Club College Grow The Game

Should We Take Club Ball Seriously?

Colorado College CSU MCLA NCAA Lacrosse
Colorado College (NCAA DIII) Vs CSU (MCLA D1)
Colorado College CSU MCLA NCAA Lacrosse

Colorado College (NCAA DIII) Vs CSU (MCLA D1)

Yesterday on Twitter, I engaged in a conversation with SwankLax about whether or not MCLA lacrosse, or club ball (as it’s more derogatorily called), should be talked about and regarded as on par with NCAA lacrosse.  Swank made some good points about building legitimacy through the largest existing college sporting body, the NCAA, and how that is the path towards true growth in his mind, but I think club ball in general, and the MCLA in particular, has a lot more to offer for the growth of lacrosse and the future of our sport.  Let’s start with Swank’s first tweets…

SwankLax club lacrosse mcla rant twitter

swanklax club mcla lacrosse twitter rant

A little back and forth.  I get what he’s saying to a certain extent, especially when he starts out with “D3 ain’t D1”.  That much is certainly true.  Now, while the difference between the top D3 lacrosse players and the Top D1 players isn’t as large as it is in basketball or football, it is still large, and pretty noticeable in most cases.  Paul Rabil is the best player on the planet while Mike Stone is a role player.  I get it.  But to say that the MCLA isn’t even in that conversation is ridiculous, because they actually are producing pro players right now, even if most are on the bottom of MLL depth charts and see little time.  You know the expression “these guys aren’t even in the same league”?  Well, these guys LITERALLY are in the same league.  That’s a flag down for dissing “club ball” right there.

And of course, the first guy I’ll bring up is Connor Martin.  Sure, Connor Martin dominated in college at Chapman, but so did Stephen Berger when he was at WAC.  We don’t just dismiss what Berger does now because he was a DIII guy.   He’s continued to do it at the pro level, and that helped keep DIII lacrosse legitimate in the eyes of most.  DII and DIII both have players like this, who are able to play at the highest levels, and it increases their legitimacy, but the fact is that the MCLA has more and more of those guys as well.  To not talk about the league merely because it’s club ball looks past the facts, and in the end, it’s just wrong.

Swank would go on to say more about club vs NCAA lax and how it relates to coverage:

So the problem is with how much coverage they get?

Listen, I love DIII lax as much as anyone.   I write about it, promote it, I played, I coached, I did the laxpower forum poll for years… all because I love DIII lax.  But I’m also a realist, and I know that people on the West Coast are never going to care about Wesleyan or Salisbury or Adelphi.  However, they WILL care about Oregon and USC and Arizona State.  And guess where those schools are playing their lacrosse?  Yup, the MCLA.  So if we truly want to draw in new fans, we need to make lacrosse available and appealing to them.  Lax at Oregon via club is good for the game.  D1 would be great, but if the school won’t do it then the local lacrosse community will.  And we, as the greater lacrosse community, should support that.

If the MCLA continues to grow, and the NCAA continues with their relatively slow adoption of the sport, how is that bad?  It’s not like having a club team makes a school less likely to add the sport.  In fact, I think a club team, when run properly, only supports the idea of lacrosse on campus.  The kids going there wanted a team so badly that they made one themselves.  If that isn’t a strong argument for adding lax, I don’t know what is.

Most people’s immediate response to the above statement is that it has only happened once so far, and very recently, in Michigan.  And that’s pretty much true.  UM is the only big school that has added lax as a direct result of their club team.  But I don’t know if that is the exception to the rule… in fact, I think it might be the start of a new trend: large schools adding lacrosse.  Universities and Colleges across the country can look at Michigan, and they can look at Marquette, and they can see which path they want to follow.  Do you want to build a team from scratch like Marquette is doing?  Or do you want to build a team from within, create an immediate alumni base, and give the team an immediate sense of history and belonging?

For my proposed growth pattern to succeed, we need schools to support their MCLA programs, but all we can do there is hope that it will happen, write some letters to college presidents and ADs, and see how the cards play out.  But we also need to support these programs ourselves, and that is something we can control.

