Orange Watch: Significant changes in NCAA lacrosse for next season and beyond

The NCAA has decisions to make regarding the logistics of the Division I lacrosse championship beginning in 2017.
The NCAA has decisions to make regarding the logistics of the Division I lacrosse championship beginning in 2017.

Item: With attendance plummeting the last eight years for the men’s Final Four weekend (under 54,000 for the semifinals and championship game over the Memorial Day holiday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, down from a peak of over 123,000 in 2007 at Baltimore), the NCAA will be busy over the summer deciding what to do with the sport’s premier event past 2016, while also tinkering with the slower-paced women’s game.

The NCAA championship next year will again be played at the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, but after that nothing’s set in stone. The guess here is that the event will be downsized from a facility standpoint as it was prior to 2004’s move to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore (although going back to a college campus is tough late in the school year with athletic department staffs readying for the summer), with the potential that a move into the first weekend of June and consideration of selecting a permanent site somewhere along the I-95 corridor could both be on the table.

Heck, with a crowd of 24,215 for Monday’s Div. I championship game, that’s only roughly 14,000 more than showed up to watch the quarterfinals at Navy’s Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium (a great collegiate venue, by the way), certainly helped by local schools Maryland and Johns Hopkins represented in each quarterfinal game.

Both the NCAA and US Lacrosse have been throwing up their hands in exploring options to stem the tide of the puzzling contradiction between the continued growth of lax participation in virtually every state coast-to-coast, and the dwindling number of spectators who show up to watch the top collegiate teams battle for the national title.

» More SU Lax: Syracuse women’s lacrosse can’t slay giant Maryland

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Also on the subject of lacrosse venues, what was the ACC thinking (warmer weather?) in moving its men’s championship next year from the northeast at PPL Park outside of Philly, to the southeast and Kennesaw State University’s 8,300 seat Fifth Third Bank Stadium in suburban Atlanta, a distance of some 400 miles from the closest conference lax programs (UNC and Duke), and either a two hour plane trip or a 14 hour, nearly 1000 mile drive from Syracuse?

Sure, there were the economics involved and spreading the event’s wings with the Atlanta Sports Council, Kennesaw State and LB3 Lacrosse, headed by former Orange star attackman Liam Banks (1999-2000-01-03) who has been growing the sport in the Atlanta metro area for the last decade, brought SU down south to play regular season games the past two seasons, and helped front a loud lobbying effort to ACC headquarters.

While there will no doubt be plenty of area scholastic lacrosse programs in attendance next spring along with local alumni of the participating schools, isolating the event far away from its core base in an effort to extend good will in helping grow the sport in a burgeoning region, is a tradeoff and hindrance to the biggest stakeholders closest to the programs, diehard fans and family members.

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When Denver beat Maryland Monday afternoon in the Div. I final to claim its first national title and head coach Bill Tierney’s record seventh crown, we couldn’t help but think of former ‘Cuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. and the classic SU-Princeton NCAA battles of the 1990s between Simmons’s Orange squads and Tierney’s great Princeton teams. In becoming the first coach to win the title at two schools, Tierney moved past Simmons who also had six titles, with John Desko next at five championships, Virginia’s Dom Starsia with four, and Duke’s John Danowski with three.

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On the women’s side, we realize that Syracuse is 1-18 all-time against Maryland, and the Terrapins program is certainly the benchmark of the sport having just won their 12th national title this past weekend. But when the Terps, up by two goals, are able to simply stall away, and not attempt to score further over the final 7:18 of the NCAA semifinal game against the Orange last Friday evening outside of Philly, something needs to be done.

In the video game world we live in today, constant action, constant motion, and with the attention span among the fastest-growing consumer group of millennials averaging only eight seconds, as it stands without change, women’s lacrosse is certainly not going develop an increasingly larger fan base if it doesn’t modernize its rule book, and the guess here is that when the rules committee meets next month there will be changes made to speed up the pace of play.

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 680 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.