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NCAA returns to non-NFL stadiums for lacrosse’s Championship Weekend

For the first time since 2002, Championship Weekend will be moving to a non-NFL stadium.

NCAA Lacrosse: National Championship-North Carolina vs Maryland Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA had a pretty big announcement yesterday. The 2021 and 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship will be held at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The last time Championship Weekend was not held in an NFL stadium was in 2002, when it took place at Rutgers picking up a two-day attendance total of 42,829 fans.

In 2019 Rentschler Field and Shuart Stadium (Hofstra) will host the quarterfinals while Championship Weekend will be played at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The 2020 quarterfinals will be at Shuart Stadium and Brown Stadium with Championship Weekend again being played in Philadelphia.

Rentschler Field will host 2021 Championship Weekend with Shuart Stadium and Notre Dame Stadium hosting the quarterfinals. Finally, in 2022 Shuart Stadium and Ohio Stadium (Ohio State) will host the quarterfinals with Rentschler Field hosting Championship Weekend.

First off, I love Shuart Stadium. I think it’s the perfect location and size for a quarterfinal.

However, in typical fashion, the NCAA went and did something completely counterintuitive. Championship Weekend in 2021 and 2022 will move from stadiums with capacities in the neighborhood of around 70,000 to a 40,000 person college football stadium. For those same two years, the NCAA selects two quarterfinal sites at two of the biggest college football stadiums in the country. Huh? The more curious of the two choices is Ohio Stadium as Jessie Owens Memorial Stadium, with a capacity of 10,000, is in the same city.

The move to a non-NFL stadium for Championship Weekend has something that has long been talked about due to dwindling turnout the last few years. Attendance in the Championship game peaked in 2008 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA when the game drew a crowd of 48,970. Although the 2007 Championship Weekend in Philadelphia drew a two-day crowd of 100,447, the only time the total division I attendance was above 100,000. Attendance in the championship games at NFL stadiums saw a low point two years ago in Philadelphia with a crowd of 24,215.

The ultimate question for me is whether the move to a non-NFL stadium will cause a further decrease in attendance or whether it will steady out. East Hartford is located almost directly in the center of Connecticut. There are 10 division I programs within 100 miles of the stadium, Yale Bulldogs, Brown Bears, Providence Friars, UMass, Quinnipiac Bobcats, Fairfield Stags, Sacred Heart Pioneers, Hartford Hawks, Bryant Bulldogs, and Holy Cross Crusaders. Not to mention that Connecticut has a wealth of high school lacrosse.

Fairfield University will be hosting the two Championship Weekends in Connecticut, but you have to wonder, since the game is being played at the home of UConn football, whether or not this could be an early indication that the Huskies may be looking into men’s lacrosse as a Division I sport. While I don’t believe that to be the case, the school is in a natural recruiting area. That being said, Connecticut plays in a conference that does not sponsor men’s lacrosse, not that this would be a deal breaker.