I’d love to talk about DIII lax non-stop, because it’s where I come from, and it’s what I know.  But I also know that the game is growing and if we want to keep the feeling of community we need to cover and talk about lacrosse in new places, being played by people who will PAY to play.  The MCLA is still the new frontier of lacrosse, and it is where our community tells the NCAA what WE want.  And if we consider ourselves Game Growers, we all have a responsibility to support the MCLA.

If lacrosse keeps growing but the NCAA does not keep pace, more quality players will find themselves playing in the MCLA, and eventually, more of these guys will play in the MLL.  To me, college lacrosse is college lacrosse.  Some of it is better, and some of it is worse, but it’s all close enough to be part of the same larger conversation.  And BYU, Texas or ASU will always get more coverage than Stevenson, Carbini or Tufts.  That’s just life.

Main Photo courtesy CSU Lacrosse’s flickr

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 am our team’s president, I was the team VP last year and i did most of the work on our gear purchases for the past 3 years.  Believe me, with some of the general poor business practices prevalent in some of the lacrosse world it’s quite a headache if you really know what you want. I’ve done a lot of logistics and some Publicity work, fundraising, and tons of general athletic/business management.  I helped play a part in/ continue to manage a coaching transition with the gracious help of a large donor/parent.  I’m a team captain (a role that’s changed significantly since the hiring of a Coach who has had much more extensive lacrosse experience than our previous one).  I’m attempting (although it concerns me sometimes) to groom our teams future leaders, both on and off the field.  I’m an actions speak louder than words guy, and i hope they pick up on my attitude and level of seriousness i try to display.  I made a big push as an underclassman to begin to attempt as much recruiting as full time students can initiate.  There’s a lot i feel guilty that i haven’t delivered on just due to my own shortcomings as a leader combined with a heavy academic load in a major that i often struggle with. 

      We practiced 5 days a week for 12 weeks this off season, then 3 or 4 weeks after that at 3 times a week and watched film during that time as a team as well. 2-3 of these practices a week were at 6am in the morning.  I lift.  I condition.  I run agility drills.  I’m on the wall/throwing with teammates regularly.  I watch film on my own.  Were our practices 30-60 minutes less than a normal DIII school’s? probably. We have 22 field players, probably about 13 of which had previous lacrosse experience before coming to college.  We can’t run a practice like we have 35-50 players.

      I think i’m pretty committed.  Dare I say more committed than some players at several of the local DIII teams around me??? Is it okay for me to be proud of my hard work and dedication? I don’t think my team would beat nearly any of those teams around me.  We don’t have the numbers or the depth of talent to do it.  And still, we wouldn’t be playing for the same thing. Scrimmages are scrimmages, nothing more, nothing less, and the score is always irrelevant. 

      I lacked talent, or was a “late bloomer”, as a junior/senior in HS.  I matured a lot/really wrapped my head around the game heading into college and i think i learned pretty well what i needed to improve to be a truly successful lacrosse player.  Now, after some years of hard work, i’d put my individual talent level on part with any of the local DIII kids.  No, western PA DIII is relatively new and the “talent level” is not very strong as the good players leave to go out east to play DIII.  i’ve certainly gotten worked over by some NESCAC/ODAC/CAA/CAC/ECAC kids in summer tournaments, but i held my own with some of them as well.  Is it wrong of me to believe this/be happy with my work?

      I promote my team as much as i can because i know it takes a lot to be a part of it and i want it to be as successful as possible in the future.  Is there something wrong with that? Or should i just shut up and accept that i’m a lowly “club rat” that will never understand what it “truly means” to be “committed and dedicated” to anything?

      If i could hit a reset button 6 or 7 years ago and go back to when I and my family made some choices that probably hurt my athletic career, would i change them? Heck yes. If i could hit a reset button 4 years ago when i was picking schools, should i have tried to go East/to Ohio and attempted to walk on onto a bottom tier DIII school? would i be happier? probably/maybe.  But when i woke up and realized what i think i wanted (and i still say think because i’m not positive that my choices were/are the best for me/my future), i got to say that i’ve done the absolute best/most with what i can. 

      Take it or leave it, i’m very proud of my team and where it’s come, and where it’s going.  If it’s still an athletic transgression to promote it before i talk about the bottom rung of DIII schools, so be it.

      • My complaint with club lacrosse is not with you. From what you’ve said there, you have a lot to be proud of and would be right at home on an NCAA team. That work ethic is going to pay dividends in life.

