The MCLA has made some big strides over the past 10 years. In the last two to three years, the league has really stepped its game up and the playing field has been trending towards more equality between the two collegiate athletic associations. The gap used to be really wide but I, for one, see that gap diminishing to a greater extent than was believed possible in the past.
For a little anecdotal evidence, one need look no further than the recent transfer news surrounding Denver and BYU. The Houghton twins are leaving Denver for MCLA powerhouse BYU and seem pretty darn happy about it. They played for the Pioneers in 2007, took a 2 year leave to go on a Mormon church mission to Argentina and are now back stateside ready to lax it up again. As freshmen, Jacob Houghton played in 15 games notching 2 assists for the Pioneers in 2007, while Jared played in 11 games and notched a goal and a bunch of ground balls. Anytime a freshman sees the field for a division one team, you know they have a lot of potential but when they play in double digit games, they are usually something special. The Houghtons are both 6’3″ and over 210 lbs… and they play midfield.
Are they transferring to BYU for reasons other than just lacrosse? It sure seems that way but looking deeper, what exactly does that mean? In my opinion, we can draw two major conclusions from this:
1) MCLA lacrosse is not a huge step down from Div1 lacrosse anymore. There are certainly still some pretty big differences between the two, and Div 1 lacrosse is definitely of a higher quality but a huge gap no longer exists. The Houghtons seem very excited to play there and recognize that the level of play is excellent and up to their standards. By virtue of playing in the MCLA the Houghtons will also lend more credibility to the League. And with top notch, blue chip players in the MCLA (who also played in the NCAA with success), it gets much harder for the extremist NCAA folks to just dismiss the league as club ball and nothing more.
2) MCLA schools offer things that NCAA schools don’t. There isn’t a college in the US with as strong a Mormom presence as BYU. That is a HUGE draw for the school. There are a lot of other schools out there that have an MCLA team that also offer some things not many other schools in the US can offer, like Pepperdine’s amazing California ocean front campus… or Michigan’s history-rich tradition… or the Colorado School of Mines’ specialty programs… or Tulane because it is in New Orleans… or SCAD’s art programs… you get the picture. As lacrosse diversifies and expands, kids who might not be your prototypical laxers will pick up a spoon and start playing. Some of them will be very good but won’t be interested in Div 1 schools that offer lacrosse and they will play in the MCLA. This will not happen overnight and as more and more NCAA schools pick up the sport, the effects will be felt less but the level of play will continue to improve, maybe even to the point where the differences are so small, no one will really notice. Although I think these days are still far off, I can see them coming and since it means lacrosse will only expand and improve, I must say I’m excited!