Nippert Stadium’s Carson Field in Cincinnati, Ohio is home to the University of Cincinnati’s Bearcats football team. The first game played on this site then called Varsity Field in Burnet Woods was on November 2 of 1901. This is the second oldest playing field in the nation for college football second only to Penn State’s Franklin Field which dates back to 1895.
Construction of Nippert Stadium began in 1915 and was complete in 1924. Arch Carson, then physical director of the university and the founder of the stadium, played a major role in starting football at the UC campus in 1885. In 1901, Carson guided construction of the original field which was later named for him.
In 1916, construction began on a brick and concrete stadium to replace the original wooden stands and continued for several seasons as funds were raised and became available for the project.
During the final game of the 1923 season against Miami University, UC player James Gamble Nippert sustained a spike wound injury. A month later, he died of blood poisoning, allegedly resulting from an infection from the droppings left from a pre-game chicken race. Nippert’s grandfather, James N. Gamble of Procter & Gamble later donated $250,000, the funds needed to complete the new horseshoe-shaped stadium. On November 8, 1924, the James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium was dedicated.
Over the years, additional modifications and improvements have been made to the stadium including a 1936 modification in which the playing field was lowered 12 feet to allow spectator seating to increase to 24,000. In 1954 the Reed Shank Pavilion was added bringing the seating capacity to 28,000. Artificial turf was installed in 1970. In 1991, the upper deck was extended and became the Herschede-Shank Pavilion with the addition of a new pressbox and increasing the stadium capacity to 35,000. In 2000 the stadium became one of the first in the US to utilize the grass-like synthetic surface FieldTurf. The last major renovation in 2005, added a new permanent grandstand with additional seating at the North End Zone with new locker rooms beneath and a new, larger video board. The FieldTurf was also replaced.
In 2006, the Herschede-Schank Pavillion was revamped as the Nippert Stadium Ring of Honor paying tribute to some of the great individuals in Bearcat football history. In 2007, the North End Zone seats were dubbed as the Bearcat Lair section promoting a high energy, interactive fan area. There is now a waiting list for fans in this area. In 2008, the Bearcat team was moved from the West sideline to the East sideline making the games easier to manage.
Over the years, Nippert Stadium has been used for many other venues and events. In 1968 and 1969 the Cincinnati Bengals American Football League team used it while their permanent home at Riverfront Stadium was under construction. Nippert Stadium has also served as the site for concerts by Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and The Cincinnati Opera to name a few. It was also used for a campaign rally two days before the presidential election in 2008 for Barack Obama.
As the UC program has risen to prominence in the late 2000s, the small seating capacity of Nippert Stadium has become an issue. Former UC head coach Brian Kelly called for an expansion of Nippert, the smallest stadium in the Big East. On December 18, 2012, UC President Santa Ono and Athletic Director Whit Babcock unveiled a long-anticipated plan to update and expand Nippert Stadium. Original estimates were $70 million but the latest estimates are $80-85 million.
On June 25, 2013 the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees approved the Nippert Stadium Expansion. The West Pavilion will include a new press box and premium seating area, which will add suites, lodge boxes, and club seating. The west side concourse level will improve fan amenities, including concession stands, restrooms, and in-stadium traffic flow. Improvements on the east side of the stadium will tailor to the fan experience, including concession stands, restrooms, and improved traffic flow, from added skywalks to connect the Herschede-Shank Pavilion with O’Varsity Way brick plaza leading to Nippert Stadium and the Richard E. Lindner Center. At this time, the exact stadium capacity after the project is finalized has not been determined because the final architectural plans are not yet complete. However, UC officials estimate that, Nippert Stadium will have a capacity of approximately 40,000. Construction of the Nippert Stadium expansion will start in December 2013, with a completed target date of August 2015. It is anticipated that all 2014 home games will need to be moved due to the renovation construction at Nippert Stadium. Paul Brown Stadium is being considered as an alternate site during this one-year transition during the project.
UC has used Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, for several high profile home games because of its much larger seating capacity of 65,535. Bearcat games against Ohio State (2002), Oklahoma (2009), and West Virginia (2011) drew crowds of 66,000, 58,000, and 51,000, respectively, at Paul Brown Stadium. While Whit Babcock hasn’t ruled out the occasional home game to be played at Paul Brown Stadium, it is clear that the school favors staying at Nippert.