If you're headed to the University of Tennessee's first football game under new head coach Butch Jones, be ready to stand the heat. The forecast for the home-opener against Austin Peay calls for hot and humid conditions that will bake the stadium throughout the day.
That's why 10 News reporter Jim Matheny spent this week literally
chasing shadows around Neyland Stadium. He tracked exactly when and
where fans could fry in the sun as well as when they'll finally have it made in the shade.
UT's Director of Sports Surface Management, Darren Seybold, said expect some warmth no matter where you sit because the stadium's concrete and steel may spend much of the day baking in the sun.
"The concrete around [the field] absorbs all of the heat," said Seybold. "What people don't realize is the moisture the ground gives off [from the field] makes it more humid. Then you get the mixture of sun and 102,000 people, so it can feel like 110 or 115 degrees up there."
Some fans will find relief sooner than others. This linked photo gallery provides diagrams of where the shade moves from kickoff at 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. inside Neyland Stadium. Full size images of the diagrams can also be seen on the WBIR Channel 10 Facebook page.
The bright side of Saturday's game is the 6:00 p.m. kickoff. At that point around half of Neyland Stadium will be shielded from the sun. Those sitting beneath the press box in the west stands and much of the area above the north end zone will arrive at Neyland Stadium with immediate relief from the sun.
"I would guess the home side beneath the press box would be the best spot. You'll probably get in the shade there the fastest. Or inside [the sky boxes] with the air conditioning would be the best spot," joked Seybold.
The folks sitting in those comfy sky boxes can look across the field and gaze amusingly at a sliver of shade that has just started slowly creeping into the bottom corner of Section A.
When the clock strikes 6:30, the stadium lights above the press box will begin casting a shadow into the upper deck for the first time. Those on the first few rows of sections LL and MM will enjoy the shade, but that's it for the upper deck beneath the jumbotron. Around half of the seats behind the south end zone will have some shade 30 minutes into the game.
At 6:45 p.m., think about the number 45. That's because at this point in time the entire section beneath the sign honoring #45 Johnny Majors will finally be completely shaded. You can also remember to say "HI" at 6:45 p.m. because the point where Sections H and I come together will be split half sun and half shade.
By 7:00 p.m., the sun remains a beast on the east stands of Neyland, especially in the upper deck. But relief is in sight as a large strip of shade works its way from bottom to top as the sun drops lower in the western sky.
By 7:30 the shade will cover every lower section of Neyland Stadium. Yet, even this late in the day the sun's beams will continue to bombard some of the upper deck in the southeast corner of the stadium.
Die-hard UT fans in the southern portion of the upper deck will benefit from spending almost two hours as a prisoner of the sun. They will not receive shade, but will reap the reward of a view unavailable to the rest of the stadium. From 7:45 p.m. until 8:04 p.m. these fans will bask in a beautiful golden glow and watch the sunset over "Big Orange Country."
No relief next game.
UT's second game of the season against Western Kentucky comes with a 12:21 p.m. kickoff. The showdown just after high noon on September 7 means the only people shielded from the sun will be those seated in the lower section beneath the overhangs of the upper deck, fans sitting under the covered area of the upper deck above the north end zone, and those in sky boxes. The rest of the crowd will have to hope for shade in the form of cloud cover from Mother Nature, although the very end of the game will likely provide some shade for people seated beneath the press box who have not already melted.
Hot stands, hotter field
The only thing brighter than the East Tennessee sun in Neyland Stadium is the fresh coat of orange paint throughout the stadium and on the field. All of these painting projects and the manicured surface of Shields-Watkins Field have benefited from the high sun and heat.
"This week we've really gotten lucky with the higher temperatures," said Seybold. "Obviously the Bermuda Grass likes that a whole lot better."
The sun-soaked field had another bright side for Seybold and his grounds crews. They spent less time watching paint dry.
"Painting the field took two and a half days with 10 guys per day painting. We used 250 gallons of paint. That gives you the product you see on the field," said Seybold. "In cooler weather the dew points make it take a lot longer to dry."
Seybold monitors moisture in the soil as well as surface temperatures. He said the temperatures on the field can skyrocket.
"I think one time we had a reading of 128 degrees. That is probably the hottest I've ever seen in Neyland," said Seybold. "It was for a scrimmage and was during the summer when we had all of those 100 degree days."
Fall flips fortunes
Seybold said those who endure the brutal heat early in the season are also able to stay warmer during chilly fall football games while those in the shade deal with frigid conditions.
"I say this is the hottest and coldest place on all of campus. It gets really cold in the late fall and winter in Neyland Stadium and a lot more of the stadium stays in the shade all day long," said Seybold.