Ranking Oregon’s Four Major Sports Venues
Jay Swanson, EDN Sports
For a town of just over 150,000 people, Eugene is fortunate to be home to four of the best college sporting venues in the nation. Hayward Field, Autzen Stadium, Matt Knight Arena, and PK Park all offer something unique to those attending their games.
Here is one fan’s ranking of the four, from 4th to 1st.
#4 – PK Park, baseball
Look, if PK Park is coming in 4th in the rankings of the U of O sports stadiums, then that tells you a little something about the quality of these venues.
Let’s be clear – this is one of the largest and most impressive college baseball stadiums in the nation.
Built in 2009 to coincide with the resurrection of the University’s baseball program (then subsequently completed the following year), it is top notch in terms of seating capacity, sight lines, backdrop, and overall aesthetics. It feels much more like a Triple A stadium than a college one, and certainly helped bring Ducks baseball back with a bang.
My main critique of the field is with its cookie-cutter outfield fence (no “yellow monster”, triple ally, or short porch?) and with the turf field around all of the bases. Maybe I’m old school, but when you slide in baseball, your uniform should get dirty. Period. Having the turf field instead of grass definitely makes sense for soggy Eugene conditions, but putting dirt around the base paths and home plate would have been a smart move.
#3 – Matt Knight Arena, basketball/volleyball
I’m all for uniqueness when it comes to a basketball stadium (the parquet floor of the Boston Garden, the floating court of Stanford’s Maples Pavilion), but the trees encroaching into the court on Matt Knight Arena are over the top.
Ok, so that’s not the only feature of this sparkling new building, but it is one of the first and most lasting impressions left on fans. In trying for a unique “branding” of the home court, Oregon went too far.
What did they do right? The steeply banked seating, especially in the upper deck, means that even the top rows are not that far from the action, and allows for a more intimate feel than the 12,500 seat capacity would seem to indicate – perfect for basketball. The outside of the stadium is beautiful and instantly recognizable.
Inside, the spacious concourse allows fans to easily find their section, bathroom, or concession stand without feeling like a herd of cattle. So besides the paint on the floor, what’s not to like? I guess I’ll always be partial to good old Mac Court, with its creaking floors, cramped seats, pillars blocking views, and ancient amenities.
It was far from luxurious, but the student section was right on the court, and it was imposing for visiting teams. Mac Court was a classic venue. Maybe in time Matt Knight arena can become something of the same.
#2 – Hayward Field, track & field
Oregon’s reputation as “Track Town USA” owes as much to the iconic Hayward Field itself as any of the legendary runners who have laced up shoes and run on it.
Two towering grandstands on the backstretch and homestretch allow Eugene’s knowledgeable fans to exhort their favorites to dig down for that final kick for the tape, and some of the personal bests boasted here can attest to that inspiration.
The views from the stadium again are beautiful, and the track and field are kept in pristine condition. There’s a reason Hayward Field has played host to the past two Olympic trials, and the 93-year-old legend shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
#1 – Autzen Stadium, football
“It never rains at Autzen Stadium.” This traditional welcome from Ducks announcer Don Essig may not be technically true, but figuratively it is an accurate way to describe the fan experience at an Oregon football game in the fall.
Known for being one of the loudest stadiums in the country, Autzen provides a true home field advantage for the Ducks. The stadium has the capacity to accommodate plenty of loud and raucous revelers (up to 59,000 including standing room seating) without having any “nosebleed” seats that are too far from the action.
The turf field is state of the art, arranged in Autzen’s familiar alternating light and dark green stripes, with views of the city of Eugene and surrounding hills serving as a perfect backdrop. One of the best ways to get to the stadium is by the walking trail that begins at campus and crosses the Willamette River.
Emerging from the woods, Autzen is revealed in imposing glory, with the giant “O” welcoming spectators to its gates. There is no better place to be on a fall Saturday than at a college football game. And as a sports fan, there is no better stadium to be in than Autzen.
Stadium Journey, a website devoted to reviewing, critiquing and evaluating professional and college stadiums, places Oregon’s athletic facilities near the top in nearly every one. Oregon fans have four great stadiums.