America’s Best College Sports Towns: West Region

Three down, four to go. Now that Wisconsin has wrapped up the contest for America’s Best College Sports Town in the Midwest, we’re only one town away from the Final Four. That last town will come from the West, that part of the country where it’s always warm and every girl walks around in a bikini at all times. So which college sports mecca will join Morgantown, West Virginia, Knoxville Tennessee, and Madison, Wisconsin in the Final Four for America’s Best College Sports Town? It’s up to you. Voting ends Monday, March 21 at 12 p.m. EST.

Austin, Texas

University of Texas
Austin population: 790,390
University of Texas enrollment: 51,000
Top 25 finishes in football and basketball since 200: 16 (2005 football champions)
Awesome Alums: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Dell, Owen Wilson, May Lou Retton

Back in the heyday of the old Southwest conference, Longhorn football dominated all aspects of Austin life. This is no longer the case, but that has nothing to with a decline in the gridiron dominance of the burnt orange.

Instead it’s a testament to Austin’s growth into a world-class cultural center, one which calls itself the “Live Music Capital of The World,” and hosts the annual stampede of cool known as “South By Southwest.”

Of course UT’s campus parking lots still swell on fall weekends with Longhorn fans in RVs packed with beef brisket and beer. And on game day, 100,000 fans regularly cram into Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, displaying their iconic hook-em-horns hand gesture during the playing of “The Eyes Of Texas” and “Texas Fight.”

These days though if an Austinite finds himself spending February obsessing over the beginning of spring work outs ,it’s not for lack of better things to do around town — which would include watching Texas’s perennially strong baseball and basketball teams compete.

Despite all this other crap to do in Austin, football still rules. Want proof? Well, there are now preliminary plans to extend Darrell K. Royal Stadium to a whopping 120,000 seats even though the Horns just finished a 5-7 season. Clearly, no matter how big Austin grows, football will also play a large role in the city’s future.

Thanks to Robert of HornFans.com for help gathering info.

Palo Alto, California

University of Stanford
Palo Alto population: 61,200
University of Stanford enrollment: 15,319
Top 25 finishes in football and basketball since 2000: 5
Awesome Alum: Fred Savage, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride

The first thing anyone should know about the athletic program at Stanford University is that it has won the NASDA’s Director’s Cup–which is awarded to the university with the winingest overall athletic department–every year since 1996.

The next thing one thinks of, when one considers the Cardinal, is its aggressive marching band, and its rambunctious unofficial mascot, The Tree. Both the band and the Tree are known for the type of clever hi-jinks associated with a school of Stanford’s academic pedigree. However, the Tree is also known to sometimes stray into more traditional delinquency, like the time it exchanged punches with Cal’s mascot, Oski, or the time it was seen drinking from a flask and arrested for public drunkenness during another Stanford-Cal match up.

Stanford’s relatively small student population will always take a break from their rigorous academic schedules to cheer the Cardinal enthusiastically, especially when their teams are national contenders, as their basketball team was at the beginning of the decade, and their football team is now.

Palo Alto–the home of Facebook and Hewlet Packard and bunch of other tech companies–also happens to be good place for the career-minded college sports fan to park himself for four years or longer.

Thanks to Scott at Ruleoftree.com for help gathering info.

Boulder, Colorado

University of Colorado
Boulder population: 100,160
University of Colorado enrollment: 30,196
Top 25 Finishes in football and basketball since 2000: 3
Awesome Alums: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Redford

Sports fans in Boulder are currently reeling over the Buffaloes controversial exclusion from the NCAA field of 68. They haven’t rioted yet, even though University of Colorado students have quite the history of taking it to the streets.

Truth be told, none of Boulder’s notorious student revolts had to do with sports–even back during the 90s when Colorado had a football program that was as strong as any in the nation, and was worth raising a ruckus over.

But there is more to being a sports town than just watching sports. And Boulder, Colorado, with its ample amenities for hikers, bikers, rock climbers and skiers, was once selected as the # 1 Sports Town in America by Outside Magazine. (Which is just one of many such accolades the city has garnered.)

As for the more traditional definition of a great college sports town…Maybe a move by the Buffaloes to what will be called the PAC 12 will help the program recapture past glories.

Thanks to Jon at Ralphiereport.com for help gathering info.

Eugene, Oregon

University of Oregon
Eugene population: 156,185
University of Oregon enrollment: 23,389
Top 25 finishes since 2000 in basketball and football: 9
Awesome alums: Phil Knight, Ken Kesey, Ahmad Rashad

In football, Oregon has two huge rivals: Oregon State and University of Washington. The Ducks have now defeated the Huskies seven straight times, and, in their intense interstate “civil war” with the Beavers, they have three straight wins.

Not only that, but the U of O, with their bright-as-the-sun uniforms and exotic offense, almost won the whole darn thing in 2010, falling to Auburn in a hard fought BCS championship game.

Perhaps all this success has gotten to Duck fan’s heads, as they have been the runaway winners of the “most obnoxious fans in the Pac 10″ in multiple polls of Pac 10 fans.

Or perhaps all the blasé left-coasters who voted in these polls are mistaking passion for obnoxiousness.

Either way, there is little doubt that the folks in Eugene love their Ducks. And with a national profile that keeps raising, and a steady flow of Nike dollars from University of Oregon alum and Nike founder Phil Knight, expect Oregon fans to have plenty to be obnoxious and/or passionate about in the future.

Photos: Getty Images