Happy Wednesday, SporticoU readers. From all of us at Sportico, we’d like to wish you a beautiful and meaningful Memorial Day weekend. As we honor those who have given their lives in service to our country, we also thank those within our college world at the service academies—our nation’s future heroes.
Military academies have a long history in college athletics. Army and Navy, for example, kicked off their football rivalry all the way back in 1890. Along with Air Force, the three academies compete yearly for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. Fun fact? Though it is the youngest of the five service academies, Air Force has the most victories with 21 to Navy’s 16 and Army’s nine. The trophy has also been shared five times, including in 2021. How’s that for sportsmanship?
Each year, this particular long weekend also marks the culmination of the college lacrosse season. The women’s Final Four—featuring Northwestern, Denver, Syracuse and 2021 champion Boston College—will play down in Cary, N.C., and the men’s slate will descend upon Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Since the event started in 1971, all men’s lacrosse national titles have been won by just 11 teams, two of whom will play for another this weekend. Duke will look to claim its fourth championship, while Virginia is on the hunt for its eighth (go ‘Hoos). Notre Dame has played in two national championship games but has yet to bring one home; Penn State, making its second semifinal appearance in five seasons, will look to take down the top-seeded Blue Devils en route to the program’s first final.
What’s particularly interesting about the men’s NCAA lacrosse national championship is its attendance numbers over the last two decades. In the early 2000s, lacrosse fans flocked to the Memorial Day weekend Final Four festivities. More than 40,000 spectators would pack the stands for the college season’s grand finale. The crowd peaked in 2008 when a record 48,970 fans watched Syracuse beat a Paul Rabil–led Johns Hopkins, and then…. a decline started. It was a relatively quick one, too.
By 2012, attendance at the men’s lacrosse championship game was 30,816. That number didn’t cross the 30k threshold again until 2019, when 31,528 fans watched Virginia win the 2019 NCAA finals (as I said, go ‘Hoos) in the last pre-pandemic tournament. But in the aftermath of COVID, attendance hasn’t fully recovered. Only 22,184 fans attended Maryland’s 9-7 win over Cornell in East Hartford, Conn., in 2022 when all attendance restrictions were lifted—the event’s smallest crowd since 2002 outside of a still COVID-constricted 2021 event attended by 14,816 fans. I’ll let you guess who won then ;).
It will be interesting to see what tale this weekend tells. To be clear, declining attendance isn’t limited to college lacrosse. In fact, college football has been pretty publicly working to combat the same problem, as fewer and fewer fans feel drawn to the in-person experience despite the best efforts and creative offerings of athletic departments across the country. In 2022, attendance at FBS football games increased for the first time in eight years after 2021’s average marked the lowest since 1981. Even the College Football Playoff championship game has faced a similar trajectory to lacrosse. More than 85,000 fans attended the first iteration of college football’s new finale in 2014. Those numbers dropped to 76,885 in 2019 and just 68,311 and 72,628 in 2021 and 2022, respectively, post-pandemic.
Will bringing the men’s championship back to a lacrosse hotbed like Philadelphia, with two blue bloods also in the mix, be the lift the weekend needs to entice a more sizable audience?
The rest of the spring sports postseason is also in full swing, pun intended. Stanford’s Rose Zhang won her second consecutive individual women’s golf title at just 19. If you haven’t seen her play, this is your sign. She’s the first player to ever win multiple titles in women’s college golf. On the diamond side of things, the 16-team field for the softball super regionals is set. Guess who won’t be there? UCLA (or Tom Brady). The second-seeded Bruins were bounced by Liberty on Saturday night, ending a streak of reaching the Women’s College World Series every season since 2015. The men’s College World Series is still to come.
Until next time, enjoy the warming weather!