Philadelphia owns the college championship scene.
Of course there is a bid process before actual ownership – and subsequent bragging rights – take place, but for the last two years, the NCAA has made the Greater Philadelphia Region home for a host of its college sports finales.
That tradition continues courtesy of the NCAA College Cup coming to the Chester waterfront. This weekend the universities of Maryland, New Mexico, Notre Dame and Virginia all vie for the men’s soccer crown at PPL Park as semifinal play kicks off Friday. Notre Dame and New Mexico square off in the early match beginning at 5 p.m., followed by Maryland and Virginia in the nightcap at 7:30 p.m.
On Sunday, the weekend culminates with the 3 p.m. championship match in the first of what many hope will be an annual stop for the men’s college soccer championships.
In the past two years, Philadelphia has played host to early round play of the men’s basketball tournament, championships for men’s and women’s lacrosse and will be the site of the “Frozen Four” as the four finalists in ice hockey will battle it out at the Wells Fargo Center in April.
“It starts with the bid and the support of the mayor’s office, Philadelphia Sports Congress and to the great member institutions and conferences that are there like Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Penn, Drexel and those that regularly submit bids to host NCAA championships,” said Jeff Jarnecke, director of championships and alliances for the NCAA. “From there, the bid goes to our sport committees and gives our sport committees a chance to review those bids in a competitive way in the sense of evaluating the merits of the bids against those others that have been received to host the same competition.”
This will mark the second time Philadelphia and the surrounding region will host a college soccer finale. In 1976, Penn’s Franklin Field hosted the championship match between San Francisco and Indiana.
PPL Park is no stranger to college soccer in its short history. This will be the seventh college soccer event held in Chester. Most notably, the venue is responsible for the rise of Army-Navy Cup returning as a true soccer rivalry in addition to hosting the BIG EAST championship weekend in back-to-back seasons.
It’s that reason that assuredly helped the home of Union soccer secure a bid to host the 2013 installment.
“I also think because of the ease of travel to be able to get there,” Jarnecke said, talking specifically on the allure of the Philadelphia region. “Because of the benefits and excitement of a large facility, from the quality of experiences that we’ve had [in the Greater Philadelphia region] in terms of the hosting responsibilities and how the events have come together, the number of fans that come out to support those events, the quality of our stay and our experience while we’re there and then the quality of facilities that we are able to compete in as well. You combine those six or seven factors and Philadelphia makes for a very attractive host city that has a great experience and great resume hosting NCAA championships.”
One could surmise that the NCAA hosting its college soccer championships in a soccer specific stadium is directly related to the fact that the rise of Major League Soccer has increased the significance of the tournament and as a result makes playing in places like PPL Park so attractive. But Jarnecke said that doesn’t factor into the decision making process for NCAA committees and it’s past track record accurately depicts that. Since MLS kicked off in 1996, PPL Park will only be the third MLS venue to host championship weekend. Columbus’ Crew Stadium hosted in 2003 and FC Dallas’ stadium played host in 2008.
“It hasn’t been a priority for us, more so it just being a resulting factor over the years,” said Jarnecke. “We have seen more interest from MLS teams with stadiums and rightfully so in order to showcase their beautiful venues, but it’s not a factor the committee considers when looking to provide the right [fan] experience. We also know that is not always the next step for our student-athletes when they are selecting their professional careers so while it has been really nice the times it’s been done, it’s not something that the committee takes into consideration.”
That could change depending how this weekend’s events play out under the lights at PPL Park.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org