Will The College Cup Return To Hoover?.

Gene Hallman

No sooner had the 2012 NCAA Men’s College Cup semifinals been played, than the question of the day at Regions Park became “will the NCAA return the College Cup to Hoover in the future?”

Organizers would like to host the NCAA Division I finals forever. Make Regions Park the permanent venue! Afterall, NCAA baseball plays its Collegiate World Series every year in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Alabama Sports Foundation and other organizers would like for that to happen for soccer.

Is it possible? Yes! Is it likely? No!

The NCAA just completed a two-year run in Hoover with Indiana edging Georgetown, 1-0, for the title. Attendance was good. But there were some problems with the field conditions.

The championship game in 2011 when North Carolina defeated Charlotte drew 8,777, while this year’s final attracted 9,242.

It was reported that the two 2012 semifinal games drew a combined crowd of over 11,000.

All of those numbers are subjective. Depends on who is counting and who is being counted. It was also reported that the semifinal count included every person inside Regions Park. That included all who were watching, who were working and who were playing.

A year ago the field conditions were perfect. This year the Conference USA tournament was held at Regions Park, as were high school football games up to three weeks before the College Cup.

About a week before the Cup, new sod was brought in to cover damaged areas round the baseball infield. The result was an uneven playing surface. Not what you would want to have for national championship soccer.

The NCAA will take the Men’s College Cup to Philadephia next year. It will play in a soccer specific MLS stadium. Home of the Philadelphia Union.

Hoover organizers take some comfort that the deal in Philly is for only one year. It’s also colder in Philadelphia than it is in Hoover in December. They are hoping for another Hoover selection after that.

Holy Cross Director of Athletics Dick Regan, NCAA D-I men’s soccer committee chairman, addressed the question in an article by al.com. He pointed out that the existence of a baseball field at Regions Park was a big negative.

“You can patch it and you fill it in, but the grass has a different quality to it,” he told al.com’s Jon Solomon. “I was walking pre-game with Maryland’s coach last night and he was pointing out that the outfield was in great condition. The ball will play quickly there.

“Then you’ve got lumpier areas (recently sodded) where there’s a different texture grass and the ball is going to slow down so you’re not going to get consistent play.”

The future of Regions Park as a baseball stadium is up-in-the-air. The minor league Birmingham Barons are moving to a new stadium downtown next year, but the SEC baseball tournament will continue to be played at Regions Park through 2016.

Putting on a successful national championship involves a lot of things, but of greatest importance is the overall organizational structure, the ability to draw fans to the games, and the condition of the playing surface.

There is also only one Division I collegiate men’s soccer program in the state of Alabama. The University of Alabama Birmingham was the host institution for the College Cup. Outside of UAB, a local fan base for men’s collegiate soccer in the state is not overwhelming.

That said, the crowds that have turned out in Hoover are that much more impressive.

From all reports, organizers have done an exceptional job of making the event special for everyone. Gene Hallman, president of the Alabama Sports Foundation, said that the field situation was one that is correctable.

“Hoover showed last year they’re capable of producing a surface that’s worthy of the College Cup,” said Hallman, in the al.com article, “and they can certainly do that year in and year out if not for this unusual sodding condition.”

In the late 1990s, Richmond, VA, hosted for four consecutive years, drawing almost 80,000 fans combined for four championship games. Those days are long gone.

Before 2011 in Hoover, the previous title match drew just 5,679 in Cary, NC, for a final that included Akron and Virginia.

Perhaps the answer to the question of a return by the NCAA lies within the communities in and around Birmingham and Hoover.

Now that the College Cup is leaving, perhaps another question to be answered is whether or not those communities will embrace the idea that the College Cup in Hoover could be their own Omaha.
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