Hot Pot: D3 Vs. MCLA Vs. D1 Rant

Tufts Stevenson Lacrosse
Sorry WAC, Stevenson is SU's new big rival.

We all have our biases. In a friendly conversation circling around where a kid wants to go to college, I will often promote the D3 path first (over D1, D2 and MCLA), because of my own historical bias (I played and coached D3 lacrosse).

Of course then I have to laugh that bias right off, because I realize that my experiences are not that of every other player out there… And also because I realize that every single decision is different for each student-athlete.

What brings up this week’s Hot Pot rant is the idea that one path can somehow be better than another, on an inherent level.

Wesleyan Lacrosse Bowdoin lax

Nothing wrong with this…

As lacrosse pontificators, many of us believe that we know what is best. We’ve seen the D1 recruiting circus (kids who have never played varsity are committing), the exorbitant price tags of many smaller private institutions ($50,000 a year), the rising costs of playing in the MCLA (many programs charge around $3,000 a year), and the overall improvement of the game from D1 to MCLA D2.

From the above scenario, some of us may feel like we have found the “secret” best path. It’s almost like we’ve run regression analyses in our heads and have come up with an answer, but I’m here to tell you that none of us have found any secrets, and that the college selection process is just as murky and individualistic as its ever been.

You see, some kids are looking for smalls schools, and some kids are looking for big schools. Some guys want a good D1 sports program at the school they attend, others (like myself) could not possibly care less, and yet others want to be a part of that very D1 scene themselves. Some guys want to be big school business majors, while others want to study economics at an elite small college and then pursue an MBA. Others want to study poetry, or film, or physics.

Some guys want to play club, while others would choose joining a fraternity over that option. Some guys will get a ton of aid from a school like Duke or Wesleyan because they are excellent musicians, and college will become more affordable for them. Some guys will be so strong academically, that they can go to their home state school for free. Some guys really care about playing NCAA lacrosse, and others don’t.

And a $5,000 difference in potential price tag is usually not enough to make this decision any easier. The point here is that there is no “better” choice in general. Every kid’s decision is their own, important, and different.

The goal for a college coach should not be to convince only the top potential recruits that their school or option is the best, but to find the kids who want what the school has to offer, and then draw those players in. The first path will result in transfers, unhappy players, and regrets. The second path leads to success and family.

When I was at Wesleyan, I thought about transferring… twice. It was a big change for me from high school, and each time, Coach Raba offered up his help and services because he wanted me to have a good college experience. My success and happiness were more important to him than convincing me I loved Wesleyan. I ended up staying put, and when I did, things went back to the way they were. Coach Raba is a man with his priorities in the right place, because he knows that the college decision is never so simple.

To neatly surmise that one college option is clearly better than others based on $5,000 and a small set of criteria? All that means is that a good deal of bias is showing.

To go a little bit further, student-athletes should look at all their options, weigh the pros and cons, and then make their decision. D1 isn’t better than D3 for certain players, and the MCLA, or NCLL, make perfect homes for tons of other kids. Each level, and each school within each level, has different things to offer, and it’s never as simple as one level of play or college experience inherently being better than another.

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.


  • I agree the situation is much more complex than just the difference between paying more for tuition or more for lacrosse fees.  MCLA D1 vs NCAA D3 is an interesting discussion though.  I think one of the attractions of Oregon’s MCLA team is that it resides at a huge BCS football school with all that goes with it.  That is missing at D3 schools.  In an ideal world, the choice would be made on where the student could get the best education.  Oh yeah, that must be in some parallel universe. 

    In the NCAA, is there a huge difference in the time commitments between playing D1 and D3 lacrosse?  From what I have read D1 at a major school it comes close to full time.  Something like, academics-lacrosse-social life-  pick two.

    • “Something like, academics-lacrosse-social life-  pick two.” I find it hard to believe that D1 lacrosse players don’t have a social life after some of the tv stories I’ve seen about lacrosse in recent years

      • I don’t think he ruled the third option out, did he? It was more like like: Lacrosse & _________ pick one of the two. As you can see in my comment above, I don’t completely agree.

