Head Men's Basketball Coach – Pratt Cannoneers
I consider myself a fan of college lacrosse. I used to consider myself a really big fan, back when I would occasionally freelance for Inside Lacrosse, covered the Hofstra men’s team as closely as possible and tried to watch as many games as I could.
I’m not at that level any more, but when the opportunity came along to go down to see the National Championship game from the lower bowl for less than $30, I jumped on it.
For sure the decision had a lot to do with some excellent culinary options throughout Philadelphia as well. (I tried Paesano’s for the first time and it was amazing. The Diavlo sandwich, specifically, was off the charts.)
On top of the food and the interest in lacrosse, what truly drove me to go down and watch was the energy of a National Championship. I assumed that with the stakes surrounding this game between Maryland and Denver, the stadium would be abuzz and the excitement would be palpable.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Maybe my expectations were too high. It was impossible to have had the same feeling as the men’s basketball final between Duke and Wisconsin. I left that game in Indianapolis with the same high that I assume addicts crave. It’s a feeling I’ve been searching for ever since. And I didn’t find it in Philly for the lacrosse championship.
Comparing lacrosse to college basketball will never be fair. Basketball is bigger, has more fans, more television coverage, March Madness instead of May Madness and no trouble selling out a football stadium for the final. There are draft implications and upsets and betting on basketball, while all those things may exist in lacrosse, but not nearly at the same level.
I thought there were a number of other factors that played into the lacrosse experience lacking a bit of luster though. While there’s a certain level of excitement for the teams to be playing in an NFL stadium, the half-filled nature (and I may be being generous), made the event seem smaller than it was. There was an announced attendance of just over 24,000 people. But looking around, the lower bowl was 3/4 filled, the middle tier was about 1/4 to 1/3 full and the upper deck did not have a single person in it.
2015 marked the third straight year that the final failed to attract 30,000 fans and the SEVENTH(!!!) straight year that finals attendance has been a decline from the previous year’s. This is shocking for a sport that is growing and expanding all over the country.
Could it have anything to do with the sports most significant individual star (Lyle Thompson of Albany) being eliminated in the quarterfinals?
Or maybe it’s time for the NCAA to recognize that the days of 2007-09, when almost 50,000 people showed up to each final, are over. Wouldn’t the event be away better in a more intimate environment? Sure, picking a 24,000 seat field may be pessimistic and you want room to allow attendance to grow, but the almost 70,000 seats in Lincoln Financial Field made the game seem empty and unimportant.
How about Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ (capacity: 25,189)? Princeton football Stadium (capacity: 27,800)? Harvard Stadium (capacity: 30,323)? Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (capacity: 34,000)?
Adamant about keeping it in Philly? What about moving it across the street to Citizen’s Bank Park, the baseball stadium? It would certainly be a novelty, would replicate the success of the football and hockey, which have both played in baseball stadiums and would comfortably seat 43,647 people.
There were certainly some other factors that the NCAA could not control that affected the atmosphere. I’m sure as well as Denver fans travel, the plane ride deterred many from coming. Plus, Denver controlled the game from the start and ended up winning 10-5, meaning there was no drama down the stretch.
Certainly the possession-based nature of the game and sparse scoring (compared to basketball at least), makes the casual viewer less likely to show up on Memorial Day for the final, and the Denver faithful were loud, but as a neutral lacrosse fan, I left disappointed that I didn’t get goose-bumps as the final seconds wound down and Denver stormed the field.