  • it is just a matter of time until the top level mcla teams out west turn to d1 ncaa, and lower level mcla to d2 or d3.lot of good athletes, lax players coming from the west and western canada. the demand will be there.

  • Where is the NCLL in this discussion? Does that league deserve more attention? Jac Coyne’s article about the late founder, Scott Frederick, suggests that his league preferred to fly under the radar. I’ve heard many MCLA people dismiss the NCLL as a beer league whose players don’t work as hard as their MCLA peers. Obviously, this paints the league with a broad brush and I happen to know that the top NCLL teams could compete with any of the MCLA teams. Should the NCLL get more coverage than it does currently (I’m aware of none, by the way) simply because the sport is growing and the league provides students with the opportunity to continue playing?

    • Ok I can provide some insight here on the NCLL — I played on the club team the last 2 years at Syracuse and captained the team the 2nd year. ALMOST ALL of the 120ish NCLL teams are entirely student run (no coaches). Known exceptions to me are Towson and Hofstra. ALMOST ALL of the teams exist as JV squads to their school’s NCAA counterpart. In fact, the NCLL is the only option for these non-NCAA student teams, as the MCLA only permits schools without NCAA squads to enter a team.

      Last year our club at Syracuse finished 10-4, and defeated 2 of the elite 8 teams during the regular season (Cortland, and eventual National Runner Up Rutgers club). So by most measures our club was among the best 5 or 10 teams the NCLL has to offer. We held practice 2-3 times a week MAX, usually 2x. We never, EVER had coordinated team lifting, maybe ran sprints 1x every 2 weeks, and we certainly didnt watch film or have access to any facilities other than a field to play on. This experience to me, although really, really fun, had a patently “club” feel to it. 

       This fall I moved on to grad school at Oregon and from making the team and training in fallball, I can personally say that it has been a big step up from my NCLL experience. This has been a step in time commitment, physical effort, competitiveness, and yes also the overall talent/athleticism around me. Obviously I can only speak for how our team at UO is run, but between the 4-5x a week practices in fallball, mandatory lifting with the NCAA strength coach, running tests, 5 coaches, and air of seriousness and competition within the squad, it certainly doesnt feel like club anymore.

      As far as “does the NCLL deserve more coverage,” see below for my post yesterday for my thoughts/opinions on the logic and process of sports journalism. Without saying anything about the quality of play, it seems reasonable to assume the team redundancy issue of the NCLL diminishes the demand for coverage. I think most NCLL fans are there on the sideline supporting their friends/family in person. 

  • How do you define “Grow the Game”?  Is the goal to grow the number of people playing lacrosse at any given level (HS, college, etc.) or is the goal to grow the quality of the game?   We played lacrosse in public Jr. & High Schools on LI in the 70’s and many of the best HS lax players never played lacrosse in college (they never went to college or worked their way through).  They were hard working, hard playing children from blue collar families and although they may have not had the family funds needed to supplement a meager lacrosse scholarship at a D1 type school – they were probably rich compared to the average family demographic of today’s high level college football or basketball player. The point being that the economically poor but athletically rich football or basketball player plays college ball while the lacrosse player does not play (true 30 years ago and still true now) .  If you want to grow the quality of the lacrosse game at the college (and subsequently pro) level you will need to somehow raise the quality of the scholarships (and work to lower the GPA requirements like football and basketball) in order to truly place the most talented athletes on the lax field.  If you want to just grow the number of people playing the game in college then continue to grow the pay to play version of the game. The pay to play version may not be growing the quality of the current lacrosse game today but maybe it is growing the interest in the game which leads to growth in TV coverage which leads to growth in college lacrosse revenue production which ultimately leads to growth in scholarship funding for future lacrosse athletes? So to answer my own question – with another question maybe the goal is to just grow the number of people playing and through that, the eventual quality of the highest level college and pro game?

  • Wow, 135 comments. This is insane.

    My $0.02; I played at a Top 25 DIII school, had a lot of success there and a great time. We had several players get cut every season and they in turn transferred to other lower level NCAA schools and a few to big name MCLA schools. Now, I know these players excelled at the club level as I still kept in contact. One of the biggest reasons they excelled was they received a chance to play and become a better lacrosse player. At that same time can they step on the field now in say a summer tournament like Lake Placid, compete and be recognized. Probably not, because they never reached that level. The MCLA is a different level all together, a lower level at that. The attitude towards athletics is different because the commitment is less, but there is a lacrosse program for everyone so no matter where a player ends up if they are happy at that school/team then good for them.

