UAB to Host College Cup for Second-Straight Year
By Grant Martin
Championship soccer returns to the Birmingham area in December when UAB and the Alabama Sports Foundation welcome the NCAA College Cup back to Hoover’s Regions Park for the second straight year.
The 2012 event features the final four teams of the NCAA Soccer Tournament, with two semifinal games on Friday, Dec. 7, and the national championship game on Sunday, Dec. 9. Regions Park is the first venue to host the event in consecutive years since 1999-2000, when it was held in Charlotte, North Carolina.
December 7 and 9
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“We are excited to again be partnering with the Alabama Sports Foundation to bring the College Cup to our community," says UAB athletic director Brian Mackin. "It’s a great opportunity for soccer fans in the area to come out to see the best collegiate soccer has to offer. We had a great event last December when we hosted the national championship, and I know we are in for two days of great competition at Regions Park this year.”
UAB men's soccer coach Mike Getman, who was instrumental in bringing the tournament to Hoover, says this return visit gives UAB and Birmingham the chance to become an important home for college soccer. "I think the fact that the NCAA would choose to return here for consecutive years after more than a decade of changing venues says a lot,” he says. “It’s hard to build support for an event that is here for a weekend and then gone. I think having a second year really gives us a chance to grow the event into something really special.”
The Perfect Pitch
Getman, now in his 21st year as UAB’s men’s soccer coach, served on the NCAA Men’s Soccer Committee from 2008-2011. In addition to picking the field for the NCAA Tournament, the committee also was tasked with selecting future sites for the College Cup. “The committee came up with its criteria for finding an ideal site,” Getman says. “We were looking for cities that had a good, modern stadium of appropriate size; good weather; and a community that will support soccer.”
As the committee put together a checklist, Getman says the picture it was painting began to look very familiar. “I realized that Regions Park had all the things the committee was looking for. Additionally, we had the Alabama Sports Foundation, which is experienced in putting on successful events like this one.”
When Getman returned to Birmingham, he pitched the idea to administrators at UAB and at the Alabama Sports Foundation (ASF) and was met with unanimous enthusiasm.
“For Birmingham, this is a great thing," Getman says. "Every city likes to host big events, whether it's musical concerts or Broadway shows or whatever—and big-time sporting events like this one will bring the added benefit of national and international viewership. So we have the financial benefit of bringing several thousand people from out of town to our area, but we also have the good publicity that comes with showing a wide audience what the Birmingham area has to offer.”
Hope for the Future
In its first year in Hoover, the College Cup drew more than 15,000 fans—the largest attendance since 2004, when it was held in Carson, California. Yet organizers are hoping that more marketing—and better weather—will make for an even stronger showing this year. “Everything went well last year, but I wouldn’t say it was perfect,” Getman says. “The weather was unusually cold, so even though we drew more than 9,000 fans for the semifinals, the vast majority of those fans left before the second game started. If we just have normal Alabama weather, it will be 20 to 30 degrees warmer than what it was for that game.”
While the temperature for the event may be beyond his control, Getman says there has been a concerted effort to get word out about this year’s event to the community at large—not just the soccer fans. “The soccer fans are going to be there, but I think this type of event will appeal to any sports fans,” he says. “How many times do you get the chance to see a national championship in your hometown?”
In the future, Getman says he hopes the answer to that question will one day be “every year.” Even though the 2013 College Cup has already been awarded to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, future sites beyond that are still to be determined. And while soccer may not command the media attention of college football or basketball championships, Getman says he could see a scenario developing where the Birmingham/Hoover area could become the “Omaha of college soccer”—referring to Omaha, Nebraska, which has been home to the College World Series in baseball for more than 60 years.
“If the community comes out and supports this event, I could see the College Cup returning to Birmingham for years to come,” he says. “Not only would that be a great thing for this area, but it also could prove to be a great thing for college soccer.”