Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yeah Hounds

TigerBlog is a big fan of the on-line message boards, especially about subjects that hit close to home.

They're a great source to find out what people are thinking, what they know, what they don't know, what myths persist. In many ways, they're instant market research.

His favorite is probably the one on laxpower.

In the wake of Loyola's dominant run through the 2012 men's lacrosse season, one that culminated Monday in a 9-3 demolishing of Maryland in the NCAA championship game, TB went back to the "Loyola 2012" entry on laxpower to see what the general thought was in the preseason.

And what did he find? Among Greyhounds fans, there was some optimism that the team could make a run - in the ECAC, not nationally.

In fact, Loyola began the season unranked in either of the two major polls. Under the preseason Inside Lacrosse poll, there are 70 comments, and Loyola is mentioned in only two of them, both of which say that the team should have been ranked in the Top 20.

It's a rarity in lacrosse for a team to emerge the way Loyola did.

It's a rarity in any sport for a team that enters the postseason ranked No. 1 in both polls and No. 1 in RPI and to be the No. 1 seed in the tournament to be so generally disregarded the way the Greyhounds were.

TB fell into the same trap, and his selection of Duke from before the tournament and Final Four was way off, as the Blue Devils were thumped 16-10 by Maryland in the semifinals.

In reality, TB hadn't seen enough of Loyola to know just how good this team was, and he senses that that is fairly common among those that sold the Hounds short.

They were a fun team - and by all accounts a likeable team with a very likeable coach - to watch, as TB did from Gillette Stadium, where he helped with official stats for the eighth straight championship weekend. In all, it was the 18th time in 21 years that TB attended the Final Four.

He's seen it grow from Princeton's first NCAA title, back in 1992 at Franklin Field, through the five that followed - all on college campuses - and now through the era of NFL stadiums as the venue.

When Princeton defeated Syracuse 10-9 in two overtimes on Memorial Day 1992, the game was shown on a two-week tape delay in a one-hour time block.

This year, every NCAA tournament game was televised live. Hey, for the entire season, it was a rarity to have a weekend go by without two, three, four or more games on TV.

This championship weekend consists of the Saturday Division I semifinals, the Sunday Division II and III championship games and then the Monday Division I final. The NCAA and ESPN have tinkered with start times through the years, but that basic format has been unchanged.
In most years, there is at least one incredible game, an overtime game or two, more games with dramatic fourth quarters than blowouts.

The 2012 tournament lacked pretty much any of that. The closest thing to a dramatic ending was in the Division II game, when Limestone had a possession in the final 30 seconds to try to get the tying goal against Dowling but couldn't.

Or even in the postgame celebration, when Massachusetts state troopers arrested six Dowling fans who hopped onto the field from the stands.

Other than that, the other games were all decided long before the final minutes. As for the final, it was a chance to see Loyola dominate on both ends of the field, and while it was ridiculously impressive, it was hardly dramatic.

Other than the DII arrests, the biggest topic of conversation was the continued dip in attendance during championship weekend, as each of the last five years has seen a decline. The 2008 final in Foxboro drew 48,970; the game this year in the same stadium drew 30,816.

The two big questions were 1) why and 2) what to do about it?

From TB's point vantage point, the situation isn't as dire as it's being made out to be.

Hey, look at this way, way more people went to watch the DII and DIII doubleheader (17,005) than went to the SEC baseball championship game (12,526). So some of it is relative.

There were the usual factors, of course, as to why attendance wasn't what it was in 2008:

* no Johns Hopkins or Syracuse, who have the biggest followings
* the economy, which makes disposable income more previous
* gas prices - since it was a long drive from pretty much anywhere to Foxboro
* the "we did this once" concept, in which casual fans who want to check out a variety of events once as opposed to going to the same one every time have already done so

Mostly, TB thinks it had to do with three things more than any other.

First, it's the money involved in going.

Second, it's something that had to be planned in advance. Fans who went to Gillette in the past had memories of traffic nightmares, and fans who went to Baltimore last year had memories of the overwhelming heat and humidity.

Third - and this is the one that will be impacting American sports attendance way beyond the lacrosse championships - is the ease of watching on television.

It's a lot of effort to get to Foxboro. It's not a lot of effort to turn on your HD TV and watch the game in the comfort of the house.

And in ESPN's Quint Kessenich, lacrosse has found its own version of Howard Cosell, an announcer that is either loved or hated but whom lacrosse fans flock to for his insights. It used to be that the youth/high school players TB knew would ask about players; now they ask him about Kessenich.

The NCAA lacrosse committee will be thinking long and hard about the future of the event. There is thought that maybe it should always be in Baltimore, the way the College World Series is always in Omaha.

Next year's event is in Philadelphia. The 2014 tournament is in Baltimore. TB thinks attendance will go way up for both.

TB will be at Lincoln Financial Field next Memorial Day weekend, at least he hopes he will.

And he hopes Princeton will be there with him.

Hey, why not? If Loyola could do it this year, why not the Tigers next year? Or any other team?

That's what the talk should be about. Not attendance.

About the Loyola Greyhounds and their great run to the championship.

Congrats to the Hounds.

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