Growing Pains in the MCLA

MCLA Growing Pains

Since the MCLA began, it was created with the intent to provide kids an opportunity to play intercollegiate lacrosse that wouldn’t otherwise because of the lack of a varsity program at their school. For almost 20 years, it has been very successful at this and has done a wonderful job to help spur on the growth of lacrosse at schools across the nation who weren’t given an opportunity at an NCAA sanctioned program.

This year, 208 teams will play in the MCLA in two divisions, with each division competing for a chance at the National Title at the end of the season. Unfortunately, as lacrosse has grown, some of the biggest schools in the MCLA have been required to leave the league as their schools add lacrosse to their varsity sports.

This isn’t a new problem to the MCLA though, and according to MCLA President Tony Scazzero, this is something they have dealt with almost every year in the league. Most recently being this year when Marquette tried to petition their way back into the league. Scazzero said they have never tried to stop it, or even avoid it, but there was never a circumstance that warranted a passing vote into the league.


What actually happens to the MCLA programs after their varsity counterparts make their way into the picture? In an effort to keep the perception of the MCLA as THE top lacrosse team on campus and never anything less, those programs aren’t allowed back into the MCLA once there is a varsity program on campus.

MCLA Operating Policy – Article 1, Section 4, Point A:

“MCLA participation shall be open to all intercollegiate men’s lacrosse teams that are recognized organizations at their academic institutions, but that do not compete in the NCAA. Each school may only have one team per institution.”

This has been the policy since the MCLA was formed in 1996 and was formed with very good reasoning. Coach John Paul gave me the background of the decision.

“The policy was originally established back when the MCLA was formed in 1996. The MCLA was known as the USILA then. The USILA is the governing body of NCAA men’s lacrosse. The USILA took on this affilliation with college club lacrosse in hopes that it could lead to new varsity programs. Since that was the goal, it made no sense to include schools that already had varsity lacrosse.

When the club teams left the USILA for US Lacrosse and became the US Lacrosse Intercollegiate Associates, or USILA (which confused a lot of people since USILA was so close to USLIA), the college coaches asked the IA Board of Directors to refrain from taking schools that had varsity programs. The fear was that a highly structured, successful, visible club team on campus could jeopardize the existence of the varsity team at a time when lacrosse programs were being cut. We (the Board) agreed to honor the wishes of the varsity coaches, and that policy has remained since.”

With the MCLA currently standing as the premier league for club lacrosse, this becomes a big problem for those left wanting to play club ball at a high level after a varsity program is adopted at their school. No offense to the NCLL, the GLLL or GCLA, but the legitimacy and organization that the MCLA offers is unmatched by any other club league. For comparison’s sake, the NCLL has 124 teams (primarily all on the East coast) and the GLLL has 39 (via LaxPower).

With varsity teams being added rather than cut these days, this issue will only continue to surface. So why continue to adhere to this policy? Is there still a looming fear that the club team on a varsity campus would have an advantage due to the varsity program? Would the varsity coach use the MCLA team as a type of farm team or JV squad?

The NCLL currently operates with clubs at schools with varsity programs and this could very well factor into the level at which those teams compete. Coach JP actually mentioned that Michigan still currently has a club team which competes in the GLLL. While it’s not like every team is going to make the jump in the next few years, it is a loss for the MCLA every time a program starts a varsity team.

Scazerro gave me an example that has come up many times in this discussion, “Would you want to see TWO Virginia teams, or two Syracuse teams in the National Championship of their respective leagues?” While I could see Virginia and Syracuse saying ‘yes’, I would have to agree with the league. Keeping a clear line of teams between the two leagues helps to grow not only lacrosse, but each individual league and the competition within it.

The MCLA strives to stay as professional and legitimate as possible and Scazzero actually addressed this as a “great problem to have”, saying that it has been awesome to see more and more collegiate lacrosse each year, “as lacrosse grows there is an opportunity to provide that opportunity to play collegiately.”

But what do you do when more and more teams pick up NCAA programs? No matter how many years down the road it could be, this is an issue that will continue to occur. The MCLA has had discussions about two main ideas to work through the growing pains: 1) Become more inclusive and add pieces that fit perfectly to the MCLA or 2) Manage the growth and form different segments of the MCLA.

The biggest issue addressed with the second option, and in any case where there is both a varsity and an MCLA program at a school, is policing the teams. While not everyone is going to go out and work off each other, that possibility will be there and the fear right with it.

