I had a chance to talk with Tim Pavlechko, who chairs the NCAA lacrosse committee, about the surprisingly low turnout at Saturday’s semifinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The announced attendance of 36,594 was the smallest since the NCAA moved the final four to professional venues after the 2002 season and was a marked departure from last season’s first visit to the Boston area, when 48,224 showed up for the semifinals.
At the risk of sounding like an economic analyst, Pavlechko speculated that the current economic climate affected interest in the final four.
"I think families have tough choices, and we’re all making those choices this year," he said. "I think it does have an impact. … If you look at the Preakness and the Indianapolis 500 and all that, you’re like, ‘Oh, everything’s down a little bit.’ Our fan base is composed of a lot of families. … Attendance figures aren’t the only indicator. Certainly, attendance figures are important to us, and we want fans to support this sport. So we’re looking into how we can take this sport to the next level."
A little later, Pavlechko added, "We’ve had five years in a row of raising the bar, and there were things outside of our control. I wasn’t going to sit there and go, ‘Oh, geez.’ Look at the experience those kids had. You saw those Cornell kids. You think they cared that there were 4,000 less people than before? They’re ready to play for a national championship. We know their alums are coming, and at the end of the weekend, I hope we can look back and say, ‘Boston made a huge commitment to us, they held two successful championships, and now we’re onto the next stage.’"
Finally, I asked Pavlechko if the selection committee – which was the target of some criticism earlier this month – felt validated after four of the top five seeds qualified for championship weekend.
Pavlechko chuckled and shook his head as if to deflect any credit. "At the end of the day when we left our selection committee meeting, we knew that based on our selection criteria, we felt very comfortable with the teams that were selected," he said. "Once you get to that point, anything can happen."