Lacrosse: An Analysis of Growth (and Contraction) - Former Div. 1 Programs

Submitted by L'Carpetron Do… on April 22nd, 2014 at 12:08 PM

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


Michigan State

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.


Virginia Tech

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).


Won’t happen:

- $ & 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”.


NC State

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.


Won’t happen:

- $.  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.


Boston College

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.


Won’t happen:

-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.


Bowling Green

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.


Won’t happen:

- 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...



April 22nd, 2014 at 12:28 PM ^

Great post.  However, I am of the opinion that the next addition(s) will come not from a former D1 program, but from schools like Michigan - big, rich athletic department looking to get in on the Next Big Thing.  Most likely from states that don't have a team yet, or a big state that doesn't have another big program to compete with (again, kind of like Michigan).  My candidates:

Texas - huge AD, huge state with good HS lacrosse.

USC - this could be any Pac-12 school in CA, but from what I've heard SC is the most likely.  Sport is enormous out here.  Stanford probably second most likely, but Cal or UCLA would get tons of talent with in-state tuition for non scholly kids.  

Florida - similar to the two above.  Lacrosse getting big in FL, UF already has one of the top women's teams. UF already has big pull among NE kids. 

Northwestern - similar to Florida above, but not quite as good. Has the academic reputation, but would have to compete with more programs for local kids (ND, UM, now Marquette). 

Minnesota - doesn't fit the typical criteria, but I've heard they might be the next team.  Huge school with huge AD, and HS lacrosse in Minnesota is big.  Lots of good club teams in Minnesota, and they could field a decent D1 team just with the top 3-5 kids on those club teams plus a handful of out-of-staters who get scholarship.  

EDIT:  forgot one, Colorado - Already an in-state team in Denver, but Colorado lacrosse is big, and both Colorado and CSU have had outstanding club teams for years.  Michigan's top recruit for 2016 is from Colorado.  Tons of talent, could support a second team.  Would also have a leg up on West Coast recruits.

Bottom line - when the Pac-12 decides to pick up lacrosse, and I bet they will soon, they will be competitive almost immediately.  The level of talent out here is outrageous.


April 22nd, 2014 at 12:53 PM ^

Solid write-up.  Some more thoughts to add:

-- Sparty would probably have a ready-made coach to hire, as UDM's Matt Holtz is a Sparty grad and spent a lot of time with MSU's club program.  He's done a pretty good job at UDM, at a place where it ought to be damn near impossible to recruit talent to.  As a UDM alum (grad school) I'd rather not see MSU start up a team, for this reason.

-- BC alums really want a lacrosse team and many would probably happily sacrifice the baseball team to do it.

-- As for VT, they do have a women's team and so would face fewer start-up obstacles, but the state of Virginia is the opposite of a fertile recruiting ground.  UVA has seven players out of 42 coming from in-state.  One is a very, very lightly used SSDM who redshirted last season; one is a coach's son and therefore only from VA literally because UVA is in Virginia; the rest are practice fodder getting a good education at instate prices, and who would probably be playing D-III (or A-Sun at best) if they were in school for the sake of playing time.  UVA doesn't do any meaningful recruiting instate and most blue-bloods never set foot in VA to recruit.  UNC and Duke have a player each, neither of whom are actual contributors.  Virginia players are at best sprinkled around the mid-majors and the ranks of the lower divisions.

Point being, BC could start a program by siphoning off some of the decent players in instate private schools; VT cannot.

I don't see Michigan at the vanguard of a major-program expansion into lacrosse; I think whatever expansion there is will be from schools without football teams, which has been the trend the last three years.  The only exception: super-filthy-rich programs like Texas.

L'Carpetron Do…

April 22nd, 2014 at 6:17 PM ^

I'm tentatively working on a final part to the diary about schools in the best position to add lacrosse.  The two biggest factors are 1)Money and 2) no football.  The recent wave of new D-1 teams have all been at schools with no football or FCS level football.

The state of VA as a whole may not be good but VTech can also pull from DC and Maryland which are hotspots.

L'Carpetron Do…

April 22nd, 2014 at 8:07 PM ^

Yes, but not all big time football programs are swimming in cash.  And for whatever reason, Michigan is the only BCS school to add the sport since ND in 1980.  SInce then, a lot of the schools listed above have dropped the sport because it had to comply with Title IX.  They sure as hell weren't going to cut back on football.   At the same time, many of them have added lacrosse at the women's level.  if you look at the number and type of schools that have women's teams now, its amazing - Florida, Northwestern, Oregon, Southern Cal, Stanford, even San Diego State - all football schools.    VT and BC are also in that group.  Women's lacrosse has been a godsend for a lot of these schools trying to comply with Title IX.  