From talking with both Scazzero and John Paul, it is very clear that the MCLA is well aware of this problem and is constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve on issues like this. They’ve already recognized the fact that as more teams enter the MCLA, the need for Regional Tournaments to qualify for the National Tournament will be greater and greater – as all the At-Large bids will be claimed by individual conferences.

To get the complete picture, I wanted to talk to someone who has directly been affected by the policy and reached out to Marquette, who as of last year had an MCLA squad competing in the UMLC D1. Team President Maxwell Klutke was actually on that team and spoke with me about the transition process and how it has affected Marquette’s club program.

KS: How has this affected your MCLA program and players on the team? 

MK: Since the NCAA program was put into place we were kicked out of the league because of the MCLA rules. We are currently in the Great Lakes Lacrosse League (GLLL). This is going to be quite a shift from what we have been used too. I do not want to discredit the GLLL because they have been very accommodating and helpful with the transition, but the competition level is not what we have come to know.

The MCLA is the premier club league, and has the best teams in the Midwest in it, so while we are grateful for the GLLL, the intensity and competition is not going to be the same. Although we are not apart of the MCLA, we are able to play MCLA teams, but only as exhibition games. Over the years we have made connections and have been able to schedule 3-4 game this year against MCLA teams. There are many other teams that we have played year in and year out and have been great rivals games, but we weren’t able to schedule those games since there is no incentive for teams to play a non-league team in the thick of the season.

What steps did you take to try and keep the MCLA team alive?

We were very determined to stay in the MCLA and tried as hard as we could to stay in league. We took several steps to try and keep our status. For one, we sent a petition to every head coach/president in MCLA (only A division) and requesting them to “sign” in agreement of our position. I have attached the petition. We got 10-15 coaches to “sign”.

Second, we got the NCAA head coach to provides us a written statement telling how he does not have any intention to use the D1 program as a farm system or to his advantage in any way, and that he sees us as a completely separate entity. He was extremely helpful, and was wanting to help us in any way possible. Finally, we sent both myself and my secretary to the annual MCLA board meeting to present our case in from of both the E-board and the head of the conferences.

In a nutshell (and from speaking with Coach John Paul), the MCLA has this rule in effect to keep the MCLA teams the best lacrosse program at each individual school. What are your thoughts on this rule? 

I understand why they have the rule in place because I wouldn’t want to play against a team that is simply a D1 practice squad. They are simply trying to keep the integrity of the league, and I can respect that. While I respect their stance, I do not agree with it. Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, especially here in the Midwest, and the fact is that as the sport expands more schools are going to be adding programs, not only division 1, but D2 and D3, which are all going to be in violation of the rule.

The decision we were told at the annual E-Board meeting is that they are going to stick with the precedent since they do not have a way to address the issue with having both a NCAA team and MCLA. No, it is not an easy task for them to address, however by simply kicking the can down the road and not facing the problem as it arises is going to result in negative consequences.

More and more teams are going to be kicked out and start going to other smaller leagues, and the MCLA is going to have to accept a lower skilled team to be in line with the rule of 10 teams per conference. I believe that if the MCLA doesn’t address this issue, in the long run it is going to lose the integrity it is trying to preserve.

What would you recommend to an MCLA squad who might find themselves in your situation?

If, I should say when, other MCLA teams are in this position they should do what we did. Although we were unsuccessful in the outcome, by trying to reach out to other schools and joining together in addressing this problem really is the only way. One team doesn’t seem a pressing issue to a league with 100+ programs, but if we team up we can make an impact.

As this example shows, growth isn’t always easy, but as Scazzero pointed out, it’s a good problem to have. What happened to Marquette will inevitably happen to someone else and teams will continue to both join and leave the MCLA.

The best thing to do is just go with it and make of it what you can. If teams can set a precedent and find a way to remain in the league, more power to them – the MCLA is a great thing to be a part of. After seeing this from both sides, I really do believe the MCLA may have to readdress the policy in the future.

A while back, Will Patton wrote a nice piece on this topic, siding very much with the league and its policy. As the MCLA becomes more and more legitimate and continues to recruit on its own and budget money for coaches, are these problems resolving themselves?

Since I can remember, the MCLA prides itself on operating at a Virtual Varsity level, so my question is this. Would it be possible to have both an MCLA and NCAA team at a school and find a way to keep both separate in their operations?

Big thanks to Maxwell Klutke, Michigan Head Coach John Paul and MCLA President Tony Scazzero for taking the time out of their busy schedules to speak with me about this topic.

