If you’ve enjoyed the convenience of the football finals being in Columbus, prepare to renew old habits and relationship in Stark County. The tournament returns to Massillon and Canton…next year!
Columbus – The 2016 OHSAA football finals will have at least one bitter-sweet overtone when they kick things off later tonight.
That being, after a three-year stand at the state’s college football mecca, Ohio State’s famed “Horseshoe”, the tournament will move back to the smaller, and friendlier (some say), confines of Stark County next year.
That’s right. If you’re from Mercer County and you’ve grown fond of, and spoiled, at the travel convenience of Columbus you should prepare for the longer trip and added expense of Massillon and Canton in 2017, part of the OHSAA’s master plan of rotating the tournament between the two venues.
This is, of course, to placate those who’ve argued for years that Canton and Massillon is simply too far away from the state’s southern tier; that Columbus and Ohio State is the sensible alternative on all levels.
But for the sake of football atmosphere, 10,000 people in Ohio Stadium also sounds like dropping a tea cup off cruise ship. You hardly notice when it hits the water. And this, as it should be, was a concern for the OHSAA from the outset. They say that attendance at last year’s tournament was actually up over ’12 and ’13, and I believe that. But you wouldn’t know by looking. It’s hard to believe when you see 90,000 empty seats.
It’s part of the reason why the tournament was moved to Stark County years ago, along with the legacy of Ohio High School football, Massillon High School, Paul Brown, Earle Bruce, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, et.al. Local merchants there make a pretty good case for their history in hosting the event over Columbus – geography notwithstanding.
I can’t disagree.
I, too, recognize that 10,000 people in Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium was an awesome, intimate atmosphere, as it will be in Canton’s new 25,000 seat Tom Benson Stadium, the host stadium for all seven games next December. And the renovations made to the Benson facility (formerly Fawcett Stadium) during the three-year absence promises to be a welcome upgrade.
I love how the local restaurants and lodging facilities go out of their way to accommodate. There is no gouge for the fact of a captive clientele. They’re just happy to have the annual boost to the local economy.
But to be honest, I’ll also miss the closeness of Columbus because it’s an hour from Troy. My kids live here so there’s no hotel expense to budget, if I choose. I’ll miss, too, the state-of-the-art media platform provided by Ohio State University. The stadium lights are near-NFL quality; and the press box wi-fi works, as compared to Canton. There, it depends on the size of the squirrel spinning the generator, pending upgrades, of course.
Now, I’m also being honest when I say that if you ask people in Upper Arlington, or Bexley, about the event they might tell you they didn’t know it was there. And that’s a problem. The tournament simply means more to more people in Stark County than it does in Columbus.
It’s the only game in town in Canton and out-of-towners are respected on championship weekend, not just tolerated.
The event is more anticipated, and actually draws local attendees who enjoy watching good high school over the Blue Jackets, the Buckeyes on TV, or the other available entertainment options in the capital.
And the media attention is front page, not buried someplace in the sports section secondary to the Big Ten championship game, pre-season college basketball tournaments, the Browns and the Bengals.
It’s true that when this weekend’s games are over you can easily get in your car and be home in two hours. And why wouldn’t you when local Red Roof Inns are charging $179 a night (over the normal rate of $99) to stay within walking distance of the stadium?
A few years ago I left a laptop computer on the counter of the Best Western in Canton when I checked out…and didn’t notice until I was an hour down the road on my way home. I called back to find it, and yes, it was there, safe and sound. The proprietor even offered to meet me halfway on route 30, for my convenience. I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or the appreciation for my patronage of his hotel.
Yes, I’ll miss the convenience of Columbus next year. However, I’m happy to make the extra drive back to where the tournament might best belong. But what goes around comes around, they say, so if you want to make your own argument rest assured. The “Finals” will be back in the “Shoe” before you know it.
That’s how sports…and politics…works these days!