Next season, the university's athletic department will put into play a new strategy to make its field even louder thanks to acoustical science...
Last season Guido D'Elia, director for communications and branding for Penn State football, commisssioned Penn State graduate student Andrew Barnard to record crowd noise during three home games. Using a dozen sound meters strategically placed around the field, Barnard compared volume levels when each team had the ball.
When the Nittany Lions were on the offense the noise levels inside 107,282-seat Beaver Stadium reached 75 decibels on the field. That's about as loud as a car radio playing at a reasonable volume.
But the noise skyrocketed to 110 decibels - 50 times as loud - when visiting teams were on offense, drowning out the calls of the quarterback and making last-minute adjustments at the line of scrimmage very difficult.
"For the visiting quarterback that would be like trying to have a conversation while standing next to a giant speaker at a rock concert," said Barnard.
Barnard presented his data during an Acoustical Society of America meeting in Baltimore. His measurements showed that, as expected, the student section - which stretches from the middle of the southern end zone to the 30-yard line on one side - made the most sound of any part of the stadium.
"Our students have really found their voice in the past six or seven years," said D'Elia. "We used to be the quietest stadium over 100,000."
Barnard is confident that moving the students to different seats could make them sound even louder.
For seats on the sidelines, closer is better. Students sitting in the highest rows contribute very little to the overall sound.
But the situation was reversed behind the end zone. Higher seats can be heard better than field-level seats because of a trick of the stadium's architecture, said Barnard.
According to Barnard's data, Beaver Stadium's upper deck - which juts out toward the field at the end zones - may act like a megaphone that catches and amplifies the sound in the higher seats of the lower levels.
To take advantage of this acoustic effect, Penn State plans to move the 20,000 seats in its student section squarely into the southern end zone when the entire stadium is reseated for the 2011 season.
Barnard's computer model predicts that this relocation will quiet the east side of field slightly but increase the sound on the west side by almost 50 percent - cutting the range of an opposing quarterback's voice by 33% and potentially causing more fall starts and miscommunications.
"We will own that end zone," said D'Elia. "The students' voices will have an unobstructed view of the entire field, and when another team is down in that end, we'll be able to maintain that home field advantage."