Since Jeff Tedford’s arrival in 2002, the Cal Bears have had an unprecedented amount of success at Memorial Stadium. However, in 2011 a new era begins for the golden bear football team as they make a new home at AT&T Park. The move to San Francisco comes at a rather unfortunate time as the new Pac 12 league opens with a grueling home schedule.
A quick glance at Cal’s past home field numbers shows that this years relocation could cause a lot of issues. One of the bigger issues is the fact that AT&T Park holds significantly less people than the much bigger and football oriented Memorial stadium. AT&T Park capacity maxes out around 41,918 people, which is 30,000 less than the capacity back in Berkeley. However, a smaller crowd does not necessarily mean less crowd noise because AT&T parks acoustics are arguably superior to the 88 year old Memorial stadium. In 2010, the Cal Bears went 4-3 at home but ended the year with a very disappointing three straight losses. Even more importantly, they were run off the field by Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinals, which the Cal fan base was not pleased about whatsoever. In 2009 Cal’s home record was 4-2, yet crucial losses against USC and Oregon State overshadowed victories against mediocre Maryland, Eastern Washington and Arizona State teams. The 2008 football season is the last time Cal’s home record has been impressive enough to illustrate how dominant Tedford’s bears teams once were. The 2008 squad went 6-0 at home, posting victories over Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Michigan State, Washington and Arizona State. What does this all mean for the 2011 bears team? Primarily, the 2011 team will have major challenges ahead in dealing with the new grounds at the China Basin in San Francisco. That does not ultimately mean the team will struggle, but certainly will face the difficulty of having teams come in without feeling overwhelmed by the home environment. Moreover, Memorial Stadium was well known around the former Pac 10 for having the worst visiting facilities. That may not seem like too big of an advantage but one must never underestimate the ability to get into your opponents head before even stepping foot onto the field. The 2011 team will have to solve the various mishaps that have been occurring at home over the past two years, one prominent image of a false start on a field goal attempt is immediately brought to mind. The Bears away record has been dismal over the past three years, thus they need step their game to a very high level if they want to compete in the inaugural year of the Pac 12 schedule.
The other prominent issue that will undoubtedly play a role over the next season is the decision to place the student section off of the 50 yard line. What makes memorial stadium unique is the fact the students sit right in the middle of the 50 yard line on the home sideline. Players and coaches alike all look behind them to see a rowdy bunch of fans decked from head to toe in blue and gold. That prominent image will no longer play quite as big of a role as the student sections are scattered between the 35 and 40 yard markers. The overflow seating extends into the upper deck of AT&T which means the loudest and most definitely craziest/most inebriated fans will be left without too much of a voice. An outsiders perspective would suggest the higher ups at Berkeley sacrificed the student sections prime seating for the opportunity to raise more money by selling premium sideline seats to wealthy alumni. Anyone who remembers the 2008 Emerald Bowl will tell you that the student sections strategic placement played a role in the home field advantage that was generated against the Miami Hurricanes.
Ultimately, the home field advantage will come down to two major factors. First, if the students at Berkeley feel compelled week by week to make the trek out in busses to AT&T park. There is a chance the journey out to the park could eventually becoming too overwhelming, particularly if the season heads in the wrong direction early on. Secondly, it is up to Tedford and his staff to completely convince his players that they are in a home field environment. If the players exhibit the enthusiasm on the field it will undoubtedly rub off on the fans attending the game. The bears desperately need to get back to the home field advantage that became a staple around Berkeley for so many of Tedford’s first years. They need to instill fear into their new and old opponents and prepare to bring the ruckus against all who enter their new home. There is one sure thing, AT&T park will be rocking on opening day against Presbyterian and even more so against the Trojans on October 13th.
Roll on you bears