Though major league sports have always been a national pastime in the United States, college sports are a religion in many states across the country. Whether you're a student attending the school, a local who lives in the college town or a fan that lives on the other side of the country, there's something about college sports that really bring people together. The biggest college sports are undoubtedly football and basketball, and with massive crowds attending the games, there's sure to be an exciting tailgating experience to go along with it. If you've always dreamed of attending a sporting event at a major college, check out a school that's known for their tailgate.
What Is a Tailgate?
A tailgate is essentially a party that goes on before the start of a live sporting event. Typically held in the parking lots surrounding stadiums or different areas around a college campus, people come with their cars, food and drinks to enjoy with friends before the game starts. Many people even bring portable grills to cook up some hamburgers and hot dogs to enjoy before the game. Or, there are tents and vendors supplied by the venue serving food instead. Tailgating is rather unique to the United States, and most fans are accustomed to seeing this kind of tradition happening before NFL games, concerts and especially college football games or college basketball games.
No matter how cold, hot, snowy or rainy it is outside, diehard fans will not only make it to the game, but they will sit outside and enjoy their tailgate party. A tailgate is a great opportunity to get hyped up for the event and spend time hanging out with other fans. Tailgates are very much a part of life on college campuses where major teams play, and everyone in the community, from college students to local families, can be found partaking in the fun. Tailgating offers people a chance to feel a part of a team, too. Of course, it's important to read up on a campus' tailgating rules before firing up your grill, and those under 21 years of age should be mindful of the law when it comes to consuming alcohol.
1. University of Wisconsin-Madison
The University of Wisconsin in Madison is home to the Wisconsin Badgers. With a school of more than 40,000 students, their tailgate parties are undoubtedly some of the biggest and best in the country. Every time the Badgers play a home game at their very own Camp Randall Stadium, people from all over Madison come down hours before the game starts to have a good time.
The official tailgate is called the "Badger Bash Tailgate Party." Similar to most tailgate parties, it starts two and a half hours before kick-off and takes place right near the stadium in the downtown Madison area. The tailgate here is a bit unconventional because it's not held in a traditional parking lot, yet it's exciting nonetheless. Fans can come and enjoy food and drinks, entertainment by the UW-Madison Marching Band and Spirit Squad, fun and games and live music, all for free. Most people will spend some time at Badger Bash, then hit the bars in the surrounding area, especially if they don't have tickets to the game. If you want your own private tailgate space, you will need to request it beforehand.
2. University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi is home to the "Ole Miss Rebels," which has probably the most legendary tailgate parties in the South. According to The New York Times, on game day, the tailgate begins in what's known as "the Grove" on the school's campus in the town of Oxford. Tailgating at the Grove can sometimes begin the Friday night before a Saturday game. In 2014, the school budgeted $750,000 for just seven home games in the fall.
The Grove sits at the center of campus. When vehicles were no longer permitted to enter the Grove, the area just became a massive pedestrian party with 2,500 tents dedicated to the game's festivities. With Southern hospitality part of life here, tailgaters can expect to find tents serving up delicious food and drinks for the 100,000 fans to enjoy. This may be because drinking and grilling are both heavily controlled.
Interestingly enough, it's not the location, the food or the partying a day in advance that makes the tailgate at the University of Mississippi special. Instead, what makes this tailgate unique is the Hotty Toddy Potties, which offer the "classiest" restrooms this side of the Mississippi.
3. Louisiana State University
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Louisiana State Tigers give people a reason to wear a clashing mix of purple and yellow together – with pride. In a school of more than 30,000 students, that's just a small fraction of the huge crowds that come out and enjoy a tailgating experience outside of Tiger Stadium, also known as "Death Valley," on game day.
Although most tailgating parties are known for having tailgaters come and grill up food, in Louisiana, instead of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken skewers, you'll get to experience authentic Cajun food, from jambalaya to gumbo. In fact, according to SBNation.com, some tailgaters will even cook up alligator when the LSU Tigers play the Florida Gators. Speaking of which, LSU is never a good place to be for the opposing team. Only students are permitted to participate in the tailgating festivities held at the campus Parade Grounds, while everyone else from the community is welcome to tailgate at The Oaks at Patrick F. Taylor Hall.