The big thing is FCS schools are limited to 63 scholarships compared to 85 at FBS schools so that leaves some more revenue to go around.

But, if you can be Texas, be Texas.  That's my best advice.  It helps to have gobs of money.  Thats the ultimate factor.


April 22nd, 2014 at 8:45 PM ^

That makes sense.  I forgot to take into account that FCS schools have fewer football scholarships to make up for.  

That said, it seems that if you do what Michigan did - add women's lacrosse and men's lacrosse at the same time, you have no Title IX issue, you just have double (well not quite double) the expense.  If you're a BCS football AD in a major conference, you can probably afford to do that better than an FCS program can afford to add just men's.


April 23rd, 2014 at 4:47 PM ^

I would play, but I think I would go with a CA school over Texas I think. Either SC or Stanford. Texas is big money, but those guys aren't far behind and lacrosse in California is just so huge that some school out here will have to jump. I know it has been talked about among PAC-12 ADs and it wouldn't surprise me if multiple schools jumped at once (or close to at once).


April 24th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

Maybe even less than five years.  I'd guess that USC, if they want to form a lacrosse team, isn't just going to put one out there - they'd have no conference to logically join now that the ECAC is poof, and they'd have a bitch of a time as the only independent that far out.  If they take the leap, I'd bet it's because they've gotten word from five other ADs that they want a team too and will have one within a few short years, so they can have an insta-conference.


April 25th, 2014 at 6:30 PM ^

Yeah - I don't think they'd all drop at once necessarily, but they'd all start as soon as they were ready, knowing a conference would be possible within 5 years or so.  If they knew it would only be for a handful of years, I don't think USC would have that hard of a time being an independent on the West Coast, because teams would like the idea of scheduling a game in SoCal early in the season both for weather and recruiting purposes, and USC would just have to travel a lot for a few years.  I'm sure both Denver and Air Force would be regulars on their schedule the first few seasons, at least until the other Pac-12 teams dropped. 

That would also give USC a jump on their conference counterparts by getting some of the growing pains out before the league started.  And every West Coast team that starts up makes it that much easier for each subsequent one.  The 4th, 5th and 6th teams will have it easy from a scheduling standpoint, they just need the first couple to drop to get the ball rolling.  


April 23rd, 2014 at 6:44 PM ^

I think you're downplaying VA high school lacrosse too much.  In 2014, there are 25 kids from VA signed with D1 schools, including UVA, UNC, Denver, Cornell, Dartmouth and a handful to still solid schools like Rutgers, Army, Navy, etc.  This is in addition to a ton of D2, D3 and club kids.  Outside of the kids going to the elite schools, I'm sure VT would be able to hand pick the rest of the state initially just to get to decent, and try to pick up the rest of the DC area. 


April 24th, 2014 at 10:01 AM ^

That's barely one player per three teams, and like I said, the ones that sign aren't contributors for the most part.  And honestly, I don't think VT would even get to handpick those players.  Players coming from top private schools want to go to top colleges and would be at least as likely to pick a college like Georgetown or Dartmouth.

Let's be honest: if Virginia were a place you could find good lacrosse players, they would've shown up on the UVA roster at some point now or in the past.  They don't.


April 24th, 2014 at 12:18 PM ^

Don't get me wrong, I don't think VA can support an elite lacrosse program like UVA.  That's why they haven't shown up there.  But it's enough to support an up-start lacrosse program that would likely never be elite (or wouldn't be for decades).  There are a lot of VA kids going to Richmond or Mercer or High Point or Bellarmine, and VT could take the top kids from that group, and the occasion top recruit who wants the be "the guy" at a new program, similar to what Michigan has done, but to a lesser extent.  

It's similar to Michigan - UM doesn't rely much at all on in-state kids, but Detroit takes about a half a dozen or so a year, and they don't have the in-state tuition card to play.  And Virginia is a much better lacrosse talent-producing state than Michigan.  

It looks like about a third of the D1 recruits in VA are ACC or Ivy material.  VT wouldn't get any of those, or one every now and then.  But the rest, which is about 15 or so guys a year, I'm sure they could get half if they wanted.  Those kids would have the choice between playing at a mid-major type school in a crappy league at possibly a crappy academic school, or they could go to a major athletic program at a big state school and play in the ACC on TV (at least occasionally).  That would be an easy sell for about a dozen kids a year.