If you had a vote, how would you handle this situation? Should MCLA teams be allowed at schools with a varsity program?


  1. I think this article is
    incredibly misguided.  The MCLA’a END-GOAL is to transition club teams
    into NCAA teams.  


    If it does that, then is
    was SUCCESSFUL.  There is no “issue”.  


    The only issue is for
    the players who are no longer good enough to play for the NCAA team. But lets
    be serious, that’s basically what every football, basketball, baseball, etc.
    player faces when they go to college: you’re now simply a FAN who plays pickup on
    the weekends at the rec gym.


    Also, the NCLL is FAR
    AND ABOVE more talented than the MCLA teams.  Why?  Easy: Geography.
     Why are clubs teams in the NCLL?  Easy: B/c their school already has
    a NCAA Varsity team.  Why?  B/c they are mainly on the east coast and
    everyone has grown up playing it.  It’s like football, basketball,
    baseball, tennis, golf, etc…  States like New York, Jersey, Delaware,
    Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, etc.. all have NCLL teams b/c the entire
    school is filled with players who grew up playing lacrosse, just like your
    college has…… wait for it…….. club soccer, club basketball, club
    baseball, club field hockey, etc….  The MCLA is simply a league where,
    as the author stated, said lacrosse team of said school is the highest level of
    lacrosse for said school.  It’s just taken more serious.  That’s all.
     Talent wise, the NCLL is head and shoulders better.  NCLL players
    were on the JV squad of their high school while the Varsity players went to
    play in the NCAA.  For the MCLA, which are mostly is the Midwest, South
    east, and Western states, MAYBE a handful of players from their high school
    make it to NCAA teams.


    NewsFlash: Not everyone
    is meant to play college sports at the highest levels.  Sometimes your
    last game of high school ball is the last time you ever play competitive,
    organized sports.


    an incredibly misguided article.

    • Edward, thanks for responding to this article, but I think you might be misguided in your view of what the MCLA’s ‘end goal’ is. From talking with both Coach John Paul and MCLA Pres Tony Scazzero, the reason for the founding of the MCLA was to offer college lacrosse for those unable to play on a varsity program. 

      The ‘Virtual Varsity’ aspect is partially due to the organization and legitimacy of the MCLA. I never doubted or discredited the skill level of the NCLL. I’ve had several buddies play in the NCLL and their only frustration was the lack of organization in the league.

      This is definitely an issue and I really think you missed the whole point of this article.

      • No, it’s a non-issue.  

        Trust me, the MCLA WANTS the big time BCS schools to go D1.  That’s the goal.  To promote lacrosse to a point where the big schools realize there is a demand.

        You’re right, the MCLA is for schools WITHOUT a varsity program.  So, therefore, if the school adds a varsity program, you can’t play in the MCLA.  I don’t see what the issue is.  The school still has a very competitive level of lacrosse….. it’s NCAA D1 lacrosse.

        For all the other people who want to keep playing lacrosse, welcome to life.  Find a rec league.  

        Lacrosse was not eliminated at Marquette or Michigan.  The MCLA team was, but they can still play club ball.

        • If it wasn’t an issue, I wouldn’t write about it. Just because you may think it’s a non-issue, doesn’t mean the rest of the MCLA doesn’t recognize it as one. I’ve received enough positive feedback on this article to stick to my original point here.
          Trust me, the MCLA’s goal isn’t to lose out teams as they go NCAA. While that is a direct result of what may occur, they have recognized this as something that will have to be addressed. If it wasn’t a problem, you would see more teams knocking on the NCLL’s door. Or maybe the President of the MCLA just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

          Not everyone wants to play rec league lacrosse. The MCLA offers a virtual varsity experience for those who were unable to play at the NCAA level, whether by choice or by lack of talent. It’s far from your rec league sports and just because you fail to recognize it as serious, doesn’t mean it isn’t taken that way by all others involved.

          Still very unsure why you feel the need to argue about this. It’s an issue for the MCLA, accept that.

          • The reason I’m arguing this is b/c this is a very poorly written article with a weak premise.  I question the journalistic worth/value of this article.

            I’ll just go ahead and say it: The MCLA and the President of the MCLA no longer cares about the Marquette and Michigan club lacrosse teams.  If they did then they’d still be in the MCLA.  But that’s not the purpose of the MCLA.  It doesn’t matter what they said to you or how they phrased it.  They no longer care about those club teams.  The MCLA isn’t about offering the highest “club” lacrosse experience in the country. It’s about offering the highest level of lacrosse at a school where VARSITY DOES NOT EXIST.

