In one of the more unexpected turn of events this lacrosse season, one of the biggest matchups of the weekend is going to be hitting the road as its Syracuse v Duke in New York. But, wait… they’ll be playing at a high school?! Due to some surprise schedule conflicts, both Orange lacrosse teams are playing in replacement venues. And at the surface, this seems like a PR nightmare. But I personally feel that this could be one of the most memorable home games Syracuse will ever have. Could.
What set all this in motion was the success of the Syracuse Women’s Basketball team. Unlike the Men’s NCAA tournament, the women’s tournament sends four teams to the campus of the top 16 seeds. The team has been ranked at that level just about the entire season, so the writing was on the wall. It’s been years since the women’s team did not play in the dome. They used to be in the smaller Manley Field House, which Georgetown infamously ‘closed’ for the men’s team nearly 40 years ago. Since that date, the Carrier Dome has become one of the most unique home court advantages in the country for basketball. Just like it is for lacrosse. So when the women started playing there, it was a big move for the program. And that is no small part for why they can attract the players they have to be a perennial top 20 team now.
But, enough about basketball, eh? The reason why this excites me is that while the Carrier Dome is an incredible and unique venue, it’s also huge. I’ve been there for some of the largest crowds they’ve had and it’s still not even touching 50% capacity. The domed roof does help keep the sound in and keep it loud, but no matter what, there are scores of empty seats. Growing up in the area and going to all sorts of events at the dome does warp your sense for what crowd sizes are like and what’s acceptable. So while the environment can be great, the pessimist can find refuge in an empty upper deck.
It’s interesting, because for all of the dome’s capacity, it still draws the largest crowds for NCAA lacrosse year in and year out. There’s a core of about 3,000 fans that will be there for any game no matter what. In great years with big names in town on a weekend can push over 15,000. These are numbers you just don’t see many other places. As of right now, Syracuse leads the attendance tables for the season with 3,600 average fans. Maryland is second with 2,300, followed by Hopkins with 2,170, and Towson with 2,022. And mind you, they’re not even a top ten team right now.
Now, what’s with the high school? The reason they are there is there are very few suitable alternatives. Nearby Lemoyne can only fit 1,500. Cortland can fit 6,500, but according to a source, was not able to prepare for a full capacity crowd on short notice purely from a facilities standpoint. Even NJCAA powerhouse Onondaga Community College can only fit a mere 2,000 at Chuck Wilbur Field. For Syracuse University itself, they do have other options. They could go the Notre Dame route and just play in the practice facility and shut out the fans. They could go to Coyne Stadium where Field Hockey plays, which fits 2,700, or the smaller soccer stadium, which holds 1,500 on their grass field to play the Syracuse v Duke game. According to Syracuse.com, the CNS stadium they chose will hold 5,000 seated fans, with another 1,000 standing. Which will be awesome.
A quick sidetrack about Coyne and novelty games. Coyne is where the 2006 edition of Team USA scrimmaged the ‘upstate all-stars’ prior to leaving for the world games. This was the same team featuring all three Powell brothers. And it’s the only lacrosse game I’ve ever been turned away from. The seats and standing room filled up so fast that they stopped selling tickets well before faceoff. People lined the fences all around the field, and were even climbing trees and structures just to get a glimpse. When Central New York fans want to see lacrosse, they get into it. Anyway, back to CNS.
That 6,000 person capacity is enough to hold the average attendance of every team in the country. It’s enough to hold the accumulated attendance for all but six teams (Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia, Yale, Rutgers, and Johns Hopkins). Given that it’s Duke in town, I would be optimistic in pushing those limits. The novelty of it all, plus being located right in the lacrosse-heavy suburbs, a chance to fans to wear their “Beat Duke” shirts, and what is forecasted to be one of the nicest weather days of 2019, is a great formula.
For comparison, those 6,000 fans is still more than over half of Division I teams can fit in their home fields. The best reference points: Loyola’s Ridley can fit 6,000. UMass and Providence can fit 5,000. Notre Dame has one of the best catch a game while sitting on a hill experiences and only has 4,500. Hobart, where Cuse has some intense rivalry games, has only 3,000 and Denver is only 2,000. Needless to say that while this isn’t the Dome, 6,000 fans can create an electric atmosphere.
So while the headlines all essentially read “The program with the most NCAA championships is forced to play at local high school due to hoops conflict”, and for a premiere matchup like Syracuse v Duke no less, there can be some great spin on this. This stadium has actual team room next to the field, so they aren’t forced to walk from the school or bus. It’s held multiple New York State high school championships, and numerous Section 3 finals. That’s all good, but why I really get excited about games like this is it’s a throwback to why all these players play.
Having two programs with national profiles like Syracuse and Duke play at a high school can be a “get back to your roots” type of game. These programs are both expected to be playing on memorial day, and anything short of that is a disappointment. They have the best gear in the game, and they are covered relentlessly by pretty much every lacrosse and local media outlet (that’s a very meta sentence). But when you throw out onto a field that might be “beneath” them, it boils all that down to one basic thing. It’s lacrosse. There are two teams that are going to show up and do whatever they can to win the game. And best of all, there will be thousands of people there to watch Syracuse v Duke. The rest of it is just icing.