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Thursday, July 22, 2010

State Football Finals to stay in Stark County....then move to Columbus

Lots of talk about this issue lately...or maybe not so much talk, but anticipation.  The ever-at-the-forefront issue of where to hold the OHSAA State Football Finals was again, the forefront.  It seems to almost overshadow the games themselves.  No matter how recently the state had re-upped with Stark County to host the games, there was always a contingent from Central Ohio that would make the case that they were better suited to hold the games.

Now they'll get their chance to prove it.

Today, the OHSAA extended Stark County's hold on the games through the 2013 football season, but beginning in 2014 and continuing until at least 2015, the six state championship football games will be held at Ohio Stadium on the campus of THE Ohio State University.

I get both sides of this.  Columbus offers a more central location, that can't be disputed, but anyone who thinks this wasn't a decision largely driven by Ohio State and Jim Tressel is just not paying attention.  He's wanted the games there forever, but the lack of a durable playing surface was always the catch.  Grass couldn't hold up to six games in 2 days.  But when the switch was made to turf a few years ago, the last hurdle was cleared.

Stark County had the ideal spot...two first-rate stadiums, turf fields, played in the cradle of football and in the shadow of the Football Hall of Fame, plenty of hotels and restaurants a few minutes away in Belden Village, community support and a long list of volunteers.

The problem is that with only one venue, the games will have to begin at 10am each morning to allow for warm-ups, the game itself and post-game celebrations.  And that's not even counting time to clear the stadium, and enter the fans of games 2 and 3 each day.

As it stands now, games start at 11am, 3:30pm and 8pm, I think now you're going to see game 1 start at 10am, game 2 still at 3:30pm and game 3 not get going until 9pm....and that may be generous.

It will be interesting to see how they sell tickets.  Maybe a "one-day" pass idea would work.  One price gets all 3 games (for maybe $15-$20...walk-up sales only)...and the ability to come and go as you please.  Seats will be aplenty, so they need to entice the local football fan to come out and watch.

Another issue is going to be how a game is going to "look and feel" when you have 5000-7000 fans for a Division 6 game in a 105,000 seat stadium.  Plain and simple, it won't have any atmosphere whatsoever.  I'm sure for the big divisions, especially when they have a local Columbus team playing, will draw a bit more...but what's the ceiling on any 1 game?  30,000?  That's still not even 1/3 full.

Any Orrville fan who attended basketball final four knows that Value City Arena pales in comparison to the energy that existed in St. John Arena.  Why?  Simple....a packed house, and fans right on top of the action.

But at least Value City arena has fans in seats, albeit disinterested administrators from all the OHSAA member schools (sitting in the best seats, of course).  At the 'Shoe, you're talking about 5-10% of capacity.  I'm sure it will be exciting for the players, coaches and bands, but that's where it ends.  

Look at this picture and let's do some it to enlarge it.  It's an amazing high-quality image.  Pay special attention to the sections of red plastic seats.

There's roughly 500 seats per section, and 5 of those sections puts you at about 2,500 seats.  Now double that for fans on the other side of the field.  We're up to 5,000.  Add in another 850 random fans to get us to 5,850.  You now have the exact attendance for last year's Division 6 title game.  The crowd looked small in Massillon (capacity ~15,000), imagine how cavernous it's going to look at the 'Shoe.

Lastly, the Big10 (or 11, 12...whatever it's going to be called) is starting a conference championship game next year.  Guess when that game will be played?  Yep...state finals weekend.  Imagine for one moment that it's 2014, the first year in Columbus, and the Buckeyes are about to play in the Big10 conference title game.  How good do you think attendance is going to be among the "casual Columbus-area high school football fan?"  Less than good, right?

I feel bad for Stark County, they've hosted this weekend for 20 years and, by all accounts, have done a marvelous job with it.  Maybe only Football Hall of Fame induction week brings more people/excitement to the area.  The volunteer base is strong and people from every school in the county get involved.  The red carpet is rolled out, kids are made to feel right at home.

This is about more than Tressel and the Buckeyes, it's about (of course) money.  There's a larger business base in Columbus, and if you can tie in football, Ohio State, Jim Tressel and, oh yeah, high school kids...the potential to secure some high roller sponsors is much greater.  I hope they get a printing company to sponsor the cost of covering up all those empty seats with banners.

At least Stark County gets the games for 4 more years.  I think that was one final pat on the back for a job well done.  Some think that this is a test run for each location and that maybe after Columbus' 2-year run the games will return to Northeast Ohio.  I beg to differ....I think once they're gone, they're gone for good...sadly.

Will I watch the games?  Sure.  Will I attend a game?  Probably not, unless Orrville or some other local team is playing there.

Your thoughts?  I know there's plenty of Orrville fans who make the trek to Stark County to watch all 6 games.  This can't be good for those people.

One last thought...what if, as an appeasement, the state held a doubleheader at either Massillon or Canton (maybe it could rotate) at the state semifinal round?  Say the Division 1 and 2 games that involve NE Ohio teams get played back to back on a Saturday night?  One ticket good for both games.  Is there any way that attraction DOESN'T sell out?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is rediculous to move the games. Columbus gets everything but swimming and softball. Don't fix it if it isn't broken? Stark County does a GREAT job with the Championships and it really helps local businesses out as well. I think with Columbus the city that is growing the most and has a great economy should step back and let Stark county and NE Ohio keep the games because it means a lot to this area. Why else would the Football HOF be in Canton?

My dad and I have been going to all 6 games for 8 years now. We have had a lot of fun memories and have seen A LOT of great football games, and players. With the games being moved to Columbus, don't look for the same amount of independent fans at the games like they have had in recent years.