Gamedays in College Station

On any given gameday at Kyle Field, College Station is painted in maroon, white and hordes of traffic.

Residents of the city brace themselves as everyone is trying to reach campus from one direction or another. Texas Avenue and Wellborn Road feed the town as they act as the neck of a funnel when approaching George Bush and University drives.

The crowds include Aggies, young and old, new and deep-rooted, all with wide smiles. The opposing side’s fans come ready to cheer on their team, and in turn, witness the Aggie Spirit.

Grocery stores, restaurants and businesses alike experience the first rush of customers from the moment they open until 30 minutes before kickoff. Fans walk into the markets with a sense of urgency as they pick up last-minute tailgate items and game gear.

With Kyle Field’s renovations completed, each home game now brings more than 100,000 fans into the stadium.

On campus, tailgating tents are pitched up as far as the eye can see.

Slight vibrations can be felt in the toes of thousands as the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets march by, creating a tempo with the clicking heels on their boots.

College Station is the fourth largest city in Texas on gamedays, and at the end of the night, the land is left with the footprints of those who have come and gone to watch a Fightin’ Texas Aggie football game.

Whether positive or negative, it is no question that the influx of people in College Station on gamedays has always affected the city.

 

Spirits of Gameday Past

Gameday was not always as congested as it is today. Football’s image was revamped when Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, bringing in more than 10,000 new fans. According to an article on the Sports Illustrated website, Kyle Field’s capacity increased from 92,000 to more than 102,000 in 2015.

Research engineer Timothy Lomax, Ph.D., said that 15 years ago, “traffic was less onerous and mostly a problem just around campus.”

Lomax, who has been a part the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for more than 30 years, explained that the combination of Kyle Field’s expansion and the “bigger tailgate crowds” has stressed the system and caused a spike in recent gameday traffic.

With many aspects affecting College Station on gamedays, traffic is not the only thing that has changed in recent history.

Before Texas A&M joined the SEC, former Aggie wide receiver Chris Fischler (’89-’90) said that the town’s atmosphere was nothing like it is today.

“There was a new feel when we moved to the SEC,” Fischler said. “[The move] just made a big difference, especially from when I came to school here in the mid-80s.”

Fischler said that it seems as though Texas A&M is losing some of its traditions and 12th Man spirit to the marketing and profit of the Texas A&M football team. He went on to say that it’s the way of the future, and people just need to accept the changes.

While some would say that Texas A&M’s recent strategy of making the football team marketable (and therefore driving in more traffic) is damaging, others see it as a positive turn.

 

The Biggest in the SEC

“The gameday influx irritates me,” current Texas A&M student Lailee Madani said. “I have to deal with so much traffic because the town gets overpopulated, and tailgating is even crazier.”

Madani is not the only College Station resident to realize that tailgating has grown significantly. Both Fischler and Lomax made note that tailgating has increased exponentially over the past decade.

Before Kyle Field’s expansion, only one gameday crowd surpassed 90,000, said Lomax, which he now considers low attendance. He attributed this influx to “those without tickets who are here for the party atmosphere.”

“People think they can just come into College Station and use it as a party town,” Madani said.

Madani said she believes that the university needs to care about the students as much as they care about the marketability of football.

Defensive tackle Julien Obioha, on the other hand, welcomes the influx of people on gamedays as a positive quality.

“A lot of people coming in are former students, and I don’t think that gives us a bigger claim to the town just because we go here now,” Obioha said.

Obioha also explained that the increase in fans has been a game changer for the football team.

During this year’s game against Alabama, Obioha said he couldn’t hear himself breathe while he was on the field. He went on to say that witnessing the 12th Man in full effect was a huge encouragement to the football team.

As for those who generally spend time away from Kyle Field on gamedays, the temporary surge in population still affects them. Businesses are dramatically affected when fans get to town.

The Collection Boutique is a new store located directly across from Kyle Field that makes significant adjustments in preparation of gamedays. Collection Boutique associate Ali Speed said that more staff members are scheduled to work for the influx, and hours are typically extended the day before a game.

“Being across the street from Kyle Field helps the store so much because parking for the game is nearby, and if anyone needs anything, they can just cross the street,” Speed said.

While being so close to the central location in town on gamedays greatly benefits The Collection, other businesses farther away also reap the benefits.

