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Official Review by Andrew Pregler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Nestled in the rolling hills of Central New York is Cornell, a school known just as much for its academics as the beautiful plot of land the campus occupies. Tucked away on this historic campus is also a historic football stadium. Schoellkopf Field has been the home of the Big Red since opening in 1915. Now in its 98th season, the field has one of the most unique architectural features of a stadium that you'll find.
The eastern stands are a huge sloping arch (aptly named "The Crescent) that from the outside, model a coliseum. The Crescent was added in 1924 as one of the eight main renovations the stadium has undergone. The largest crowd recorded at Schoellkopf Field was 35,300 when the Big Red defeated the Michigan Wolverines in 1951. Since 1970, the largest crowd Schoellkopf Field has seen was 23,000 when Cornell defeated Columbia in 1971. Cornell has five National Championships with the last coming in 1939. The Big Red also has three Ivy League championships with the last coming in 1990.
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The food offerings here are comparable to almost any other stadium across the country. The key is knowing what side of the stadium to go to. On the west stands beneath the press box, there are just two concession stands (in reality just one that is divided into two) that features the bare minimum of offerings: peanuts, candy, popcorn, pretzels, sodas, hot coffee, chocolate and teas. Ironically enough, these are the stands where most of the visiting fans and band sit!
Under The Crescent is where to satisfy your in-game cravings. There are three large concession areas all with many more offerings. These include burgers, hot dogs, sausage, chili, chili dogs, cheese dogs, chicken fingers, fries and slushies along with the same offerings from the west stands. All of the food is priced fairly between $2-$7 dollars. Since Schoellkopf Field is an in-campus facility, no beer or alcohol is available on campus.
When you drive into Ithaca, you can't help but smile at just how beautiful and tranquil the area is. It brings you back to small town USA. This is similar to how I would describe the football game atmosphere. Before the action started, I found one small tailgate in the lot adjacent to the east stands near the band building. The marching band performs for the fans before marching into the stadium.
As I wandered the stadium, it felt as if most of the fans for both sides were families of the players or families from the area looking for a way to create new young fans of the game of football. Talking to ushers, you immediately comprehend that they know most of the fans on a first name basis. The bands for Brown (visiting team) and Cornell were both active instead of the usual hard rock/pop music over a sound system. The stadium's scoreboard is located in south end zone and while it doesn't have all of the extra bells and whistles of jumbotrons, it does show a high quality video of the action on the field.
And I'll give the cheerleaders for Cornell credit; they are loud and into the game even if the fans they are cheering to are not.
The area immediately around the Cornell campus will only keep you in the area longer. It's a built up area intended to cater to the students at the school and thus offers many choices when it comes to food and drink. I made a venture into the College Town area with a friend who goes to the school. It's a few (admittedly crammed) streets full of restaurants, coffee shops and student apartments just a five minute drive/fifteen minute walk from the stadium. If you like Greek/Mediterranean food, Aladdin's has fantastic authentic food at a good price with a nice selection of bottled beers and wines.
If that's not your scene, Agava is a Mexican restaurant on the other side of campus that serves upscale Mexican food. If you venture into downtown Ithaca, multiple people have recommended the Ithaca Ale House. It's a place with great pub food and local beers and TV's for all sporting events.
As seen in many of the pictures above, there were not great numbers when Cornell took on Brown in Oct, 2013. In fairness, it was the first weekend that Central New York was hit with "football weather," the trademarked cool temperatures with biting winds. Most of the seats taken are in between the thirty yard lines in the center part of The Crescent, which offer the best view of the entire field.
However, almost no one was at the lowest section, leading many high schoolers to stand over the railing for a time. The cheerleaders are positioned in front of the band for most of the game as there is no discernible student section to be found. At this game, those who did brave the cold knew their football and were incredibly friendly and familiar with Cornell football. Some of the most unique views and seats are found as you walk the upper-most concourse on that east set of stands; there are folding chairs set up to watch from on top of The Crescent and have a bird's eye view of the action.
It is not my attempt at creative writing, when I say that Ithaca is nestled in the hills of Central New York. You exit I-81 at Cortland and proceed to take the New York State routes through Cortland and the winding hills and towns between the highway and Ithaca. It the fall, this drive is absolutely gorgeous with the changing leaves which perfectly coincide with football weather. It's best to find your way to Hoy Road as this will lead you to the campus entrance closest to Schoellkopf Field.
After you've navigated your way to Cornell's campus, there is plenty of free parking just off the campus. However, on campus parking is cheap and available at lots scattered throughout the school or in the Hoy Garage. If you can nab a metered parking spot in the Garage, both the baseball field and Schoellkopf Field are adjacent to the garage.
The garage will bring you to the northwest corner of the stadium, where you can find the visiting team's fan section and bleacher seating. Just walk around the north end zone and you'll be over at the west stands where most of the Cornell faithful will be and where I discovered the small tailgate with the band.
With adult admission seating at just $10, Schoellkopf Field offers tremendous value. You can grab great seats for your whole family for under $40 with their children rates, and food won't break the bank either. Factor in the wonderful neighborhood, the scenic drive and sights around the area and the relatively workable prices of food in the area and that weekend trip to Ithaca can be complimented with a quick swing to Schoellkopf to see some D1 football action.
When you grab your seat at Schoellkopf Field, you'll notice a brick building in the north end zone modeled after an older style mansion but clearly much newer. This is the Schoellkopf Memorial Football Building where the offices of all of the coaches and staff are found as well as the teams locker rooms. The bottom level is where you'll find the band room and locker rooms and are off limits to the public. However, the top level is where you'll find the offices and a Hall of Fame area, commemorating legends of Cornell football. There is also a dining area for "select fans" with seating available on the terrace for these fans.
There is a special charm to Ithaca, NY and the Cornell campus. While it isn't an area that screams passion for football, Schoellkopf Field is a historic stadium with character that offers a family friendly atmosphere to watch a collegiate football game with all of the extras that make collegiate football different from anything else. Couple this with the friendly staff and fans and there is no reason not to swing by and watch the Big Red play if you're in the area for a weekend.
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Ithaca, NY 14850
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