        Thanks to both for your comments.

    • see that is exactly what I’m saying… for you a big D1 experience is attractive. For me it was not. It’s always different.

      And I also think there are plenty of kids and parents out there who do make the decision based on academics. I simply believe that more should do the same.

      As far as choosing two of three options, I believe you can be a good student, good lacrosse player and social person. if social life means going out and partying all the time, well, that doesn’t really leave much room of much else at all! In moderation, I still think a well-rounded kid can do all three. BUT, as you suggest, that is not always the case.

  • I play lacrosse for a top d3 school and I could have gone d1 but the d1 teams that wanted me didn’t have the majors that I wanted. I still needed money for college and so I got money for academics. But the time commitment is very similar with d1 and d3 ball. The situation where you have to pick between academics lacrosse and social life is when someone is taking a really hard major. Then they have much more homework then the ones with the easier majors. I believe this to be true at the division one level as well by the stories I’ve heard from my friends.

  • i was one of the guys who just wanted to play in the NCAA… That was the dream, but I was only recruited to play D2 and D3, mind you I was okay with that because I also wanted a small school. I got in, got recruited, didn’t get the money… It’s hard to sign away 40k in loans for four years of lax and a school… Ended up going to with the only affordable, and cheapest option; MCLA public school. Played MCLA D2 for a year, but that was hardly lax. It was a bunch of bros who liked to party with lacrosse sticks. Seriously, showed up and pre-gamed… before actual games. In the end what’s “best” for myself came down to what’s affordable and it was a lose, lose, lose situation. No lax, large public school, and I’m still paying too much…

  • I pooled all inter-divisional games from 2002-2012 and fit a mixed Poisson model that includes the factors year, home/away/neutral, team division, opponent division, team offense, opponent defense, game pacing. My model suggests that if Salisbury had been D1 its average national ranking would have been about #15 during those years. In 2007 Salisbury ranked #7, in 2012 Salisbury ranked #1. This is a rare example where the best NCAA team may have been a D3 team.

    Unified top 20 for 2012:

     rk  |        team         | div |  str  |  ofs  |  dfs  |  sos  —–+———————+—–+——-+——-+——-+——-   1 | Salisbury           |   3 | 2.113 | 1.560 | 0.738 | 0.828   2 | Massachusetts       |   1 | 1.906 | 1.465 | 0.768 | 1.040   3 | Loyola Maryland     |   1 | 1.892 | 1.395 | 0.737 | 1.063   4 | Princeton           |   1 | 1.772 | 1.298 | 0.732 | 1.071   5 | Maryland            |   1 | 1.671 | 1.257 | 0.752 | 1.104   6 | Notre Dame          |   1 | 1.647 | 1.043 | 0.633 | 1.095   7 | Lehigh              |   1 | 1.637 | 1.163 | 0.711 | 1.021   8 | Denver              |   1 | 1.619 | 1.430 | 0.883 | 1.104   9 | Virginia            |   1 | 1.599 | 1.394 | 0.872 | 1.098  10 | Johns Hopkins       |   1 | 1.599 | 1.186 | 0.742 | 1.077  11 | Duke                |   1 | 1.527 | 1.371 | 0.898 | 1.108  12 | Cornell             |   1 | 1.521 | 1.370 | 0.901 | 1.076  13 | Colgate             |   1 | 1.427 | 1.486 | 1.041 | 1.060  14 | Yale                |   1 | 1.416 | 1.338 | 0.945 | 1.080  15 | North Carolina      |   1 | 1.412 | 1.408 | 0.997 | 1.076  16 | Bucknell            |   1 | 1.375 | 1.216 | 0.885 | 1.056  17 | Syracuse            |   1 | 1.352 | 1.205 | 0.891 | 1.084  18 | Bryant              |   1 | 1.333 | 1.142 | 0.857 | 0.933  19 | Drexel              |   1 | 1.324 | 1.156 | 0.873 | 1.084  20 | SUNY Cortland       |   3 | 1.322 | 1.042 | 0.788 | 0.856

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