April 24th, 2014 at 3:11 PM ^

I'm curious where you're getting your data.  I would have to dispute quite a bit of what you say.  First, I don't think just going to an ACC program is proof of being "ACC material."  As with the UVA roster, often these guys are practice fodder getting an education at a school they like, and sometimes they've left the state for prep school.  Example: UNC's lone Virginian is Brent Armstrong, and he went to a prep school in Maryland.  And he's a third-string FOGO.

The four programs you mentioned (I know they're just examples) have, among them, 12 Virginians on their roster (and Bellarmine none.)  That's among four classes, so these schools, who are very low on the totem pole, average one Virginian per year not even counting Bellarmine.

These aren't the kind of numbers that can support a new program.  VT would have to do like everyone else: recruit in PA, MD, NJ, NY, and so on.  I would guess that maybe two to three recruits every four years come from the state of Virginia that are truly ACC/Ivy material - i.e. a regular player and not a third-string FOGO with a winning percentage of .310.  I don't think VT would find a dozen Virginians a year.  They might find two or three, and the guys we're talking about are guys who can't crack the lineup full-time at Mercer.

Sac Fly

April 22nd, 2014 at 2:46 PM ^

IIRC the power programs around when Michigan was a club team were Chapman, Oregon and Arizona.

With Nike giving money to the althletic department and growing popularity on the west coast, I always thought that Oregon would be next to add a varsity team.


April 22nd, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

Exactly what you just said. 


When I played, it was a foregone conclusion that UofM would win the MCLA Div. I, but it was  a tossup between Chapman, Arizona, Oregon and BYU as to who would play them in the national championship game. 


I cannot see Texas getting a NCAA DI team.... they were complete garbage. The kids that played always told us they would be playing football if they were good enough...


April 22nd, 2014 at 4:36 PM ^

Quality of club team isn't much of a determining factor.  Marquette always had a pretty weak MCLA squad.

Besides, Texas has a pretty solid MCLA team.  "Complete garbage" isn't how I'd describe the very good winning records they've had, going back for a while.


April 22nd, 2014 at 5:17 PM ^

You're putting too much weight on the quality of the club team as a factor.  It isn't a big one.  It's about how much money they AD has and their willingness to add the sport.  We know Texas has money.  

EDIT:  And Texas's club team is pretty good.  In the current MCLA-1 top 25, they are ranked 13th, out of 102 MCLA-1 teams. The top 5 are, in order, Arizona St, Colorado, BYU, Chapman, and Colorado St.


April 22nd, 2014 at 5:35 PM ^

I agree that quality of the club doesn't matter as much as the factors you mentioned (the quality of teams drops off BADLY after the top 15 in each Division), and Texas definitely has the money (and an AD with a propensity for odd decisions).

What I mean is that they don't have nearly the local support for a team that Arizona or BYU or Colorado does. 

That being said, I refer back to the Texas's AD putting a basketball game in China, and my point is moot. 




April 22nd, 2014 at 5:55 PM ^

I agree that they don't have the local support, or the culture, that the teams you mentioned do.  They wouldn't have the attendance that a program like Arizona or Colorado would have, or as much immediate success.  But they would have the money to build nicer facilities, and to hire a big name (well, medium name) coach to come build their program into a bohemoth. 


April 22nd, 2014 at 11:29 PM ^

In TX over the past decade. My 10 year old picked up the sport last year. One thing that helps down here is that lacrosse season matches up well with football season. You're starting to see some Dallas and Houston area high schools pop up on national rankings... and it seems like the number of TX kids going to D1 schools increases each year. You have a lot of former D1 players who have moved here for jobs... thus a deep coaching talent pool for the youth levels. I don't see the growth of the sport slowing down anytime soon. I don't think it's a matter of IF UTexas goes D1, but rather WHEN.


April 22nd, 2014 at 4:56 PM ^

There are active high school lacrosse leagues, at the varsity level, in the Portland area. Another place where lacrosse is picking up is Utah. I would not be surprised to see Utah State, Utah or BYU field teams if the sport begins to get good TV contracts.


April 22nd, 2014 at 5:28 PM ^

The Oregon thing is interesting.  The Nike money part is obviously an X factor, but they don't have much else going for it.  They are not one of the better club teams.  They have had good seasons, but they are currently 40th in the computer rankings out of 102 teams.  

Also - HS lacrosse in Oregon is not good.  They have very few programs, and very few good ones.  LaxPower ranks the top HS teams by region, and in the West, Oregon only has one of the top 45 teams (though they had 46, 47 and 48).  Still, that's only 4 of the top 50, and their top team is #16.  

