Byrd's quirks can ruffle feathers

Fans' suggestions include wider seats, closer parking and alcohol in stadium

Maryland Football

November 14, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II became the most famous fan ever to watch a Terrapins football game at Byrd Stadium.

The stadium was then 7 years old and state-of-the-art, and she and Prince Philip were escorted to a special "royal" box on the 50-yard line.

But how's the stadium holding up for regular folks 51 years later?

The answer, according to many fans, is that it feels like an aging family home - full of memories but outdated and small.

With the stadium in the midst of a major renovation, The Baltimore Sun asked fans what needs upgrading in a place that some described as quaint and others as antiquated.

"I am hopeful that the renovations and improvements at Byrd are going to make it a better place," said Terps fan Dennis Inguagiato of Columbia. But he said he feared the additions would amount to "Band-Aids on torpedo holes of an old sinking ship."

Many fans said more space was needed per bench seat. "Were people that tiny in the 1950s?" one asked. Some said it was time to scrap the benches and install chairs. Others called for more tailgating options near the stadium or an end to the alcohol ban inside.

Kevin Hughes of Salisbury couldn't resist comparing Byrd to another area stadium. "I don't know how practical it is - considering how jammed up U of M is already for space - but some close parking might be nice," Hughes said. "Whenever I go, it seems that I'm a good half-hour walk from Byrd. I attend a lot of Navy games, so maybe I'm spoiled because Navy-Marine Corps Stadium is surrounded by a huge lot."

By next season, Tyser Tower will undergo a $50.8 million expansion that will add 64 luxury suites and 440 mezzanine seats. Then the field will be lowered to improve sight lines for the closest rows. Some 8,000 seats are eventually to be added to the west end zone, bringing stadium capacity to about 60,000.

To Maryland athletic officials, the stadium will always be a work in progress. "We get a fair amount of fan opinion about what works and what doesn't work, and we listen," said Brian Ullmann, a senior associate athletics director.

"We are proud of our historic football stadium. For tens of thousands of Terps fans, it is a special place, right in the heart of campus. Maintaining a 57-year-old stadium comes with a unique set of challenges, and balancing the historic character of the stadium with modern enhancements is our ongoing goal."

To fans who propose building a larger stadium, the university says that would pose issues about land and money - money the school simply doesn't have.

Maryland knows complaints are inevitable. At many stadiums - and Byrd is no exception - fans say the public-address system is either too loud or not loud enough. Terps fans seem to complain more about the latter.

The university also tries to find the appropriate balance between fun and over-the-top rowdiness. It forbids the band to play Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2," which sparks a rude chant from students.

"It's not exactly a family-friendly atmosphere at times," Hughes said. "I feel like I'm at a bar. That's OK to some degree ... but I have a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old."

Here is a list of the most popular fan suggestions, along with the university's responses:

* Widen the seats. Lower-bowl seating spaces range from about 16.9 inches to 17.2 inches. About 12,000 upper-deck seats added in 1995 are about an inch wider. "The lower bowl is sold out, so if we expanded the seats, we would have to displace thousands of fans," Ullmann said. Chair backs are available for rental, but there are no plans to make them standard.

* Find more close-in lots for parking and tailgating. This is a constant struggle because university property is limited. The university's master plan calls for more parking garages, which don't work well for tailgating. "Ensuring there are sufficient surface lots for tailgating is a priority for us," Ullmann said.

* Permit alcohol in the stadium. The university says it's not budging on this one because of concerns about illegal drinking. The student section consists of 10,000 seats, or about one-fifth of the stadium, and many students are under age. The Baltimore Sun recently reported the university will permit beer and wine sales next season in Byrd's 64 new suites, but nowhere else in the stadium.

NORTH CAROLINA (7-2, 3-2 ACC) @MARYLAND (6-3, 3-2)

Tomorrow, 3:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: North Carolina by 3

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