PSU Students' Reward For Being Loud: The Worst Seats In The House

↵Penn State's Beaver Stadium has a reputation as one of the most intimidating venues in college football. I've experienced it in person as recently as 2006 and can vouch for its intimidation factor. Though it wasn't anywhere near as intimidating as Alan Branch that night, it's a brain-rattling sort of place. ↵

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↵This is thanks in large part to the howling, white-clad pack of students who camp out overnight to cram into the general-admission student section hours before the game. Penn State students take a back seat to no one when it comes to dedication. The university has seen fit to reward this dedication with the seats that would otherwise go to traveling heathens who know not of the Church of Paterno: ↵

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↵⇥[Penn State graduate student Andrew] Barnard is confident that moving the students to different seats could make them sound even louder. … Beaver Stadium's upper deck -- which juts out toward the field at the end zones -- may act like a megaphone that catches and amplifies the sound in the higher seats of the lower levels. ↵⇥

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↵⇥To take advantage of this acoustic effect, Penn State plans to move the 20,000 seats in its student section squarely into the southern end zone when the entire stadium is reseated for the 2011 season. Barnard's computer model predicts that this relocation will quiet the east side of field slightly but increase the sound on the west side by almost 50 percent -- cutting the range of a quarterback's voice by another six inches and potentially causing more false starts and penalty opportunities. ↵⇥

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↵There's SCIENCE(!) behind it, at least. Science and perverse incentives. ↵

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↵Will this actually work? Maybe. It's hard to tell. Michigan Stadium recently underwent a renovation of its own by adding giant skyboxes to both sidelines. Many people were excited that the increased noise level would have a meaningful impact on the game atmosphere, and there were strange devices deployed during games and articles in the student newspaper and post-box studies and so forth and so on. After all that, the general conclusion in year one* is "meh." If you want to you can believe that the stadium is louder. If you don't you can believe otherwise. The numbers are okay… ↵

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↵⇥A similar reflected-sound effect was measured at the University of Michigan stadium by architecture professor Mojtaba Navvab. He found that the recent addition of sky boxes there created a wall that reflected sound from lower seats onto the field. ↵⇥

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↵⇥That meant an increase of 4 to 5 decibels in on-field noise. ↵⇥

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↵…but what does that mean? ↵

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↵I've scoured Wikipedia for answers and am still not sure. Decibels are logarithmic so that's about tripling of pressure, but not necessarily human perception. As anyone who's watched a sitcom featuring teenagers knows, volume is relative. My ballpark guess—subsequently confirmed by some sound experts who emailed—was that Michigan Stadium at full throat was not quite twice as loud to someone on the field. That's a big difference. It's also the result of 226 million dollars of construction. ↵

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↵Moving a bunch of students probably isn't going to get those kind of results. I'm guessing the "50 percent" increase cited in the article is a number that is not directly correlated to how people perceive sound. Even if it is accurate, the move is a harsh blow to the people making all the noise. If only Penn State's students has stayed apathetic, eh? Perverse incentives abound in college football these days. ↵

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↵*(Michigan's boxes don't open up until this fall but the structures, and the acoustic benefits that come with them, were in place last year.) ↵

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↵(H/T to Gizmodo) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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