It was about this time last year that IL’s Christian Swezey (though I’m pretty sure it was while he was still with the Washington Post) wrote about the possibility of a pod system in the first round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament.
It seems like a good idea in practice. But it’s also sort of been done in the past – as in before things went to home sites for the first round in 2003.
Assuming these home sites would have set up to give the top four seeds home games this year, it’s plausible we’d have seen these doubleheaders:
Charlottesville: Virginia-Villanova and Notre Dame-Maryland
Syracuse: Syracuse-Siena and Cornell-Hofstra
Durham: Duke-Navy and North Carolina-UMBC
Princeton: Princeton-Massachusetts and Hopkins-Brown
So, technically, it could have worked. Only one team (Notre Dame) would have been forced to fly under that scenario.
But how well would those doubleheaders have drawn?
It’s, literally, a money question. From 1996 to 2002, the NCAA had a similar setup. And only two times out of 14 did a crowd of 5,000 assemble. There were five crowds of 4,000-plus.
That 4,000 figure is important, because the average first-round crowd shrank for the third straight year. In 2006 (the spring of the Duke case), anchored by Cornell, Syracuse and unbeaten Virginia, the average was 2,960.
Since then? Not quite so great.
|Average||2,321 ||2,071 ||2,047|
This year’s average was the lowest since the 1,983 per game attracted in 2003. Certainly, the weather at Duke didn’t help, but that influenced the size of the crowd at Virginia in 2008 and Hopkins a year earlier.
Clearly, the NCAA could use a couple more Syracuses and Virginias, and it’s uncertain whether they’re out there. Actually, they might be, in the form of this weekend’s quarterfinal hosts Hofstra and Navy. Too bad those teams are already gone from the tournament (and couldn’t earn home games in the first round).
Somewhere, someone will blame the economy for this decrease, but that’s really sort of dubious. It probably has a little more to do with the quality of the games and the significance (or lack thereof) still ascribed to the round of 16.
That’s the thing no one wants to talk about. Even though some great games can be seen (like Hopkins-Brown), there are also more than a few clunkers. And unless there’s a way to bring true parity to the sport – and judging from the teams left standing, it hasn’t happened as much as those in the game would like to believe – tepid first-round attendance figures not that much different from a decade and a half ago will continue to pop up each year.