The 2016 ACC Lacrosse Championship was certainly a memorable one, but maybe not for the best reason. While we were treated to some very entertaining games, the highlight came with 7:30 left in the Championship match. With storms in the areas, a lightning delay was called. For the next several hours we watched as the storms rolled through, completely drenching the field. Finally, the decision was made to move the game to an adjacent practice field. Because the cameras could not be moved within a reasonable time, the final half of the fourth quarter went untelevised. That didn't stop several parties, including Paul Carcaterra and our boys over at College Crosse from periscoping the rest of the game. While the camera angles left much to be desired it was a pretty cool moment.
Now, we have to look 2017. Syracuse.com's Lindsay Kramer wrote up a good piece earlier in the week about the future of the ACC Championship and where Kennesaw might fit into the ACC's plans.
"Its biggest selling point might be an intangible. While it's not necessarily in the geographic heart of the lacrosse league — comprised of Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse — the Atlanta region is on a huge upswing in terms of lacrosse popularity. That's what the ACC wants to tap into."
In a follow-up article from Kramer, it was brought to light that Coach Desko would like the Tournament moved back to campus sites:
"It's deflating, I think, when you've got some of the best teams in the country walking out onto a field and there's no one there. I think that we've got to look at going back to campuses. I'm sure that if we had those four teams here in the Carrier Dome, we would have had a pretty good crowd for the game.''
So that brings us to our question, does the ACC return to campus sites or continue with non-campus venues?
On-campus sites provide the ACC with a built in audience. The other positive, that is now glaring us in the face, is that once every five years the Championship will be held in the Carrier Dome where weather is not a concern. However, there is no doubt the ACC wants to continue gaining a presence in budding lacrosse areas. Therefore, holding the tournament in any of the on-campus sites doesn't really help on that level.
As for the neutral sites, you have to rely on the lacrosse audience in those areas. The ACC previously held its tournament in Chester, PA, just minutes from Philadelphia. In those 2014 and 2015 Championship games the attendance was significantly better than that in the 2016 Championship game in Kennesaw, GA. Chester is a venue for attendance and for geographical convenience, it doesn't do much else for you if you're the ACC.
Personally, I liked the move to Kennesaw State University. I thought it was an interesting choice and a very progressive selection for a Conference trying to expand the game and grow new recruiting grounds. It's not a cross-country trip for these players, it's near a major metropolitan area, and is located in a budding lacrosse region. But yea, attendance is not going to be as great as it would be in the northeast.
If I'm in charge, I'm resisting the switch back to campus sites. While the attendance will probably be better in a place like Syracuse or South Bend than it would be in Kennesaw, the Conference isn't gaining anything. I don't hate the Chester location, I think it was a good venue and was about as geographically close to all five schools you can get, but I'm not sure I'm in a rush to get back there. Two of the more attractive, off-campus sites for budding lacrosse areas, in my mind, are in North Carolina. In Charlotte you have a new MLL team while in Raleigh you are about 45 minutes from both Duke and UNC.
Florida would be another interesting choice. I know that the sport is gaining traction in the state and there could be some interesting opportunities, but I think it may be a little too soon to go to the sunshine state. I would love the Boston area to be in contention, but with the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Championship Weekend being held in Foxboro, there's no reason to double-up if you're the ACC. I can't imagine Baltimore or anywhere else in Maryland being an option, but there may be an opportunity to go just south of the Potomac in northern Virginia. While not as much of a hotbed as Maryland, northern Virginia has a lot of good lacrosse going on at the high school and youth levels. There are tons of ACC alumni in the greater DC area and it is a reasonable geographic choice. The problem would be finding a venue. Chicago is Big Ten territory, but there's a big Notre Dame presence in the area and its lacrosse scene has a strong foothold. The Windy City would still be an odd choice though in my mind.
At the end of the day, I think the ACC may stay in Kennesaw for next year.
Of course, the ACC loses its automatic bid next year, so I'm sure the venue isn't at the top of the Conference's to-do list.
Bottom line: if you want attendance up, go back to traditional lacrosse hotbeds, but if you are more interested in growing the game and the ACC footprint, stick with places like Kennesaw.
