An 'F' for atmosphere at The Rent
And so another round of high school football championships at Rentschler Field has passed, inviting the following question: Must we play our culmination games there?
Supporters of the state's Ode To Early Concrete muster more rhetorical usefulness ("we're going to The Rent!!") than practical testimony. Surely, there are other locales in Connecticut that offer better playing surfaces (synthetic turf vs. the painted mud of last weekend) and seating capacities that provide better atmosphere than 35,000 empty seats.
And yet we continue to perpetuate this charade.
There is just not enough interest in Connecticut high school football - or perhaps better stated: not enough people interested in getting off their keisters and into the stadium - to sustain The Rent's high rent and tepid atmosphere.
This is championship weekend. Why would you ever want to play your culmination games amid such a gray, dreary scene?
It has been suggested that "the kids really look forward to it" and that the feeling they get running through the tunnel to the Rentschler lawn is unparalleled.
Retort: The kids are "really going to look forward" to any championship game. It is, by definition, a championship game. And they'll get just as many volts from running on the field in a smaller stadium seeing more butts affixed to more seats. What, if they don't go Rentschler they'll take to a smaller venue more subdued than if they'd just watched Travis put down Old Yeller?
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's football committee should explore moving championship weekend to Central Connecticut State University. Central has everything required: central location (no more than an hour's ride for anyone), ample parking (large lot adjacent to the field and nearby garages), ample seating (5,500 with bleachers on both sides) a playing surface (synthetic turf) that won't get muddy, ample broadcast and media facilities and capable, helpful staff.
The crowd of 4,576 (Friday night) and 5,176 (for the whole day Saturday) would have packed Central's facility, providing scenery befitting championship weekend and not a graveyard of empty seats. Central's seating capacity is enough to accommodate what the market, so to speak, is calling for. The playing surface would be far less susceptible to bad weather.
It was almost comical to hear the number of Rentschler advocates trying to convince themselves the field "wasn't too bad" on Saturday night. As if that's the goal: not too bad, instead of the peace of mind synthetic turf provides. And this just in: The field was a joke.
It probably doesn't matter. Because had a cold, wet observer looked toward the heavens at Friday's Xavier-NFA game, he or she would have seen the exact reason championship weekend would stay at the Concrete Cathedral: all the Important People staying warm and dry in the luxury suites and boxes. If they threw in some Chardonnay, they could have had a cotillion up there while the game progressed.
Funny how yours truly, in making this argument last week on CPTV Sports, was told, "It's not about you." Darn tootin. It sure isn't. It's about the wants and needs of The Establishment and the pretentiousness of their perch at The Rent.
Seriously. Could any of them keep a straight face arguing that a muddy field and 35,000 empty seats better serves the kids than synthetic turf and what looks like a packed house with the same number of fans?
The CIAC clearly got it right with basketball. Mohegan Sun Arena, in addition to the sweetheart deal, provides glitz and a perfect seating capacity to give championship weekend the cachet it deserves. We've had a chance to watch New London and Waterford win titles the last two years before near full houses, adding to the charm.
But Rentschler offers neither the glitz nor the same sweetheart deal. Just a bad field and empty seats. It's time to go. New Britain never looked so good.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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