BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS
Bryan Harsin is a football coach, not a scientist.
But the Boise State boss played along, even chuckled, when asked this week about the science behind one of the loudest stadiums in college football.
That would be Albertsons Stadium.
Proven by stats.
Backed up by science.
“I wondered about the science of this stadium when I ran decks as a player, because I knew it was really steep,’’ Harsin said Thursday morning at practice, in the shadows of those dreadful decks.
Dreadful to players who run the steep stairs as part of Boise State’s conditioning program.
Dreadful to fans who climb those stairs six or seven times a year.
Dreadful to opponents, who constantly struggle with noise inside Albertsons Stadium.
Proof: In the past 10 home games, opponents have committed 36 false-start penalties, the most by a visiting team at any FBS venue, according to Boise State research.
More proof, this time from a real scientist with a PhD in acoustics:
“That pitch is helping (Boise State) a lot, because the best thing you can do is get people as close to the field as possible,’’ said Andrew Barnard, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, and one of the nation’s leading experts in acoustics, vibrations and noise control.
“So the stadiums that have a real gentle rise, really anyone more than about 15 rows back makes no difference when you’re on the field. And when you bring that pitch up, like what the Seahawks have, and what you guys have, you get more people closer to the field.’’
Albertsons Stadium is uber-noisy — and will be again for Saturday night’s packed house against Hawaii — for reasons beyond the steep pitch of those daunting stands.
There are “reverberant sound’’ theories, according to Barnard: The mass amount of concrete — “the harder the surface, the better,’’ he said.
The skybox on the west side, and the football complex/videoboard to the north.
Aluminum bleachers, especially on the south end, though butts in the seats don’t help that cause.
And there is a “direct sound’’ theory, the most obvious to understand: Actual humans making actual noise.
“It’s a combination probably of the design, but also the fanbase and just how we bring it every single game,’’ Harsin said. “The false starts are huge. I’m not going to sit there and say they’re not. We have our fans and you kind of get that 12th man really helping you with the noise and teams jumping offsides.’’
I’ve heard this talk before — that Albertsons Stadium is one of the loudest in all of college football — but I wanted proof beyond talk and reputation.
It’s definitely louder than anything in the Mountain West. Nothing to debate there, and Boise State officials and media who regularly travel with the team concur.
Autzen Stadium in Eugene and Husky Stadium in Seattle have reputations for being the loudest out West, and they are. But how is it possible that a stadium with at least 20,000 fewer fans produces a similar amount of noise?
Barnard started developing his theories during an eight-year stint as a research associate at Penn State. That stadium capacity pushes 110,000, and as a science geek and football fan, Barnard watched his share of games from the sidelines. He wrote several multi-page, highly complex and scientific reports on the topic.
Reflection coefficient + increased crowd noise = interruption of communication.
Or something like that …
“What we found in Beaver Stadium was that on the sidelines where you just have one deck gradually sloping up to the boxes, the people on the top don’t really matter. … It’s all about the distance to the field,’’ he said.
Put all the scientific evidence together, and that’s why noise coming out of super-stacked Albertsons Stadium is comparable to big-dog stadiums around the country. And, in part, why Boise State is 116-9 at home since 2000 — the highest winning percentage in major college football during that period.
“Stadium design matters a lot,’’ the scientist said. “We can actually build computer models before stadiums are built to predict how loud it’s really going to be.’’
Science is important, but let’s be real. People matter more — like those who will be inside the concrete behemoth Saturday night. Creating more false start penalties, presumably.
“Our players notice it — that’s five yards right there, you back up the other offense,’’ the coach said. “That’s our advantage, that’s why we have a great home record, one of the best in the country.’’
Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.