It’s rare that a step backwards is actually a step in the right direction. However, perhaps we should consider moving back to an older way of thinking with our men’s national lacrosse team. Perhaps would should give the NCAA Division 1 champion the chance to represent the United States of America at the World Games!
Notice I say that they should “the chance”, and not “be the team”. That becomes important later.
The United States used to send the best collegiate lacrosse team to the World Games as a national representative, and this approach could definitely still work today. Our collegiate teams are simply some of the best lacrosse squads in the world.
Now, it would be a very different national team to be sure, and of course there are some problems that need to be addressed, but overall the idea has serious potential. It’s totally outside the realm of need, and probably completely unnecessary, but my mind went to the idea while watching this weekend’s college games, and now I can’t get it out of my head. The only way to stop thinking about it is to write a little blob about it. Blob, blob, blob.
On an individual basis, the players on the college team wouldn’t be as good as the all-star players on Team USA. On average, it really wouldn’t even be close. College lacrosse teams often have a couple of guys along the lines of a Mark Mattews, Rob Pannell or Steele Stanwick, but it’s usually not the whole team. However, even with that in mind, I STILL think the US should send the latest National Champion to the World Games… or at least give them a fair shot at going.
If the World Games had been held last Summer, Virginia could have gone on to represent the United States. And honestly, I might taken the Cavs when they were peaking last year over any team in the world. Like I said, on a player by player by basis, Virginia, or Duke in 2010, doesn’t compare to a Major League Lacrosse-laden roster of a typical national team. Connor English is great, but would I take him over a Powell or a Leveille if we’re playing in Placid? Probably not. So how in the world can I even argue for a college team to go as the US representative?
If lacrosse were just a game about individuals, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But it’s a team sport. So we are!
The argument boils down a team approach vs. an all-star approach, and I just want to see it play out. I think it could add a really interesting layer to the relationship between collegiate and international lacrosse.
Here’s my proposal:
- Select a US Men’s National Team like we do every 4 years. This team is made up of anyone eligible to try out, from current pros to current college players. US Lacrosse will still run the selection process.
- Create a second national team comprised of members of the latest National Champion at the Division 1 NCAA level. Cut the roster down to meet International Lacrosse guidelines in terms of size and nationality, and give the team two weeks to prepare for the play-in game. Only American players would who were enrolled in the latest semester at the school would be eligible. The Coaching Staff would remain on. The school would be responsible for all costs for prep. US lacrosse would cover travel and costs for the game.
- Host a play-in game under International Rules two weeks after the NCAA Finals. This game will feature the latest collegiate champion and the US Men’s Team. Winner takes all and goes on to represent the United States at the FIL World Championships.
- If the collegiate team wins, they don the red, white and blue and play as Team USA. If Team USA wins, they go on to fight the rest of the world for lacrosse domination. US lacrosse runs the team either way, but the Coaching Staffs stay on no matter what.
So, how would this work?
The World Games would be hosted in early July, and the NCAA Championships would have taken place over a month earlier, on Memorial Day. The US team would play the collegiate champion on June 14th, and the winner would then have about 4 weeks to make final preparations for the World Games.
This “US Championship” game would provide an exciting and meaningful lead up game to the World Games, and would help the international scene capitalize on the college lacrosse craze in a major way, every four years, directly leading up to the games. It would provide the lacrosse world with a fantastic game to watch, and could do a lot to continue the debate on team vs individual development.
The best of the best from two distinct styles would get to face off. It would give a battle tested group of college kids an opportunity to play for their country, and keep their magical ride going. And finally, it would incentivize the US Team to continue to put together a top notch team, while adding on a little more pressure to perform and come ready to play.
In my heart of hearts, I think the US team of pro all-stars would usually win. Most years, the college team would just be a great tune up for the World Games. The pro lacrosse world is still a relatively small one, and these guys know each other well. However, knowing that they’ll have to face a seasoned college team just to GET to the World Games could be a great motivator for guys we all know to be the best already.
Why should this happen?
Lacrosse is a team game. And the US has long been the leader when it comes to field lacrosse. If we want to maintain our position at the top, while also showing the rest of the world how the game should be played, the above model makes a lot of sense.
It still brings together a top notch group of established players, but it also puts an added importance on teamwork and preparation. It puts the pressure on the pros, and gives the underdogs as fair a shot as possible.
A play-in game would be good for college lacrosse, and it would be good for international lacrosse. It would keep an emphasis on team play, and quickly become one of the most important games of the year, especially if it were played every year, even when the World Games are not being held.
The play-in game would also provide the chance for the lacrosse community to once again come together and celebrate the sport. It enables both international lacrosse and college lacrosse to benefit from greater exposure. This is the kind of thing no other sport would ever try – not because the idea is crazy, but because other sports are too cautious. ESPN would probably eat it up.
NCAA Champions vs. Team USA for all the marbles, who wouldn’t want to see that? And if a truly special college team should happen to come through and beat Team USA in a World Games year? Well then that school might not only be a national champion… they might become a WORLD Champion. That would be pretty darn cool and unique to our sport.
The 2018 World Champions, (insert your college name here) Lacrosse. That’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?