Now, Oregon has tons of California students (they actually make a t-shirt that says University of California at Eugene) but that still puts them at a disadvantage to the schools actually in California, or schools with a huge East Coast influence like Arizona and ASU.  Also, lacrosse is a sport where kids aren't going pro (much) and draws from affluent areas, so quality of the school actually matters.  Oregon would be behind the 8-ball in that regard as well.

Sac Fly

April 22nd, 2014 at 8:56 PM ^

I'm not an expert on Title IX, but if the Ducks were going to add varsity lacrosse, I don't believe they would have to add another Women's sport because Oregon has 7 Men's sports and 11 Womens.

Not a huge deal, but I'm sure avoiding an extra startup cost would be a plus if they ever decided to add the sport.


April 24th, 2014 at 10:00 PM ^

Scholarships are part of it but not the whole picture.  It's participation as well.  The participation opportunities need to be proportional to the student body as well.  Football is not just a problem for scholarships but there are so many athletes on the football team it takes about 3 or 4 women's sports to have an equivalent number of athletes.


April 24th, 2014 at 8:32 PM ^

Schools are adding DII and DIII programs like crazy in the Southeast and Midwest.  They can easily do it because the programs fund themselves.  That many kids paying tuition to play Lacrosse actually pays for it.  So why do they do it.  Sure it's another activity for the kids and all that.  But they also find that they now have publicity in the best demographics group in the country.  Parents that are college educated and have the funds to pay tuition for all of their kids.  

Albion College in Michigan now has their name pop up on computer screens in Maryland and New York.  They have a great record of getting kids into Med School but if no one ever hears of them it doesn't matter. As these teams spread the other schools will find it even easier to start programs as travel costs go down.

So I think that while the ability to add is a great discussion, another maybe even more important question is why would a D1 school add a varsity program.  For Furman it was the publicity.  Before they hired Richie Meade and said, "We want to be a player," who had ever heard of them?  It's a good school and now their name shows up on the east cost in monied homes.  Furman recently tried to cut their storied golf prgram until a benefactor saved it.  The school actually said they didn't get much, (read publicity,) out if it.  So now you also have High Point, Richmond, Boston U.  

So besides who can pull it off, who would benefit from the program's publicity?  Michigan felt that they wanted to be in that tier of programs with Duke and Princeton or at least as the sport grew wanted to be a step ahead of the rest of the pack.  Which BCS school would bite?  Northwestern should be in that pack.  Texas should also. Maybe Louisville? Cincinnatti? Xavier? Stanford?

I don't know but certainly the when folks come knocking at the AD's door to add the sport, he is going to ask "Why?"


April 25th, 2014 at 8:55 AM ^

I always figured BYU would be adding a team sooner rather than later. They always have a solid club team and have some built in recruiting from all over the country. There is a huge Mormon population in a lot of the lacrosse hot bed (massive Temple in DC and the religion started in upstate New York).

Plus, having the missionary break built in means they'd constantly be fielding older teams which I think could give them an advantage in fielding a good team their first few years ("Hey, come here and play lacrosse, but go on your mission first while we recruit a bunch of other good players for two years, and when you come back we'll have three classes of recruits all ready to play").


April 25th, 2014 at 8:18 PM ^

Butler will never go D-1 again. Their coach is a self-absorbed idiot who doesn't know how to run a lacrosse team. They got kicked out of the CCLA a few years back cause they piss everyone off. As long as he is the head coach there, Butler will be irrelevant.


April 27th, 2014 at 11:26 PM ^

The Pac 12 schools have talked at length about adding lacrosse at the varsity level, but there are two significant issues, both of which can and will be overcome.  

1) Each school will need to add two varsity programs, one for men and one for women, in order for it to work with Title IX, and many Pac 12 schools (e.g., Stanford) already have women's varsity lacrosse, so it will need to be another sport.

2) The Pac 12 will want to have enough critical mass in the sport so they a) don't have to travel too far to play other D1 schools and b) they qualify for an automatic berth in the NCAA tourney, which requires six teams in your conference.

I expect each of these obstacles will be overcome in the next 5-10 years, and Oregon, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC and Colorado will field varsity men's teams (all six of these schools have varsity women's programs in the MPSF).


May 13th, 2014 at 11:35 AM ^

Not that anyone's reading this diary anymore, but Arizona St. blew through club lacrosse this year.  The season isn't over yet, but they're 17-0 and are the prohibitive favorite to win it all.  Of those 17 wins, very few of them were close.  The state of Arizona is good but not great for lacrosse, but they get so many CA kids already that it won't matter.  With all of the recent success that they've had, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a D1 team within a half decade or so.