            As we learned in Batman Begins: “It’s not who you are on the inside that counts, it’s our actions that define us.”  Rachael: “Wait, Bruce?”

            Trust me, the MCLA board of directors FULLY understand what happens when a MCLA team gets  NCAA team at their school.  They know there is an “issue”  The fact of the matter is the issue is only for the players who no longer can play in the MCLA.  Frankly, that is an “issue” that the MCLA does not care about.  It’s like why David Stearn does not care about 1 and Done college basketball players.  It’s not an NBA problem, it’s a NCAA problem.

            If they didn’t want to lose teams to the NCAA they would have taken steps to keeps the big BCS schools from having NCAA lacrosse teams.  They have such a strong hold on BCS schools’s lacrosse programs that they could even compete with the NCAA.  Oh, NCAA, you want lacrosse at, let’s say, Florida or USC?  Well, we already have  a program there.  We are going to be a competing governing body of college athletics so we are going to be like the LXM Pro to the MLL.  

            You’re article is trying to raise an issue from the perspective of the individual players who can’t compete in the MCLA anymore.  Ok, but you didn’t do a very good job of that.  You kept forcing it to be an MCLA issue.  It’s a former-MCLA-player issue.  You keep saying “the MCLA needs to do something about this.”  No it doesn’t.  It’ not an MCLA issue, it’s a former-MCLA-player issue.  I understand the premise of your article, I really do.  It simply wasn’t well executed.

            Lets do some logic:

            1. The MCLA team is to be the highest level of lacrosse at a given school
            2. The MCLA is for schools that don’t have a Varsity NCAA program
            3.  Therefore, If a school adds an NCAA program, you can’t have a team in the MCLA b/c it will no longer be the highest level of lacrosse at that given school, and it will have an NCAA program.

            It’s really simple.

            You’re own article sites quotes from John Paul that states the purpose is the transition these club teams to varsity status.  

            There are alot of poorly written articles on the internet.  This one is so egregious that I had to say something.

          • You are the first and only person to say that this is a poorly written article, so frankly, if you feel that way, don’t read it. 

            From the moment you cited Batman in your argument, I stopped taking you seriously. 

            The problem with the JP quote you cited, was that the premise in 1996, it’s now 2013 and the MCLA is constantly trying to grow and expand their brand of lacrosse, which IS the most legitimate club lacrosse in the USA and a virtual varsity experience.. Unless you’ve talked to the board members or President, anything you try and say they feel or believe is purely an assumption and no more than that.

            This is an issue the board has addressed, maybe you should read the article in its entirety and not just what you want to read to make your own points seem valid. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting.

    • Your premise is what is misguided.  I’ve seen playing in the MCLA do a lot of very good things for young men.  There’s nothing wrong with providing an opportunity to compete, build relationships, learn life skills, etc.  Perhaps there ought to be similar organizations for other sports.  Certainly there’s no reason to eliminate it for lacrosse because other sports haven’t measured up. The MCLA doesn’t have to be at the NCAA’s level to do these things.  
      Moreover, I’d argue that the MCLA has done as much to grow this sport across the country as any other organization.  If every school had an NCAA program, that’d be great.  But if it also had MCLA programs, that means twice as many people are playing and loving and living and growing lacrosse in America.  Win win.

      • You need to work on reading comprehension.  I didn’t say that people shouldn’t be able to play club lacrosse.  I said that it makes sense that Marquette and Michigan no longer have an MCLA team.  Why?  B/c THEY NOW HAVE A DIVISION 1 NCAA TEAM!!!!  It was upgraded to a higher level.

        Oh, Boo Hoo.  Certain students that didn’t make it on the NCAA team can’t play in the MCLA anymore.  Oh well, they now have a D1 team to cheer for.  That’s what happens in college.  They can still play club ball.  It’s just now in the GLLL.  Lacrosse was not eliminated at Marquette for Michigan.  There is simply a distinct line between Varsity D1 NCAA lacrosse and the club team which….. wait for it….. STILL EXISTS!!!!

        I wish I was able to play D1 football but I couldn’t so I played flag football and rec league basketball for my athletic endeavors b/c my school had established programs in the NCAA.  Every college students deals with the same thing.  There are intramurals, club teams, adult leagues, YMCAs, gym memberships, etc…. for other sports that people play around the country.

