B1G, if true
Lacrosse: An Analysis of Growth (and Contraction) - Former Div. 1 Programs
For the lacrosse nerds on the board…Many in the lacrosse world believe Michigan’s decision to field a varsity team will be monumental for the future growth of the game. With Michigan in its 3rd season of varsity play and other new programs coming on strong, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the sport’s former geographic footprint.
Lacrosse fans like to speculate on the next big athletic program to add the sport. Interestingly enough, lacrosse has been an NCAA-sanctioned varsity sport at a number of big-time athletic schools that no longer field a varsity team. I have a theory that schools that formerly fielded varsity teams may be in the best position to bring it back. In some cases, the sport died when the coaches who brought it there retired. In others, football-focused ADs were reluctant to continue the sport in the 70s and 80s, largely due to budgetary constraints. Title IX also leveled serious blows to programs. So lets look at a few of those schools and examine the pros and cons of re-instituting their programs. (***Keep in mind, money and Title IX compliance are the primary factors holding back lacrosse. Last year, Inside Lacrosse sent a survey to dozens of athletic departments about possibly adding the sport at the men’s level. Only a handful responded and none of them said they were considering it.***)
FBS Schools with a history of lacrosse
The obvious choice for the next big shoe to drop in D-1 expansion is Michigan State. State had a varsity program for a long time with decent success, making the tournament a few times as the designated ‘western team’ only to be stomped by the likes of Syracuse. In ‘95, officials from the athletic department informed the team to pack uptheir shit and get out - they were all cut. They couldn’t even keep their jerseys. The decision was a shame; Sparty was good and today would probably be on par with ND, Ohio and PSU.
Bring it Back:
- Past success and decent success at the club level.
- Growing talent base in its own backyard.
- Rivals ND, Ohio, and Big Brother will be powers soon so why not Sparty?
Why It Won’t happen:
- They dropped it for a reason - $ and Title IX.
- Michigan’s rough transition so far.
VT had a program back in the day with a serious schedule and a certain degree of success. VT was granted “associate status” by the NCAA in the early 1970s which was meant to foster the growth of the sport. While fellow associates Duke and UNC moved forward, VT abruptly dropped lacrosse in the 1970s and it has successfully continued as a club squad. VT is a big public university with lots of resources. Plus, there is probably a ton of talent on campus already, which could make for a smooth transition if they ever decide to make the move.
Bring it Back:
- The state is an incredibly fertile recruiting ground.
- Can offer in-state tuition to non-scholarship kids from Northern Va.
- ACC lacrosse would love to have them, giving the conference an AQ (like it matters).
- $ & Title IX.
- UVA’s problems with lacrosse image could make the Hokies reluctant. - Its in the middle of butt-f***ing nowhere, making traveling a pain.
- After Syracuse joined the ACC in 2011, VTs AD Jim Weaver said the school had no plans to add the sport. “We have a club program, that’s fine”.
The Wolfpack only had a squad for 10 years but in that short timeframe they went to the then-8-team NCAA tournament, had a few top-15 finishes and boasted one of the most prolific scorers of all time (Stan Cockerton who is still up there in NCAA record books). Not only did they have Cockerton, but Tim Nelson transferred to ‘Cuse and became one of their all time greats after NC State dropped the program. The university hit some budget troubles in the early 80s and shuttered the team, citing travel costs, expenses and lack of interest. Here’s a great history of the program.
Bring it Back:
- Not only were they good back in the day, they were legit.
- They’re the missing piece in the Duke-UNC-NC State Triangle of Hatred.
- Another addition to the ACC.
- Relatively warm weather climate. Night spring games vs Duke, UNC, UVA.
-With more teams down South now, travel should be cheaper than it was in the 80s.
- $. While travel is cheaper it still costs a lot to transport 40+ dudes around the east coast and midwest.
- Is there sufficient interest today?
- Rivals Duke & UVA’s lacrosse scandals.
I understand why BC dropped its program in 2002 but for the life of me, could never figure out why they weren’t good. New England is full of solid public school programs and powerful prep academies and BC attracts tons of kids from New Jersey and Long Island so finding talent shouldn’t have been a problem. UMass is good and Harvard is no slouch - so why couldn’t BC get its shit together? For whatever reason, they couldn’t recruit and they sucked. BC lacrosse was a casualty of Title IX and an easy decision for the athletic department.
Bring it Back:
- Academic reputation should attract recruits.
-Private school with lots of $ and rich alums.