4. University of Oregon
The University of Oregon, located in the state's capital of Eugene, is a bit of a smaller school compared to the other college-sport havens, with a little over 20,000 students. Nevertheless, Oregon is the place to be for those who want to enjoy an awesome tailgate party.
Home to the Oregon Ducks, the Moshofsky Center – or the "Mo" – is where the team practices before kick-off at the real games, which are held in the Autzen Stadium. The "Mo" also happens to be where the biggest tailgating party takes place on campus. And with thousands of students and local fans competing for tailgating space, you can rent tables and chairs in Tailgate Alley beforehand so that you only need to bring food and drinks along. Enjoy your party by listening to pregame broadcasts on the radio and watch the marching band and cheerleaders parade down the center before the game starts.
5. University of Iowa
Although many people may not expect the University of Iowa to host one of the country's top 10 tailgate parties, the Hawkeye's fans wouldn't be surprised at all. After all, it's ultimately part of being a student at this school. There are several tailgating locations on campus, including the one at Hawk Village and in the Krause Family Plaza. Fans can buy tickets to the game and the tailgating party at the same time. With food vendors like an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring Wimmer's Brats and White Cheddar Mac & Cheese, live music and a pre-game show at the Recreation Building, the tailgate experiences at the University of Iowa are just as exciting as the game itself.
6. University of Texas
The University of Texas in the state's capital, Austin, is home to the Texas Longhorn college football team. This huge school has more than 50,000 students, and tailgating on this college campus is part of the experience that comes with living in Austin. Just like the state itself, this tailgate party is one of the biggest in the country, and those who are interested in joining in on the fun can do so at several locations, such as the Schlotz Garden, the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center, the LBJ Tailgate, Bevo Boulevard and the University of Texas parking lots. Depending on where you choose to go, there may be live music, drink specials, Texas barbecue and lots of excited students and fans getting pumped for the game.
7. Penn State
With tons of winning records throughout history, the Penn State Nittany Lions fans are proud of their team. It's no surprise, then, that these fans know how to tailgate, with one of the best places to do so in the United States. Penn State has about 30,000 students, but on game day, the community grows to well over 100,000 people that come to join in on the fun. There are many parking lots on campus, including RV-lots and general lots, where you can host your tailgating party as long as you have the proper pass or pay the fee. These loyal fans will do anything to get a bit closer to the game, with some even camping out a few days before kick-off.
8. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Go Blue! One of the major reasons students decide to apply to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is because of the sports scene. After all, this school has the largest college football stadium in the United States, which hosts the Wolverines. But it's not the size, it's what you do with it, and Michiganders know how to have the ultimate tailgate party. The three best places to take part in the festivities is at the Pioneer High School lot, the U-M Golf Course and the AA Golf & Outing. For those who aren't interested in bringing their own grill or drinks, you can visit one of the many local breweries in town, such as the Wolverine State Brewing Company, and grab a bite to eat at Zingerman's Deli.
9. University of Florida
A Florida Gators game at the University of Florida in Gainesville is a great way to enjoy a tailgate party without necessarily needing to be concerned about the weather. With 35,000 students, plus fans from all around the state – and maybe even from around the country – coming to watch a home game here, it's important to know where to go to get the most out of the pregame party. Here in the Swamp, you should take part in some food traditions by bringing your grill and cooking up some corn on the cob.
10. University of Southern California
The Trojans are one of the most popular teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), with more than 10 national championships, so it's easy to see why tailgating here is just as popular. Fans recommend getting to the campus a couple of hours before the game starts, especially if you want to grab a good spot. That spot is at the Traveler Statue, which is the best place to be if you want to get a glimpse of all the action. It's here that you'll see the marching band perform and the football team roll in. Make sure you take part in the tradition of "kicking the pole" for good luck, which simply involves kicking a pole that sits at the end of Trousdale Parkway. And while it may be long after the tailgate is over, don't leave the game without eating a delicious Victory Dog.
- Wisconsin Union: Badger Bash Tailgate Party
- NY Times: Tailgating at the University of Mississippi
- Travel Oregon: Oregon Ducks Tailgating Guide
- Hawkeye Sports: Tailgate
- Visit Austin: Texas Longhorn Football
- Visit Penn State: Tailgating Penn State
- Visit Ann Arbor: Tailgating in Ann Arbor
- Sports Illustrated: Florida Tailgate Guide
- Sports Illustrated: USC Tailgating Guide
Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.