Search unnecessary; Classic has a home

The Baltimore Sun

Check off Brian Carroll as being in favor of playing the Face-Off Classic in Baltimore on a regular basis. Sort of. Scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in his hometown, in front of his family and friends, has its appeal, he said.

"Yeah, it's a great venue, great for the sport and everything, draws a lot of people. I enjoy playing here," said Carroll, Virginia's sophomore midfielder, Gilman graduate and hero of yesterday's doubleheader opener against Syracuse at M&T; Bank Stadium.

"But at the same time," he added, "I would also want a chance to play at [Syracuse's Carrier] Dome."

There's the problem, shared by players and their coaches after Year 2 of an idea that works too well to be messed with. The other three teams can get envious, and understandably so.

"This is fun," said John Desko, coach of the losing Orange. "The tough part is if you have a five- or six-game home schedule, and your fans want to see Virginia or Hopkins, and you put the game on the road. That's a difficulty for them. Especially if you're a team like us, and you miss the playoffs -- you could say, 'What if the Virginia game was at home?'

"But, no," he added, speaking of the choice of settling the games here or bringing them elsewhere, "it's something to talk about."

Between now and the end of this year, the organizers and the lacrosse powers-that-be will do plenty of talking about every aspect of this. Despite the discomfort of the typical coach about playing teams this tough in the beginning of the season, these coaches - the same four who played in the inaugural Classic last year - like what they've seen, even the level of play - particularly in the opener, one of the most entertaining regular-season games you'll ever see.

And, by the way, the second overtime result in as many years, after Johns Hopkins beat Princeton last year.

Inside Lacrosse magazine, the event organizers, were thrilled, and ESPNU, which carried the game nationally, had to be.

Granted, the Princeton folks had to be very magnanimous about everything, considering the thumping they took from Hopkins in the first half of the nightcap. Still, the big picture won out.

"It's a great opportunity for both teams," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, "the national exposure, the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd in a playoff-type atmosphere. Whether you win or lose, the experience for all four teams is invaluable."

However, keeping the event in one place would also be good for the sport. Baltimore, in particular. Making this a destination, a target, the place to be, would be great.

Andy Bilello, director of business development for Inside Lacrosse, was still processing the day's events 20 minutes after Hopkins' win, but he couldn't deny the immediate pluses - the crowd (close to 20,000, after drawing over 20,000 last year), the buzz, the corporate support, the high level of play.

And the location.

"There's no question that Baltimore has the greatest fan support for lacrosse of any venue in the country," Bilello said. "It's like [what] the schools [say], every part of the experience was good, but we have to evaluate everything about it."

Sure sounds as if there's more reason to keep it here than to move it. This does, too: "We want [this event] to be a place where the fans plan to be every year ... We feel like this year proves that last year was not a fluke. This was an event that has support, and it's something we can continue to build on."

As alluring as it is to find new areas in which to grow the sport - and that appears to be one reason the NCAA doesn't come through here with the final four more often, and why, for instance, it's in Foxborough, Mass., this spring - making this event an annual part of Baltimore is just as alluring.

No matter how many locations can claim to be a hotbed for the sport, only one deserves to be called the hotbed.

Overall, there should be no bigger priority in lacrosse than making it more inclusive, for plenty of reasons. But marrying that ideal to the other notions that the sport holds dear - tradition and roots - is a lofty ideal, too. Locking in the Face-Off Classic here would go a long way toward accomplishing that.

Bringing home the Brian Carrolls of the sport and seeing them become the hero is just icing on the cake.

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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