- Archrival BU has a team now. ACC membership.
- With dozens of teams within a 6 hour bus ride, travel costs should be minimal.
-Only cut it 12 years ago for Title IX. Is there enough money and interest to bring it back now?
-Frigid. February & March lacrosse in Boston sounds miserable.
LIke NC State, BGSU had a team for only a few years but it was badass. In the 60s and 70s, Bowling Green won over 75% of its games (including an undefeated season), produced several All-Americans and had a bunch of top-20 finishes. Mickey Cochrane, the program’s legendary coach ranks among the winningest coaches in NCAA history in any division. The program was unceremoniously dropped in the 70s and I haven’t been able to find out why.
Bring it Back:
- Lacrosse is growing in Ohio and the Buckeye State is producing good talent.
- Can possibly check Ohio State’s lacrosse hegemony in the state.
- The usual: $ & Title IX. BG is your quintessential mid-major so most of its limited athletic resources will go to football and women’s sports.
- While interest is growing, is there enough to field a team?
Arizona. Yes, Arizona had a varsity Division 1 lacrosse team in the 1960s and 70s, largely due to a strong Long Island influence. The LaxCats (yuck), still with a distinctive LI flavor, were one of Michigan’s big club rivals.
Georgia Tech. The Ramblin’ Wreck’s varsity program was sidelined by...the Great Depression.
Butler. The Bulldogs were a pleasant surprise when they added lacrosse in the 90s, a time when more schools were dropping the sport than adding it. But, it was an unpleasant surprise when they dropped it in 2007.
Morgan State. Morgan State, the historically black college in Baltimore has an awesome lacrosse history. College lacrosse needs a Morgan State pretty bad. Plus, its literally down the block from Hopkins and Loyola. But, the hurdles to NCAA status are the same that shut it down in the first place - department support and resources.
Personally, I think the NCAA should reform its competition structure to help expand regional, non-revenue sports, like lacrosse, volleyball, wrestling, etc. I would love to see them revive “associate” status and offer it to club teams like Michigan State, Virginia Tech and Colorado. But, as far as we can tell, none of the above teams are planning to add lacrosse and the NCAA will not be changing anything soon. In my lifetime I hope to witness the spread of the game so one day Michigan will be in the Final 4 with Oklahoma State, Gonzaga and Miami, but for now I’ll just have to dream...
In the future, lacrosse nerds and scholars will measure the history of the game in B.M., Before Michigan and A.M. After Michigan eras. So, in Year 3 A.M., I thought it would be interesting to check on the young programs out there. I often find myself pulling for these teams to have successful seasons. I think that if they succeed it should bode well for the further expansion of the men's game in Division 1. While lacrosse is growing like wildfire in Divisions II & III and on the women’s level, there has been a mini-wave of new Division 1 teams. Here’s a look at a few of the new(ish) programs, many of which have Michigan on their schedule.
UDM’s program is still newish - only 6 years old. It had the perfect recipe for adding lacrosse - a small school from outside traditional lacrosse areas that wanted to up its athletic department profile. And best of all - no football. After a winless first season, UDM put up a 3 win season, two 6-win seasons and a 5 win season, advancing to their conference championship game the last three years (it helps to play in an outrageously weak conference). Last year the Titans found themselves matched up in the first round of the NCAAs against Notre Dame and lost 9-7(!) after actually blowing a sizable lead.
Poor Furman. They’re having a rough go of it in their first year. Winless in all games so far and they’ve really only been competitive against Michigan. After a game vs Duke on the 18th, their schedule eases up and they may be able to get their first ever victory. Down the road, however, Furman should be set up for success. They’re helmed by longtime Navy coaching legend Richie Meade, which shows commitment to the sport on the part of the athletic department. They’re also the only D-1 team in South Carolina and one of few in the Deep South so that should count for something.
The Macon, GA school has been taking its lumps so far but is getting better. In 2012, Mercer had a chance to notch the program’s first historical win vs Michigan but our boys came away with their first D-1 win instead. Combine a warm spring climate with being the only game in town in a region where the sport is growing and that should put some butts in the seats and attract recruits. The Bears managed 4 wins last year and they opened 2014 with a 17-6 win over newbie BU. They also lost a close one to Detroit before dispatching Richmond. For some reason, I find myself really pulling for Mercer to do well to keep its program alive. There are no heavyweights on the schedule so maybe they can make some strides this year.