With nearly 100 businesses in Post Oak Mall, Sunglass Hut is one that profits from the influx of people in College Station.

“Game weekends is when the store makes the most money, which makes it a lot busier than a normal day,” Sunglass Hut associate Valerie Torres said.

Torres said the inflow comes with its upsides and downsides. While businesses in the mall can benefit from the cash flow, the crowds also bring in shoplifters who take advantage of the situation.

“The stealing percentage is really high on gamedays,” Torres said. “These guys are usually regulars [shop lifters], and know what they’re doing.”

The big crowds also affect businesses that accommodate the party atmosphere in College Station.

Dudley’s Draw is a bar on Northgate, College Station’s bar district. Bartender Natalie Ocampo said it is a frequent place for Ol’ Ags, a term used to describe Texas A&M former students.

“I’d say we see more money because we attract Ol’ Ags,” Ocampo said.

Although a 21+ bar, Ocampo said Dudley’s Draw makes an exception on gamedays for the happy hour shift, which is typically from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., as they allow families to come in and hang out. On big gamedays, Ocampo said the bar easily breaks past their sales goal before the happy hour shift ends.

With party life comes regulation, and on Northgate, that’s where the Northgate District Policing steps in.

Northgate District’s police unit, also known as College Station Tourism and Entertainment Police, specifically deals with pedestrian traffic in the area.

Sgt. Kenneth Petereit, who recently transferred to his position with the Northgate Unit in May 2015, said CSTEP has a good working environment and relationship with the bars.

Petereit said CSTEP’s main concern is public safety.

“When you go out, make sure that you go with friends, watch out for each other, and don’t drink to excess,” Petereit said.

Paula Roberts, assistant information service manager for the College Station Police Department, provided data that was collected from Sept. 5 to Nov. 15, which was College Station’s 2015 football season.

During this season’s gamedays, CSTEP recorded 60 public intoxication violations, 40 disorderly conduct violations and 78 minor in possession violations out of a total of 599 recorded incidents. These misconducts account for about 30 percent of Northgate’s violations on gamedays this season.

On average in the city of College Station, there were five major accidents caused by drunk driving per gameday. The average for a major accident caused by drunk driving on a non-gameday is one.

Finally, there were an average of 11.8 arrests made per night on gamedays, while only an average of 8.1 arrests were made per night on non-gamedays.

Aside from these statistics, Petereit said that fans are generally cooperative on Northgate.

“[The cooperation] makes our job easier in that there is not a large group of people who are actively trying to cause problems by breaking the law, or creating an unsafe environment for the others who are there,” Petereit said.

With crowds affecting College Station’s residents, businesses and government agencies, there is no doubt that fans leave an impact on the city.

 

What Has Yet To Come

The Texas A&M University System is in the process of making renovations on campus. These changes have the potential to greatly affect gamedays in College Station.

According to The Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Texas A&M System Board of Regents plans to demolish Cain Hall and build a boutique hotel in its place. The hotel is estimated to have 150 to 200 beds and serve as a conference center. Along with the hotel, The Eagle article said the University plans to build a 1,000-space parking garage and pedestrian bridge over Joe Routt Boulevard that would connect to Kyle Field. According to the article, the construction’s completion date is set for June 2017.

With the addition of a hotel and new parking garage, Texas A&M will be able to host more people on campus.

The future of public transportation offered by the university will also be undergoing changes.

According to Lomax, the next step for College Station transportation is autonomous, or self-driving, buses.

“This is well within the working career of college students,” Lomax said. “It will speed up the buses and allow them to drive through more narrow corridors.”

Lomax said autonomous buses would have the ability to take out human error, as they would act like a trolley on a “virtual wire.”

Whatever the future holds for College Station on gamedays, communications manager for Transportation Services, Melissa Maraj, said that the transportation institute is in good hands with Lomax.

“He’s the brains and genius behind the traffic division,” Maraj said.

As the moon rises higher in the sky, the stadium lights begin to fade out and the bars and businesses shut their doors. The pulse of more than 100,000 beating hearts has dispersed, each to their own corner in the world. It’s not until closing time on Northgate that gameday is officially over in College Station.

Gameday was first carved into the city’s core in 1894, making Saturdays in the fall all about football for 121 years. 

“College Station lights up as a city on gamedays, and businesses will continue booming,” Aggie football player Obioha said. “The positives will always outweigh the negatives.