Should the Lacrosse Final Four Stay in Baltimore?
Many have often argued over which region of the country plays the best lacrosse. An argument consistently pitting Baltimore, Long Island and upstate New York against each other. To add to that, the talent level has also soared in areas like Philadelphia, Washington DC, New England and other areas in recent years. You can spend hours arguing over which region plays the best lacrosse and produces the best players, but you can’t argue that Baltimore is at the epicenter of the lacrosse world.
Baltimore is home to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame run by US Lacrosse, the national governing body of the sport. Both are about to get a nice new facility and recreational stadium at Harbor Point in Harbor East. Baltimore is also home to the two biggest lacrosse publications in the industry, Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse Magazine. Many will also tell you that Johns Hopkins is the most storied program in NCAA Lacrosse and Homewood Field is considered the Cathedral.
The Baltimore metro area also includes Division I programs Loyola, Towson and UMBC, with University of Maryland and Navy just 30 minutes down the road. Division I programs Mt. St. Mary’s, Georgetown and Delaware are also within an hour of Charm City. Many Division III programs are just as close and most would tell you that the Baltimore-based MIAA is the best and deepest high school lacrosse league in the country. Just about every day during the open NCAA recruiting season you will find lacrosse tournaments filled with many of the best club teams in the country and the best college coaches there to see them play at parks and campuses in the Baltimore area. The Under Armour All-American game is also held at Towson University and features the best high school players in the country.
The biggest event in lacrosse has become the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four Weekend, an event which features the Division I Semifinals and Championship, as well as the Division II and Division III Championships. In 2003, the NCAA moved the event to NFL stadiums starting at M&T Bank Stadium and immediately attendance records were shattered. In 2007, the highest mark was set in Baltimore as 52,000 people watched the semifinals, 48,443 watched the championship and 22,778 watched the Division II and III Finals. The event has been held in Philadelphia twice, Foxborough three times and Baltimore five times, but the attendance has gone down every year since the high mark of 2007. This year’s event was in Foxborough and the total weekend attendance was down 43,630 from the 2007 high.
The event will return to Philadelphia for the third time next year – and back to Baltimore in 2014 – but questions have emerged about how the future of the event should be handled. I recommend reading the comments of this Inside Lacrosse Article where readers discuss their recommendations for the future of the Lacrosse Final Four. The most common topics discussed were the price of tickets for the event in this bad economy, which start around $100 per person for the three day event, as well as the teams in the final and the slowed down pace of the game of lacrosse. The most common topic brought up is how bad of a venue Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is for this event because of its location – many think that Baltimore should be the permanent home.
Every year the Baseball College World Series is held in a single location, Omaha, Nebraska, so it begs the question- should Baltimore be the permanent home of the Lacrosse Final Four? This Monday’s final featuring Loyola and Maryland was a good example of why Baltimore is a great permanent home for the event. So many teams and fanbases are close to Baltimore and one would think a combination of Maryland, Hopkins, Towson, Loyola, Navy or Delaware could produce a National Championship crowd that could maybe fill M&T Bank Stadium and produce a historic lacrosse environment. Syracuse is viewed as the largest fan base in college lacrosse and even the Orange are only a 4-5 hour drive from Baltimore, which is about as close as it gets for the central New York school.
Metlife Stadium in Meadowlands, New Jersey and Denver have been hot topics for a Final Four, but I’ve been told that Denver is just too far for the majority of lacrosse teams and fans and that Metlife does not give the accessibility to nearby restaurants and attractions that allows the lacrosse community to set up the promotions, events and parties that create the festival that is Final Four Weekend.
Baltimore offers an amazing environment for this type of event. There are plenty of surrounding hotels rooms, plus it is steps from Downtown, the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill and more. A new Harrah’s Casino should also be around by the time the Final Four returns in 2014, adding another thing a weekend tripper can do within walking distance of the event. Philadelphia has done very well with attendance, but their stadium is much more isolated from the action of the city than M&T Bank Stadium.
We’ll see what happens in the next two years, but I think the NCAA should consider making Baltimore a permanent fixture for the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four. As long as the ticket prices come down to realistic values, Baltimore will always put a great crowd at the event and, if the right teams fall into place, it may be a historical lacrosse moment that is talked about for a long time.
What do you think?