K-State, UCLA ready for Cactus Bowl in baseball stadium
27 December 2017
The Arizona Diamondbacks call Chase Field home for 81 baseball games each year, but two college football teams will take over the downtown Phoenix facility on Tuesday.
That will make the Cactus Bowl a unique experience for Kansas State and UCLA. Unlike most postseason games, this one will not be played in a NFL stadium or a football-specific college venue. The Wildcats and Bruins will face off in a special setting that only comes together once a year.
“It takes a fair amount of work, but Chase Field turns into quite a football stadium,” Cactus/Fiesta Bowl executive director Mike Nealy said. “We bring in bleachers and install a brand new grass field. It has a roof, so we have climate control, and it traps in crowd noise. It’s an intimate atmosphere with a lot of great sight lines. The fans we have had there at previous games loved it.”
How rare is it for a college football team to play on a baseball field?
The last time K-State attempted a pass on a baseball diamond was 2011 for a road game against Miami. Back then, the Hurricanes shared their home stadium with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL and the Miami Marlins of the MLB. With baseball season taking place at the time, players had to cross a dirt infield to score on one side of the field.
K-State coach Bill Snyder made special arrangements to practice before that game. Things were simpler when the Wildcats played Syracuse in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. That field was all (frozen) grass, as will be the case at (warm) Chase Field.
“We brought in a lot of sod and created a brand new field that has been perfectly manicured,” Nealy said. “The day after the game, we roll it back out and donate it to a local high school. It has been nice to have that double use and give back to the community.”
The baseball setting shouldn’t have much of an impact on players, but it will feel different for fans in attendance and look a little unusual for TV viewers.
There is a dugout behind the visitor’s bench, a bullpen behind the North end zone and the scoreboard will feature the words like “runs” and “hits” and “errors.” Bleachers come up to the edge of the field on one side. The other has tarped seats on top of the dugout.
Players are looking forward to the subtle differences.
K-State receiver Dalton Schoen said he expects it to be “a cool environment” and UCLA defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner said “I am excited to play at Chase Field.”
The last two times K-State played in an Arizona bowl, the games took place at University of Phoenix Stadium (where the Arizona Cardinals play) and at Sun Devil Stadium (on Arizona State’s campus). This will be different. The last time K-State played in this baseball stadium it was called Bank One Ballpark for the 2001 Insight.com Bowl, which Syracuse won 26-3.
Chase Field has a capacity of 48,519 for baseball, but that drops to 39,056 for football. The Cactus Bowl shifted to this setup two years ago. West Virginia beat Arizona State 43-42 at Chase Field at the end of the 2015 season and Baylor defeated Boise State there 31-12 last year.
“It is a great setup,” Nealy said. “It looks like a football field when you get in there.”