    • Edward, looking at this a little more, I have to disagree with you on all counts. Saying the NCLL is head and shoulders above the MCLA in talent is just as bad as saying it is because geography. 
      Saying that basically discredits the Peter Baums of the lacrosse world and how much lacrosse has grown in the past decade and even just few years. There are a TON of kids, not just a handful, who could have played NCAA lacrosse in the MCLA but chose not to because, wait for it, their geography. Just the same as east coast kids not coming west, west coast kids don’t necessarily want to travel east for school.

      It is what you make it, and there are a ton of MCLA kids making it as close to a true varsity experience as they can through how organized their team is, how much they train, and through their own playing.

      Let’s not discredit the talent of any league.

      • No, I didn’t say that there were NO players that were good.  What I’m saying is that the totality of the individual programs in the NCLL are better than the MCLA b/c of the depth and numbers of players who grew up playing lacrosse.  Wow, you really need to work on reading comprehension.

        • “Also, the NCLL is FAR AND ABOVE more talented than the MCLA teams.  Why?  Easy: Geography.  Why are clubs teams in the NCLL?  Easy: B/c their school already has a NCAA Varsity team.  Why?  B/c they are mainly on the east coast and everyone has grown up playing it.  It’s like football, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, etc…  States like New York, Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, etc.. all have NCLL teams b/c the entire school is filled with players who grew up playing lacrosse, just like your college has…… wait for it…….. club soccer, club basketball, club baseball, club field hockey, etc….  The MCLA is simply a league where, as the author stated, said lacrosse team of said school is the highest level of lacrosse for said school.  It’s just taken more serious at the club level.  That’s all.  Talent wise, the NCLL is head and shoulders better.  NCLL players were on the JV squad of their high school while the Varsity players went to play in the NCAA.  For the MCLA, which are mostly is the Midwest, South east, and Western states, MAYBE a handful of players from their high school make it to NCAA teams.”

          In that jumble of nonsense, you never once said, the totality of the individual programs in the NCLL are better than the MCLA. 

          Here is an NCLL vs. MCLA match-up and as the Gamecocks are unranked, I’d say things look pretty even.

 reading comprehension is great bud, not once did I say you wrote there were “no players outside of the normal hotbeds”. I used the term ‘handful’, just like you. 

          • Right, a handful.  You tried to cite Peter Baum as an example like I didn’t know about him or said there is no one outside the traditional hotbeds that are good.  He’s clearly one the the best, if not best, players in the country.  

            I don’t see how saying the NCLL is better than the MCLA “discredits” the Peter Baums of the world?  Peter Baums of the world get on NCAA teams and win player of the year trophies.  But the remaining players, the ones who end up on NCLL or MCLA teams, when you are talking about just those two leagues, the NCLL is better than the MCLA talent wise b/c of the depth and numbers in the schools.

            And yes, anytime I say “the NCLL is better than the MCLA” in any form or similar phrase as such, I am basically saying the “totality” of NCLL teams are better than the MCLA.

    • No interest in getting involved in this conversation except to note that this point is absurd: 

      “Talent wise, the NCLL is head and shoulders better.”

      Having personally been involved in both leagues, I can’t possible imagine what you are basing this opinion on.

  2. Ok, when the MCLA lets Marquette and Michigan back it, come hit me up, I’ll eat all the crow you want.  But I know it won’t happen b/c they know that once there is a NCAA team on campus they know the club team will be incredibly lower level of seriousness of club ball.  (Basically what the NCLL is; yeah these are CLUB players.) The MCLA (or the former USILA and USLIA whatever) saw a market that was not being served and they served it.  The market being schools without NCAA teams.  They don’t want to compete against the NCAA or the NCLL.

    What’s wrong with Batman?  This website is littered with social references.

    • And therein lies the issue Edward. There ARE MCLA teams who feel like they want to be taken more serious than just another ‘club sport’, even with a pre-existing NCAA team on campus. 

      I do believe there are MCLA teams who are willing to compete with the NCLL and NCAA and you see that quite frequently with fall ball and spring scrimmages.I think you have to take into consideration that the MCLA has run itself as THE program long enough that programs begin to buy-in to that mindset and conduct themselves as such. Just because you have the title of a ‘club sport’, doesn’t mean you have to act like ultimate frisbee or club soccer. I’m not about to put a label on any other club league, but there is a stigma of the NCLL as being taken less seriously and I know from personal experience that the MCLA teams operate as THE lacrosse team on campus. 

      I see nothing wrong with this, if you want a more serious brand of lacrosse, than have it. It shouldn’t matter if you are at the club or varsity level.