The Big House may reside in Ann Arbor, Mich., but come August, the biggest house will be in Happy Valley.
When the Penn State football team kicks off its 2008 season against Coastal Carolina, Beaver Stadium will be the largest stadium in college football -- at least for the next couple of years.
The nation's second-largest college stadium since 2001, Beaver Stadium will now seat more fans than Michigan Stadium because the Wolverines will add more wheelchair-accessible seating by eliminating other seats. By the 2008 season, Michigan Stadium -- which currently holds 107,501 seats -- is expected to hold 106,201 seats, according to The Michigan Daily. Beaver Stadium holds 107,282 seats.
Last Monday, the University of Michigan reached a settlement with the Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to add more wheelchair-accessible seating, according to a joint press release issued by the PVA and Michigan. The settlement also requires the university to make adjustments to stadium facilities, such as bathrooms, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Department of Justice signed onto the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff in November.
Michigan Stadium will now add 96 wheelchair-accessible seats and companion seats before the start of the 2008 season.
"It is good to see that Penn State now has the largest stadium in the country," Penn State football historian Lou Prato wrote in an e-mail. "We should boast about it. Students have been really great in showing their enthusiasm during the games. You can be sure TV announcers will be mentioning the size factor for the next couple of years, and that can only help the football program."
Beaver Stadium's reign could still be short, as Michigan is planning a stadium renovation that would add 5,100 more seats by the 2010 season, The Michigan Daily reported. While the settlement will not affect the project, it is unclear whether the stadium will regain its status as the biggest upon completion of the project, as an estimated 1,500 seats will be removed following this settlement, according to The Michigan Daily.
Calls to Michigan officials were not returned.
Prato, who was a Michigan football fan while working for television and radio news stations in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s, remembered sitting in the Penn State section for a Lions game at Michigan Stadium in 1996. He said he then realized that the regular seats were much smaller than those at Beaver Stadium.
Prato said that a few years ago, Joe Paterno even suggested that Penn State redesign Beaver Stadium, knocking a few inches off the regular seats and allowing room for more seats to surpass Michigan Stadium in capacity. However, fans objected to the idea, and it never materialized, Prato said.
Nonetheless, Prato suggested Penn State should still work on an expansion project of its own if it wants to maintain a distinction.
"Just like the competition on the field, this honor won't last long unless more seats are added to Beaver Stadium in the future," he said. "Tennessee (whose Neyland Stadium is currently the third biggest in college football) already has plans under way to increase seating at its stadium, and I would not be surprised if Ohio State (fourth-biggest) soon has something going on, too.
"So, with Michigan and Tennessee adding seats in the future years, don't be surprised if something happens at Penn State."
However, the possibility of Beaver Stadium being the biggest stadium for just two seasons is something not lost upon Penn State. Guido D'Elia, Penn State's director of branding and marketing, said it would not make much sense for Penn State to market having the biggest stadium in college football, calling it a "temporary technicality."
"I'm not sure that Penn State is about 'bigger is better,' " D'Elia said.
"The number of seats we have is to accommodate the fans that love the team, but I'm not sure we are in the game to outdo someone."
D'Elia added that Penn State has the best fans in college football. However, he said that is a distinction that has nothing to do with numbers, but rather the fans' preparation and cheering for every game.
"If we had 10,000 less seats, we would still have the best fans," he said. "I think the fans may take some pride in it for a couple of years, but I think it is nothing to beat their chests over."
Still, students from both schools have now found stadium size as just one more stage to add to the rivalry that extends back to 1990.
Michigan student Killian Brady (freshman-political science) expressed frustration with his school's administration, saying that with the stadium's renovation project, the school has misplaced its values when it comes to the football program.
"It's disappointing that they chose money over tradition," he said. "They chose to build skyboxes with the renovation project. Michigan football is not meant to be watched from a skybox."
Penn State being the lone school ahead of Michigan in stadium capacity did not seem to sit well with Brady, either.
Needless to say, the mood is much brighter in Happy Valley, as Penn State students are thrilled to have the leg up in this phase of the rivalry.
"I think Penn State now having the biggest stadium is great for the school and all Penn State fans," Raul Mendez (freshman-finance) said. "Having the biggest stadium and the most fans at our games will be great support for our football team and will hopefully help us revive the best football program in the country so we can bring home the national championship in years to come."