Inaugural Face-Off Classic a success

Great weather and support made the inaugural Face-Off Classic a must-see event for college lacrosse fans, writes Quint Kessenich.

Updated: March 8, 2007, 12:18 PM ET
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

The inaugural Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic was an overwhelming success. The attendance speaks for itself, as the 20,180 fans broke the previous record of 19,850 set 20 years ago (1987) for a regular-season game between Johns Hopkins and undefeated Maryland at Byrd Stadium.

"Not only did the attendance meet our goals, the advance sale evidenced the commitment of the fans to the event. This was unprecedented for a regular-season event," said IL's Andy Bilello, who spearheaded the promotional effort.

Fans were treated to a doubleheader between the game's elite powers. Game No. 1 featured Princeton and Johns Hopkins, two programs whose pursuit of perfection is unmatched. Game No. 2 between Syracuse and Virginia was highlighted by an 11-goal first quarter in which neither team thought, they just fought.

The Cavaliers prevailed 11-8, holding Syracuse to one goal over the final 41:13. Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia hopes to return to M&T Bank Stadium on Memorial Day for the NCAA championship game.

"I thought everyone involved did a great job with the event," Starsia said, "from the coaches to the staff at IL. They needed to have a lot of cooperation to pull this off, and everyone did their part. It was a very well-run event."

Game No. 1 was defined by tension as Johns Hopkins topped Princeton 7-6 in double overtime. These teams could play an extended game lasting three days and the margin would be one goal.

"It had a final four feel, and it was very professional," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "Our kids were nervous, but we had a great experience."

All four teams will benefit from the level of play and the exposure.

"We learned a lot about ourselves and have to just keep plugging and improving," said Tierney, whose team faces Virginia this weekend. "We are finding some things out, and a game against a good team will help you along that route."

Game No. 2 was frenetic but eventually settled down.

"I think for players and families, it was a treat … the signage at the hotels and around the locker rooms, the modest gift bags for the players made it all seem special," Starsia said. "It was important that the weekend seem special, and everyone came home with a very positive feeling."

I thought there was excellent energy and excitement in the crowd, and the in-game production on the large screens was very good.

Traffic at the vendor tables was nonstop.

"We will continue to add interactive opportunities for the fans," Bilello said. "This will create a greater festival atmosphere and give our sponsors tremendous exposure."

There were a few operating issues that will be addressed. One is lines in the parking lot. Another is seating: Hopkins and Princeton fans were grouped together behind the Princeton/Syracuse bench, and the Orange and Cavaliers fans sat together behind the Hopkins/Virginia bench.

Lacrosse-wise, what can be improved? Why not expand the event and play back-to-back days?

Bring in eight teams over two days. Add Duke vs. Maryland and Navy vs. North Carolina. Make the weekend a yearly destination for lacrosse fans. Host clinics, workshops and seminars for coaches, parents and players.

The success or failure of the event was and is largely dependent on weather, and the weather cooperated. Early March weather in Baltimore is an inexact science. Saturday was gorgeous, but as I write this blog, it's 28 degrees and snowing. On Tuesday, Hopkins played at UMBC and temps were in the 20s. Lacrosse is meant to be a spring sport, not part of the Winter Olympics.

The brains behind the Face-Off Classic is Inside Lacrosse publisher Bob Carpenter.

"You don't need to be a genius chef or get creative in how you throw a meal together if the basic ingredients are fine in quality," Carpenter said. "You can't go wrong when it comes to people wanting to come watch these four teams."

The success of the Face-Off Classic and any future signature event lives and dies with the big decisions: Who should play whom? Where should they play? When?

As for the future, Carpenter's mind-set remains aggressive.

"If we can continue to seek out those proper combinations of factors, we absolutely plan to have a few more of these events throughout the college lacrosse season," he said.

Lacrosse is spreading like wildfire across the country. These types of promoted games will be hallmark moments. Bring the games to the kids; they become the fuel for the revolution.

For players and fans, the Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic is the ideal dress rehearsal for championship weekend, but more importantly, it's an explosive start to the lacrosse season. It's the appropriate way to celebrate the new season, and it can garner national media attention while alerting casual fans that spring is here. As long as Mother Nature is on board, the event will grow each year.

Quint Kessenich played goalie for Johns Hopkins in 1990 and is a lacrosse analyst for ESPNU. E-mail him at quint@insidelacrosse.com. ESPN.com is working with Inside Lacrosse to provide you with news and analysis. Click here for more coverage.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.