This is getting serious, you guys. The IMLCA -- that stands for "Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association" and not "Interstellar Monsters and Lacrosse Cyborg Association" (which would be infinitely more terrifying) -- is forming a committee to address the continuing decline of Championship Weekend attendance. To the press release!
The Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association has established a committee to evaluate the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships; specifically the downturn in attendance.
"The IMLCA was formed to help build the game of lacrosse and monitor the integrity of the game so it is with these founding principles that the IMLCA Board of Directors has determined that the Association would be proactive in addressing this disturbing trend," said Phil Buttafuoco, IMLCA Executive Director.
Individuals from within the coaching community, athletic administrators and the corporate world are being invited to participate on the committee. The IMLCA anticipates the committee will conduct several conference calls during the months of June and July and submit a position paper to the NCAA for consideration during the summer meeting of the NCAA Divisions I, II and III Men's Lacrosse Committees.
Since the high watermark for Championship Weekend attendance -- 2007 in Baltimore, when 123,225 people moved through M&T Bank Stadium presumably for a free motivatin' event from Ray Lewis -- college lacrosse has seen a stark decline in attendance at its most important event. This is not a lie; I wouldn't lie about this because I trust you too much. We're like Internet pals and everything, and I'd feel awful lying to you about something about this. Here's the proof:
- 2007: Total attendance -- 123,225 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2008: Total attendance -- 121,511 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2009: Total attendance -- 102,601 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2010: Total attendance -- 102,219 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2011: Total attendance -- 98,786 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2012: Total attendance -- 79,959 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2013: Total attendance -- 79,179 (Lincoln Financial Field)
This is the second straight year in which Championship Weekend attendance has nudged itself just above the 2002 Championship Weekend attendance number (59,381), the last Memorial Day Weekend that was held on a college campus (Rutgers). While college lacrosse saw a four-year increase in attendance since M&T Bank Stadium started the fancy stadium revolution in 2003 (91,184 came through the gates that year, steadily increasing to Baltimore's 2007 attendance figure), things have been in decline since, a six-year drop that doesn't seem to align with the game's overall growth.
Coaches are in a unique position to address this issue, but I think the value in what the committee puts together isn't necessarily in what is potentially presented to the NCAA. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think coaches have two alternative routes to get to the change they want to see for their biggest event:
- Developing a plan of why Championship Weekend is important to lacrosse and their particular schools, and pushing it through their college athletic directors and presidents. The NCAA broadcasts commercials to the contrary ("We're here to support student-athletes . . ."), but the NCAA's role in Championship Weekend is to simply sponsor the event and get its cash guarantee (". . . but you can't host Championship Weekend until we get paid!"). Any change to Championship Weekend involves messing around with the delivery schedule of the NCAA's money truck, and to make that happen you need to have the right actors make the pitch. Those actors, I think, are college athletic directors and presidents: They ultimately have the ears of the NCAA and can make uncomfortable things for the NCAA happen. The logistics of pushing through change is best left to them. The coaches, however, are not sidelined from the process: In the first instance, the coaches are responsible for developing the case that their administrators need to exert their power over the NCAA; in the second instance, the administrators then need to take the coaches' plan and address the NCAA that the Championship Weekend model needs change. Let the political influencers do their job; the coaches only need to put together a plan for why their administrators need to take action. It's one thing for coaches to serve as the primary generators of NCAA rules or the NCAA Tournament format -- simply, school administrators and the NCAA aren't good at those kinds of things as it requires a level of sophistication that many lack -- but it's another for coaches to try and directly get change from an institution that sees them as potential revenue generators and not the primary actors in developing the revenue-generating model. I'm just not sure that an association of coaches submitting a white paper to the NCAA gets anywhere important at an accelerated rate; an approach that lays out a plan of action that coaches can present to their school administrators, allowing those administrators to influence the institution they ultimately control, may be the best way to get things done and effect appropriate change.
- Using their contacts at the grassroots level, understanding why grassroots support is or isn't getting bodies in seats at Championship Weekend. This is where the coaches can make the most headway, getting their ears to the ground with preparatory programs, alumni groups, and other actors on the scene. If coaches can understand how and why grassroots efforts are or aren't supporting the game's biggest events, they can directly influence consequences and get a greater understanding about their role in this entire thing. The residue is that coaches can then determine what they, individually, can accomplish to change the trend. If Dom Starsia emails a high school coach in Philadelphia and asks why only 10 of that coaches 40 players went to Championship Weekend a few weeks ago, he's going to get unfiltered and actionable responses; he, and the rest of the IMLCA, can then create a plan around how to get those other 30 people into the seats.
This is an important step in trying to fix the problem with Championship Weekend attendance. The coaches should be commended for taking the initiative to try and help solve this problem, putting even more responsibility on their plate (a plate that already looks like that of an obese man at the buffet that lost his dignity 15 minutes after arriving). The value of the effort, though, is likely tied to the plan and approach that the IMLCA adopts.