigid night, hot chocolate ($3 regular foam cup, $7 souvenir cup). Note that all beverages on BYU campus are served caffeine-free.
LES's more exotic offerings include a pulled pork sandwich from on-campus favorite Legends Grille ($7.50 with chips), Freschetta personal pizzas ($7) and calzones ($8), burritos and salads from local fresh-mex hotspot Costa Vida ($10.50 each), and the Brat-Tail, a maple bar stuffed with a brat ($7.50; $4.50 for a brat-less Cougar Tail).
BYU has a great reputation for its Creamery and Dining Services. Here, you can try a pint of BYU Creamery Ice Cream for $3.50 or a BYU mint brownie for $2. More savory choices from BYU Dining Services include $7.50 "signature" sandwiches (a Philly cheesesteak is the specialty), and $6 Italian sausages.
Independent kiosks along the concourse feature Sticky's Rice Bowl ($8.50), Garlic Fries ($6.50), Churros ($4 for "Double Twisted," $2.50 for a 16-inch "Cali"), and kettle corn ($5-$7).
BYU's sudden jump to independence for the 2011 season has had its advantages (increased exposure through a TV deal with ESPN), but also its growing pains. The game I attended combined two of the largest growing pains of newfound independence.
First, kickoff was set by ESPN at 8:30 p.m. local time to fill the late slot on ESPNU. For a fan base used to afternoon games, especially in later months and colder temperatures, this is a turn-off. Even so, enthusiasm at night games is not usually deterred for quality opponents.
Which brings me to the second growing pain experienced during my game. BYU signed an agreement with the WAC to help fill its first few years of independent schedules until BYU could begin regularly doing so on its own. The opponent this night was New Mexico State, not exactly an attractive name.
How does this fit into LES's entire atmosphere? The combination resulted in lots of empty seats (especially in the end zones) and an overall dampening of enthusiasm, especially as BYU pulled away in the second half. Not even the allure of Senior Night could seem to attract more fans.
All of the elements were there for a great college experience: a vibrant band ("The Power of the Wasatch"), an engaged, active mascot (Cosmo the Cougar), and a gaggle of cheerleaders, but they could only do so much. More on this in the "Fans" section.
The heavy Mormon population/influence makes Provo an atypical college town. In other words, sports bars and the like are non-existent.
There are still some quality nearby eateries, though. For the burger-and-fries crowd, there's Burgers Supreme (1796 N University Parkway; 0.7 miles away). Their motto? "Something for everyone's taste." Whether you crave a burger, a gyro, pastrami, kabobs, salads, fish and chips, or any other nice and juicy creation, you can find it here. For my taste, I prefer the Bleu Bacon Burger.
If you enjoy the ever-growing concept of fast-casual Fresh-Mex, then Cafe Rio (2250 N University Parkway; 1.4 miles away) is the place for you. The restaurant, now renowned throughout the West, has its roots in Utah. You'll have plenty of time in line most days to choose what you want, but be ready to order when you get to the counter, as those building your dish prefer you to move and answer their questions quickly. Their signature item is the pork burrito, which I prefer enchilada style (topped with sauce and melted cheese for a little extra).
On a typical game day, this number would probably be higher. The somewhat muted enthusiasm produced on this particular cold, dark night, merits this number.
There are things BYU fans do well; chief among them is actually singing their fight song. I've heard more people actively belting out the refrain "Rise & Shout, The Cougars Are Out!" at BYU's venues than I have at any other college stadium I've visited.
Other than that, though, there isn't much more to motivate fans beyond the on-field action. School policies discouraging tailgating lessen the incentive for fans to come early and get pumped up pre-game. There is an official, sponsored tailgate in the West parking lot adjacent to LES, but it appears to be more focused on giveaways and classic rock than fight songs or pep rallies.
The band marches down Canyon Road before entering the stadium, but there isn't much else with regards to pre-game "Rah-Rah," such as rival Utah has with its pregame "Ute Walk." The result is a significant portion of the fan base being staid and content with arriving just before (or after) kickoff.
Another element lacking in this department is an engaged student section. There are plenty of students who come, but BYU spreads them throughout the end zones and portions of the East side stands. This makes coming up with unified chants and cheers essentially impossible. As a result, I saw several students more interested in their phones and socializing than in the game itself.
News broke in late 2010 and early 2011 of the school's attempt to sit all students together in the South end zone and form The ABYSS (Almighty Brigham Young Student Section). If realized, this unity should give a boost to the in-game experience. After all, it's worked for the Marriott Center in recent years.
The sizeable lots that surround the stadium - normally reserved for media, boosters and season ticket holders - are opened to the public shortly before kickoff, provided there are spaces remaining. If you prefer not to press your luck, free on-campus parking is plentiful, particularly at the nearby Marriott Center.
Many of the bathrooms are in areas that butt right up against the stands, so expect low ceilings and tight spaces. The best bathrooms are on the stadium's recently refurbished East side, largely because they are in their own little structure, separated from the bleachers.
Concourses along the upper bowl can be a bit tight at times, but you'll have almost no trouble navigating though the lower bowl, particularly behind the end zones. The same goes for the aisles that divide the upper bowl, lower bowl, and field-side seats.
My ticket ($18 face value) gave me a great view for a good price: halfway up the upper bowl at the 20-yard line. The wide variety of food items mean something for most any budget and taste, helping add to the value here.
Aesthetically, it may not have as much appeal as venues of other notable programs, but long-rumored improvements and renovations (most notably, widescreen HD videoboards) appear to be closer to fruition. Some Cougar fans put more weight on these features than others, but a program seeking recognition the world over should make every effort to put its best (looking) foot forward.
One point for meaningful pre-game rituals. Those who make the effort to arrive well before kickoff are treated to a pre-game prayer, the band's traditional "Cougar Spell" (forming the word COUGARS before playing the fight song and marching off the field). The most unique of these is when a notable alumnus (usually not affiliated with athletics) is honored on-field and is given the charge to "Light The Y", a ceremonial beginning to the day's action. In olden days, an actual "Y" atop the South scoreboard lit up and remained so throughout the game. It has been replaced with a CGI "Y" that appears only briefly next to a shot of the honored alum.
One point for the view. Looking toward LES's east side makes one feel as if the Wasatch Mountains are right next to the field. The result is breathtakingly beautiful, highlighted by the renowned "Y Mountain" and its student-constructed block "Y."
One point for a nice touch of blue. As mentioned earlier, LES is not what many would call a beautiful structure, especially with a largely gray exterior. Which is why the sudden appearance of a crane and blue paint near the West side elevators shocked the community. The result is a nice dash of color and a more collegial feel, especially seeing the towers from inside LES, where the stretch "Y" logo is visible.
LaVell Edwards Stadium is a fine facility, and offers a suitable game day experience. Many of the improvements suggested here are already reportedly in motion or will come naturally as BYU is able to attract more quality opponents to Provo. In doing so, the school can better position itself to leave a greater impact on those being regularly exposed to the program for the first time.
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1796 N University Pkwy
Provo, UT 84604
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