I asked around and here's what the TNIAAM crew had to say about the issue:
Personally, I'd like to see the ACC tournament rotate from campus to campus. I think that would be a cool way to get fans excited for the season every year. If they are hosting the tournament, then they know they will get good crowds, especially in the Dome. I think that bringing the ACC tournament to each teams campus will be great for lacrosse in those areas. I know that Upstate New York lacrosse is an established hot bed, but for the most part, the other four campuses aren't located in traditional lacrosse hot beds. It will expand the game in the area where the team is, then you can think about expanding it to further areas where lacrosse is virtually unknown.
I'm gonna go for the campus site option, but with a slight difference. instead of a rotational basis for campuses hosting, i'd like to see the host site go to whoever wins the regular season conference championship. Maybe it's old fashioned, but that's just what makes sense to me.
I do understand the ACC's point about wanting to grow the game by bringing the excitement of the ACC tournament to different off campus sites, ala Kennesaw and Philly the previous couple years, and i like the idea, but not enough to sway me away from earning the opportunity to host the tourney.
I think moving it around can work. I wouldn't mind if the ACC rotated it between Philly, Atlanta, and Boca Raton, Florida.
I think Kennesaw is a good spot right now for the ACC tourney because their goal is to expand the game into southern regions. Fifth Third Bank Stadium is located 20 miles outside of Atlanta, where the MLL just introduced the Atlanta Blaze this season. They have gotten to see some players that will play on the Blaze next year, like Myles Jones, which bodes well for the team. Right now ATL is being targeted by the lacrosse community as the first spot to grow southern lacrosse roots. I think it will stay in Kennesaw for a few years as Dan Corso, the executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council has hinted at working again with the ACC. But I do think in order to grow this game further it will need to transition into a bigger stadium. If you want to cultivate it in Atlanta, go to the big ACC school there: Georgia Tech. Stay in Kennesaw for a little to plant the roots, go to Georgia Tech to grow the tree. Hopefully though, they don't lose track of their east coast fans and make an alternating schedule of south and east tourneys.
I can understand why a lot of people might think Kennesaw was a dumb idea for the ACC Tournament but if the ACC is going to step up as the elite lacrosse conference, then why not turn the tournament into a kind-of barnstorming tour? Georgia is a recruiting hotbed so that's why it makes sense. I'm all for taking the tournament to other places in order to stamp the ACC footprint on them. Hold the ACC Tournament in DC, Long Island, Boston or Philadelphia and Georgia. It's better than giving one school a homefield advantage each year and it puts everyone in front of recruits and a new pocket of potential fans.
If Georgia Tech or Clemson or another one of the "football schools' were joining for lacrosse, maybe it makes sense to keep it down there? But otherwise, what's the point? It's no easy feat to get fans there (35 minutes from Atlanta) and the closest team is 400 miles out. Notre Dame and Syracuse have been the class of the league of late, and they're both much further north. I don't like campus sites, since it sort of removes some of the fanfare of the postseason. So perhaps D.C./Baltimore area? Central location, lacrosse hotbed, and it's a shot across the bow of the Big Ten/Hopkins/Maryland.
I appreciate the idea of spreading the game to places like Georgia, and think it is a worthwhile cause, but I don't necessarily think that playing the tournaments there is the optimal way to go about it. Increased television exposure is the better answer, and I think having those games show full, energetic crowds at lacrosse hotspot in the Northeast, DMV, or Carolinas is probably the better way to go. If there's evidence that a place like Kennesaw can turn out well for an event like the ACC Tournament, go for it, but even if there wasn't a hellacious storm this year, I don't know that there would be a huge turnout. Fill the stands, make it look like an event, and do more grassroots things like camps to grow the game without sacrificing the conference tournament.
Let us know what you think in the comment section, and tell us where you'd like to see the Tournament move to.
The Syracuse Orange will host the Colgate Raiders on Saturday at 1 PM in the regular season finale. The game can be seen on ESPN3/TWCS and heard on TK99. Of course you can follow me @Orangelax for updates.