NCAA puts promotion in its sites Predetermined venues seen as key in effort to market lacrosse

February 23, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The marketing of college lacrosse enters a new phase this year, and the elimination of the home-field advantage for all but a fortunate few is just fine with some of the coaches whose teams won't be at home for playoff games under the new plan.

The NCAA lacrosse committee has seen what doubleheaders have done for the Final Four. It has made College Park the place to be on Memorial Day weekend, instead of the beach, and the people who run the college game want to see if the concept also will sell on Mother's Day and Preakness weekend.

Predetermined sites are in: Cornell and Navy for the first round, and Rutgers and Johns Hopkins for the quarterfinals this year. Stadiums with fewer than 5,000 seats and venues that haven't drawn well for NCAA games in the past are out.

Planned renovations at Princeton mean that the tournament may not return there until the next century. The Tigers have made a habit of getting a top-four seed and a first-round bye, yet the plan has the approval of Tigers coach Bill Tierney.

"Every year, I talk to my team about the importance of getting one of the first-round byes," Tierney said. "You won one game at home, and you were in the Final Four. Now, you almost feel like the regular season is for naught, but if we're going to build on our game, there have to be some sacrifices."

Two years ago, Virginia drew 877 for a first-round game and played before 1,750 in a quarterfinal win at North Carolina. Coach Dom Starsia understands the need for the new format, but wonders if the committee will juggle seeds for geographic considerations even more so than it has in the past.

"The committee will tell you it's not going to happen, but wouldn't the temptation be overwhelming to assign seeds based on what is going to draw the best crowds?" Starsia said. 'It's going to happen, and I'm not necessarily complaining. There are going to be some unfair situations, but the doubleheaders are going to be fun events."

This season is supposed to be the start of a two-year experiment with the format, but the lacrosse committee is planning on it becoming permanent.

"By summer, we may be asking the NCAA executive committee to let us use this format on a permanent basis," said Phil Buttafuoco, an assistant director for the NCAA who oversees the men's lacrosse tournaments. "Basically, we just need to break even with the tournament, and when you look at the entire picture, that isn't a concern."

The NCAA netted more than $258,000 from lacrosse last year, and only basketball, ice hockey and Division I-AA football staged more profitable men's tournaments. The bulk of the revenue came at Byrd Stadium on championship weekend, when a crowd of 30,327 watched the semifinals and the sales of NCAA T-shirts and baseball caps were strong.

"The same concessionaire works all 80 of the NCAA's championships," Buttafuoco said. "They call the men's lacrosse tournament the closest thing there is to a NASCAR race."

Tickets and merchandise for a Final Four of Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Virginia and Syracuse were a sure sell, and the lacrosse committee is confident the game also will sell on the two previous weekends.

The committee will keep drawing on the fan base in Maryland. The South quarterfinals will be played on a Sunday, so as not to collide with the Preakness Stakes. Graduation precluded Navy from serving as a host that weekend, and there's even concern that the right four teams could tax the capacity at Homewood Field.

The surprise omission thus far from the list of sites is Syracuse, which is saddled with the rap that its fans will show only to see the Orangemen. In 1991, when Syracuse was beaten in the semifinals, the North Carolina-Towson State title game at the Carrier Dome drew 8,293.

NCAA Division I tournament

1996

First-round doubleheaders

North: at Cornell, May 11

South: at Navy, May 12

Quarterfinal doubleheaders

North: at Rutgers, May 18

South: at Johns Hopkins, May 19

Semifinals and finals

at Maryland, May 25 and 27

1997

First-round doubleheaders

North: at Army, May 10

South: at Towson State, May 11

Quarterfinal doubleheaders

North: at Hofstra, May 17

South: at Maryland, May 18

Semifinals and finals

at Rutgers, May 24 and 26

1998

Semifinals and finals

) at Rutgers, May 23 and 25

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