With fall volleyball behind us, we’re well into the 2023-’24 high school sports season and the OHSAA tournament schedule…along with questions – always questions – about why the Final Four can’t be staged in a more convenient venue. I share some thoughts.
I had the opportunity to rub elbows with OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute this past weekend, who was at the Nutter Center to take in the volleyball finals, pass out a couple of trophies, press the flesh, and maybe answer a few questions about…money!
If you’re not aware, there was a collective gnashing of teeth on opening weekend of the football playoffs when people discovered that tickets at the gate were $15. A week later they were $12, so the Roseleans must have heard the outcry (the OHSAA address is at Roselea Place, Columbus).
My sense is that not many people recognize Ute in public, not like they did former OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross, partly because I think Ross went out of his way to be visible in a crowd, even conspicuous. Agree with him or not, Ross was an ambassador for the organization, a salesman, and did it with the friend-next-door personality that you need in that position, like a good state rep.
In truth, I like Ute, though his speech in presenting the state championship trophies is no where near as researched and entertaining as what Jerry Snodgrass used to be. Jerry knew every diner and barbershop from Hamler to Coal Grove and always made sure he worked them into his homespun tribute to the winners, especially the rural winners.
I don’t always agree with Doug and the board of control – and I’m not alone – about expanded playoffs, competitive balance, or even post-game handshake lines. But to be fair, it’s about 50-50, given some of the issues with which I do agree.
And one of those continues to be the venues selected for the OHSAA finals; because I hadn’t been in the Nutter Center for an hour on Thursday when a man from the Olentangy crowd approached me, commented favorably on Press Pros content, and stated: “The volleyball tournament should be held in Columbus because it’s centrally located and more convenient for the greatest number of people. There’s no reason for people in northeast Ohio to have to drive to southwest Ohio to watch the Finals.”
Not a half hour later I spoke to Ute, and brought up the topic of tournament venues. And he confirmed with me that the OHSAA is near to renewing the current contract for volleyball and basketball in Dayton, as well as the football tournament to stay in Canton. And I agreed with him.
This business about tournament convenience is always a red herring when it comes to logic. I observed the football Finals when they were most recently played at Ohio Stadium and ‘convenience’ did not put more people in the seats…no more than there are now at Tom Benson Stadium, in Canton. In fact, the average attendance for an OHSAA football final is now about 5,000 people, and 5,000 people in a 20,000 seat stadium at least looks representative. Put that number of people in the Horseshoe and it looks like an orientation meeting for the ushers.
Plus, Ohio State doesn’t want to host the state tournaments, anymore. People don’t believe that, but it’s true. Expense, staffing, and wear and tear on the facilities supersedes any notion you may harbor about tradition and the experience for an 18-year-old to say he played where the Buckeyes play…and it was empty!
The tournaments should be played where the community supports it being there. And they do a wonderful job in the current communities.
In the case of volleyball, I can’t think of another part of Ohio where volleyball is more popular than in the southwest region. Hold it in Columbus and no one will show up, because friends in Franklin County tell me that volleyball does not have the overall appeal there that even lacrosse and field hockey have.
And basketball draws better at UD Arena than it did in the last five years it was held at the Schottenstein Center. UD is a more intimate arena, parking and access is better, and the people at UD really seem to enjoy hosting.
The same is true with baseball. I hear people complain in June about having to drive to Akron for the baseball Finals, but I knew the administration of the Columbus Clippers well enough to know that they were tired of having the tournament…and tired of the excessive wear and tear on a Triple-A playing field. That’s just one step away from the major leagues, and pristine playing conditions are a major issue for players at that level of professional baseball.
I know people want it (baseball) held at Bill Davis Stadium, on campus, again because of central location, an artificial turf playing field, and plenty of parking. And frankly, the city of Akron is a miserable place to drive because of constant road construction and those horrible interstate junctions in Summit County.
But Ohio State isn’t interested. It would take four times the number of people they use to staff the average Buckeyes game in the spring, if not more, and those who work are already out of town on vacation, come June. I’ve asked, and they don’t even consider it a recruiting advantage.
Softball is played in Akron, as well, and every year I hear complaints about that drive and inconvenience, when playing at Buckeye Field, adjacent to Bill Davis, would be so much better. Again: lather, wash, rinse…and repeat!
So before you think that having the state finals in the middle of the state just makes good sense, be advised that it doesn’t make good ‘cents’ to everyone, especially those who own the facilities. Think of it this way. Having someone use and abuse your ballpark or arena is not unlike company coming to your house for the weekend…and staying over ’til Monday.
And negotiations for an event of that magnitude must be a bit like convincing a divorce attorney that all you want is what’s fair.
On the issue of the Nutter Center, UD Arena, Tom Benson Stadium, and Canal Park (in Canton), I couldn’t agree more…with Doug Ute and the OHSAA.