It’s football season! Here in Happy Valley, many of us are football fans. Attending games is a tradition for a lot of us. We experience the roar of the crowd firsthand. We know that The Horseshoe, The Big House and Kinnick Stadium all are very difficult environments to play away games because of the crowd noise. Beaver Stadium is continuously ranked among the top ten loudest college football stadiums. Our student section is ranked No. 1 in the nation due to its intense noise level.
There is little doubt that crowd noise can impact games. Fans know to keep the noise to a minimum during home team possessions so that the quarterback can communicate with the offensive line and call plays effectively. When the opposing team has the ball, the crowd knows to ramp up the noise in hopes of disrupting their coordination and increasing the number of false starts. The distance that will allow effective communication between the quarterback and the offensive line decreases from three meters with the home team to less than one meter with the visiting team.
In the late 2000s, Andrew Barnard, former Penn State graduate student and current Michigan Technological University professor, measured the sound levels in Beaver stadium during games with sold-out crowds of well over 107,000 people. He measured sound intensity that occasionally reached levels louder than jack hammers. Think about that! When Penn State had the ball, sound levels were consistently in the 80-90 dB range (the sound level of a lawn mower) but rose to over 100 dB (rock concert level) when the opposing team had the ball. After more analysis of the sound level and the acoustics of the stadium, Penn State decided to move the student section to the south end zone in 2011. This was done because the noise of the students cheering carries better from that area, increasing the sound on the field by as much at 50 percent.
Here are some straightforward facts. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health calculated the sound-level dosages that are safe for most people for an 8-hour day. The noise level at Beaver Stadium exceeded 200 percent of the recommended daily dose of allowable noise in only a three-hour game. At the most intense times of the game, the sound level rose to more than 120 dB, which is past the sound level that can cause pain. There is no “safe” amount time at that level. Hearing can be instantly and permanently damaged when exposed to more than 120 dB.
The noise of the crowd, a big part of home field advantage, might help to win a game. It’s fun to be in the stadium during an important game and feel like you can help your home team win. However, the downside is that sound levels during at least some of the games are high enough to cause an irreparable hearing loss. This brings the question of how can you continue to contribute to your team winning without permanently sacrificing the quality of your hearing?
It’s easy, actually. Always use hearing protection when you can’t avoid loud sound. At a minimum, use earplugs at games. Custom-fit earplugs connected with a cord are easy and convenient. Filtered earplugs, often referred to as “musicians’ earplugs” are often the best choice because they allow speech to be intelligible, while still reducing the sound to safer levels.
You don’t need to give up the thrill of being in Beaver Stadium. You do need to think about permanently damaging the only pair of ears you’re going to have. Wear earplugs … and yell as loud as you want!