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...