Alarming attendance figures for championship weekend could prompt changes

Loyola’s 9-3 victory over Maryland in Monday’s NCAA tournament final may have been entertaining for fans in this state, but attendance figures for the entire Memorial Day weekend suggested otherwise.

The total attendance of 79,595 for championship weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., was the smallest since the Division I semifinals and final and Division II and III finals were moved to professional stadiums for the 2003 season. The total number was almost 20,000 less than the crowd that showed up for last year’s championship weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

John Jiloty of Inside Lacrosse wrote an insightful article on the downturn in attendance, which should be alarming for NCAA officials as the sport that is renowned for having enjoyed increased participation at nearly every level can’t seem to drum up similar interest from fans.

Jiloty interviewed Jeff Jarnecke, associate director of championships at the NCAA, and Phil Buttafuoco, the executive director of lacrosse at Gillette Stadium, and both men agreed that some discussion must take place.

“People are starting to make a lot of decisions that are affecting this event,” Buttafuoco told Jiloty. “We need to collectively evaluate how we can get the event back on track to where we all want it to be, and identify where we can make those improvements and make a commitment to do it.”

Jarnecke said one of the options being considered is pushing the quarterfinal round to Memorial Day weekend and the semifinals and final to a weekend in June. But keeping the student-athletes longer on campus when the rest of the student body has left for summer break could pose a problem.

Jarnecke said another consideration is seeking a smaller venue than the NFL stadiums that have played host in the past. After stints at the 71,008-seat M&T Bank Stadium, the 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium and the 68,532-seat Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia – the site of next year’s championship weekend – finding a 50,000-seat venue or even returning to a campus site are likely to be part of the conversation.

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