The Spiders almost pulled off the upset of the century in the program’s inaugural game against Virginia. UVA had to sweat out a tight 2nd half against Richmond to avoid their own lacrosse version of The Horror. If there is such a thing as a good loss, this is probably the greatest loss of all time. Richmond could end up being very good in the future. It has what I consider to be the recipe for success - strong academics, lots of east coast appeal, relatively warm spring weather and an athletic department that doesn’t have an insane focus on football. It’s also in lacrosse country. Sadly, after taking UVA the distance, its possible they don’t win a game all year.
Oh boy to have Monmouth’s schedule. If JP could go back in time to play Monmouth’s first season schedule, he would kick Doc Brown right in the balls and hijack the Delorean. The Hawks’ inaugural season schedule features only two teams (Marist and Lehigh) who had winning records in 2013. The rest of the schedule is made up of your typical new teams and perpetual cellar dwellers. But they’re 0-5 thus far on the breezy schedule so we’ll see how it turns out. Monmouth is in lacrosse-heavy NJ which should help with recruiting.
So when my father, who seemingly knows every college in the U.S. heard Bellarmine was adding lacrosse he asked “where the hell is Bellarmine?”. He never heard of it - but has anyone? Well, Bellarmine is a small (football-less) Catholic liberal arts school in Louisville, KY founded in 1950 which added lacrosse in 2005. I was sure Teams 1 & 2 would tally victories against them, but Bellarmine is actually proving pretty legit. They went 7-7 last year with impressive, close losses to Ohio State (7-9), Loyola (6-8), and (Denver 10-11 in Double OT!). Bellarmine is already dangerous and this could be the year they finally pull an upset for that program-defining win. They could be 5-1 by the time they play Ohio State which could be that win ( hopefully Michigan will take them down this Saturday and they’ll be 4-2 instead).
Marquette’s 5-win inaugural season vs a fairly serious schedule will be the gold standard for new programs going forward. The Golden Eagles’ seamless leap to the NCAA ranks is especially surprising because Michigan used to mop the floor with them at the club level. In their first season they even upset Bellarmine and Air Force. So far in 2014, they’ve lost to Lehigh and Ohio State but shocked Hofstra. Its interesting to see where they’ll go this year.
HP surprised Michigan last year in its first season, taking what Michigan thought was going to be a sure victory. The Panthers also stunned Towson in its second game ever. HP had the optimal conditions for adding lacrosse - a small east coast private school looking for increased exposure and applications and to beef up its athletic prowess, in a warm weather climate and no football. Hopefully it’ll catch on down there and they’ll make some waves. They’re 5-2 so far and beat our Michigan boys again this year.
The only Division 1 program in the state of Florida, Jacksonville, a smallish, private institution added lacrosse in 2010. The Dolphins haven’t been bad. They won 6 games in their inaugural campaign, including a W over a Denver squad who would end up in the tournament that year. Jax followed with a 5-win season in 2011, a 6 win season in 2012 (including one over Michigan) and an 8 win season in 2013. They’re 0-4 so far this year though, but the schedule is going to ease up to what they’re used to.
Like Furman, BU is winless in its first year so far. Unfortunately, unlike Furman, the schedule gets tougher down the stretch with games against Harvard, Loyola and Duke in 3 of their last 4. They had their chance earlier in the season against perennial scrubs like Mercer, Vermont and Canisius but came away with a few close losses. BU is a hockey school with no football so the choice to go D-1 was probably easier than it was for most schools.
Well, you know all about them. M had a much slower start than anticipated (I fully expected them to storm into Division 1 and rack up 6 or so wins in their first season). Sadly, my prognostications have been more on the mark for other teams. Nevertheless, they are starting to turn it on now with 3 wins in 2014, tripling their 2013 total. After getting run off the field by Penn State in the opener, Michigan responded with a blowout win over Mercer and a tight victory over Detroit before a sloppy but admirable effort against Hopkins. M almost landed their signature win against Cornell in OT, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. They then followed it up with a clunker vs High Point and a close win over Furman. So, in conclusion this team is still a total mystery. The good news is the conference looks pretty weak and AF, Fairfield, Bellarmine and Ohio could all be winnable games. Go Get ‘Em Blue!
Of course, I wish the new D-1 programs out there were Stanford, Texas, Florida and UCLA but that’s another story. I also have a diary about former big-time DI lacrosse programs which I’ll put up soon, but I figured the lacrosse nerds would enjoy this in the mean time.