(Photo Courtesy of NCAA)
On Wednesday, the NCAA released future Championship Weekend and Quarterfinals sites through 2026. And to no one’s surprise, all the locations chosen were traditional locations that have hosted NCAA lacrosse tournament events in the past.
Following the NCAA’s announcement, #LacrosseTwitter became engulfed with people questioning or complaining about the locations announced. Many, including myself, understand why the NCAA consistently chooses to go to Philadelphia, Pa., and Foxborough, Mass. for Championship Weekend, and places like Hofstra, Navy, and Delaware for the Quarterfinals. First and foremost, they are located in the lacrosse hotbed of the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic. And secondly, the NCAA must be pleased with the attendance these locations draw, even though it has dipped in recent years.
And while the 2021 and 2022 seasons will see Championship Weekend will come to Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., which held the Quarterfinals in 2019, for the first time, it is still a Northeast location.
The NCAA needs to diversify its locations and sites for the NCAA Championship.
Whether it’s the Quarterfinals or Championship weekend, which I can’t see leaving the Northeast any time soon, there are plenty of areas around the country that would draw a good crowd from both that city, state, and nearby cities. And while they have gone to places like Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colo., The Horseshoe at Ohio State, and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., in the past decade, there are some many other places they could go and have success.
Here’s a Look at five non-Northeast/Mid-Atlantic cities where the NCAA should look at taking either the Quarterfinals or Championship Weekend in the future:
Being from Louisville, Ky., I know how much draw Nashville has for not only us Southerners but those around the nation. And I also have seen first hand the growth of lacrosse in the South over the past decade-plus, and Nashville and Tennessee, in general, has not been immune to that growth. Having either the NCAA Quarterfinals or Championship Weekend in the Music City would work. Not only would you draw fans in Nashville, but there would be caravans of people from surrounding state coming in. Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville, and Lexington, are all within a three to four-hour drive and have sizable or growing lacrosse communities. And that’s not to mention folks in the Carolinas, up in the Midwest, and around the country that wouldn’t mind taking that longer drive or flying into Nashville for college lacrosse.
Now, as far as venues go, there are two that would work for sure: Vanderbilt Stadium and Nissan Stadium, which is the home of the Tennessee Titans. As an NFL stadium, Nissan Stadium, which holds 69,143, fits the bill for what we are used to seeing on Championship Weekend. Vanderbilt Stadium is the smallest in the SEC, holding 40,550, and is more along the lines of what we usually see for the Quarterfinals and is closer to that MLS stadium-size that many college lacrosse fans want to see the NCAA move towards for Championship Weekend locations. A lacrosse crowd would look good in there.
Staying in the South, Atlanta is likely to be the next best location in the region. The Atlanta/North Georgia area is the lacrosse capital of the South in the eyes of many (sorry Jacksonville) and continues to see tremendous growth. They also produce some of the best players in the region. While Atlanta hasn’t done well with attendance for pro lacrosse recently, college is different. And again, you have many of the same benefits that Nashville does with many Southern cities and states that have sizable and growing lacrosse communities within a two, three, or four-hour drive. And as far as drawing fans that ain’t from the South, Atlanta’s Hatfield-Jackson Airport is the busiest in the country. Simply put, it isn’t hard to find your way into Atlanta.
Championship Weekend in Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is the home of the Atlanta Falcons and hosted Super Bowl LIII, would be awesome. The 71,000 seat stadium is one of the newest in the NFL, has a retractable roof that helps with the weather, and is just an all-around magnificent stadium. However, Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium might be more realistic for either the Quarterfinals or Championship Weekend in Atlanta. The 55,000 seat stadium is the oldest continually used stadium in the South and is pretty dang picturesque with a portion of the Atlanta skyline in the background. A lacrosse crowd would look better at Bobby Dodd than Mercedes Benz, in my opinion.
The Windy City is right in the heart of the Midwest, which is a region that has seen some amazing growth over the past decade. And because of Chicago’s location, the pull could be pretty big. Because of that, bringing Championship Weekend to Chicago makes more sense than the Quarterfinals. You could pull fans from not only Illinois and the Chicagoland area, but Indiana, Missouri, as well as parts of Ohio and Michigan that are within reasonable driving distance. And again, Chicago is another city that draws people from all over the country.
Soldier Field, which is the home of the Chicago Bears, would be the most likely venue if Championship Weekend were to come to Chicago. The 61,500 seat stadium is very much along the lines of what we are used to seeing on Championship Weekend with the games being held in NFL stadiums. In 2019, the PLL did play at SeatGeek Stadium when they came to Chicago, and while the MLS size pleases many lacrosse fans its location is pretty far outside of the city. If a smaller stadium were chosen in Chicago, Northwestern’s Ryan Field would likely be the best option. And yes, I know it’s in Evanston and not Chicago. That would definitely be a downside.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. So how big would Championship Weekend or the Quarterfinals coming to Dallas be? The game has been growing in the Lone Star State for years and a sizable crowd would come out to watch primetime college lacrosse for sure. And while the draw from bordering states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana might not be as big as some of the aforementioned locations, there would still be a sizable draw from outside the state.
As far as venues go, three stadiums in the greater Dallas areas that immediately come to mind: AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys, SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium, and the Cotton Bowl. Now, AT&T Stadium, which holds 80,000, is very plausible for Championship Weekend and would be a beauty to see. The Cotton Bowl, which holds over 91,000, is more of a pipe dream and would look pretty bad with a lacrosse crowd inside. Gerald J. Ford holds 32,000 and would be perfect for lacrosse and many fans would love to see a venue of that size chosen. Plus, it has recently held DI college lacrosse games.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Moving even further west, bringing either Championship Weekend or the Quarterfinals to the Los Angeles/Southern California could prove to be a hit. It is no secret that Southern California has seen some tremendous growth and has produced some high-caliber lacrosse players. Plus, we have seen college lacrosse games work out there before with the Pacific Coast Shootout. Championship Weekend or the Quarterfinals being held in the Los Angeles area would only add more buzz to the California lacrosse scene.
While the iconic LA Memorial Coliseum, which mainly hosts USC football, is the first that comes to mind for a Championship Weekend event, the brand new SoFi Stadium, which is the new home of the Los Angeles Rams, would also be a good option. The Coliseum holds 78,467, and SoFi holds 70,000 when not expanded to its Max of over 100,000. If it was Championship Weekend, those two would have to be the top options. If it were the Quarterfinals, Banc of California Stadium would likely be the best option. It seats 22,000 and was the host of the PLL ALL-Star game in 2019.
Other Considered Locations:
New Orleans, La.
St. Louis, Mo.