    The argument needs to cease, Arizona State would beat Southwestern in Texas; however, they would not come close to beating Montclair State or even St. Leo, two mid-level NCAA programs. So that’s that. If you’re happy playing lacrosse where you’re playing then be happy with your decision and don’t try to compare. Brag all you want about your school, your championships, and the points you scored for your school…but, when you step on the field against other players from other divisions and you can’t back it up it should be humbling. There’s a reason most players choose club over NCAA, that’s the lifestyle/culture of the school and the commitment to the team.

  • Isn’t Lacrosse suppose to be a fun sport to play? To me it really does not matter what level you play on or what school you go to, your suppose to have fun. Seems like some people lost that, who cares about all these politics, play the game, play the game with heart and play the game with pride. Thats what lacrosse is about on any level. We all share care about lacrosse in general, do want lacrosse to be on the same stage as the NFL, NBA, NHL and so on? Yes we do, so we should be a whole in the lacrosse community and growing the game on every level.  And stop complaining who’s better the NCAA or MCLA. GTG!! 

  • So Ive read most of the comments in this discussion and a few things stood out.

         In reference to the issue of commitment. I dont think anyone is downplaying the sacrifice NCAA athletes make, but
    it would be ignorant to simply list all the sacrifices without
    addressing the advantages they have over an MCLA team. NCAA teams overall commit much more time than MCLA teams, that is not up for debate. But what hasnt been monetioned much is that they have the means to commit this time. Even at small schools, teams that are considered varsity rarely have to deal with the problems of even the most established MCLA teams. My particular MCLA team, which is not a top 5 DI we are a top 20 DII school, has regular 5am practices in the weight room or gymnasium during January leading up to the season. However, as rain is usually a problem and the school did not have a turf field until recently, we were often kicked out, even having gone through the proper channels in reserving the venue, by varsity teams that needed an indoor venue, including soccer and Women’s Volleyball who were not even in season. This would happen without warning leaving 35 willing and committed athletes out in the rain at 5am. The desire to put in the work or the commitment is there but the means are not. Also, an NCAA student-athlete has to be just that, a student and an
    athlete, the athletic department and coaching staff takes it from there.
    But in many cases, in most cases, there is no administrative staff for
    an MCLA team short of the club officers and captains, and one or two
    coaches. Sometimes the club sports dept will help but for the most part
    the team budget, scheduling, equipment and apparel orders, eligibility
    issues, travel etc. are handled by a group of 18-23 year-olds trying to balance a full academic course load with a full practice schedule.
        There has also been mention of the finances. Even if the NCAA player doesnt recieve a dime of athletic scholarship help, the financial burden is still several thousand dollars more for the MCLA player. Most MCLA teams that are committed, and there are many more than you would think, pay anywhere from $1000-$3000 to play in addition to the expensive equipment needed. I dont think theres any room for discussion, MCLA athletes commit more financially.
         Academics is a very tricky issue in this debate. In many ways MCLA and NCAA athletes are held to the same academic standards. The MCLA uses slightly modified NCAA DIII eligibility requirements. While we’ve established that the time commitment that would impede upon a students academic progress is greater in the NCAA, I would argue that they are given tools to balance the workload that do not exist in the MCLA. As club athletes, MCLA students are not given priority enrollment. This may seem like a small advantage but it can mean the difference between playing or not, or even fielding a team or not. Without this, it can be difficult to schedule around practices, especially in majors that require labs or a significant extra committment. In some cases, where budget cuts limit the number of classes offered, teams must deal with rampant ineligibility because students could not even pick up enough units. Do you think an NCAA team’s season would ever be threatened because of lack of available classes?
         Finally, with regards to exposure, I think it is naive to think that the MCLA takes time or fans away from NCAA teams. The bottom line is that, while there are 83 more schools in the 3 divisions of the NCAA than in the 2 divisions of the MCLA, the overall student population and the national name recognition belong to the MCLA. That translates into the highest number of NEW lacrosse fans. I have been around the MCLA for most of my life through my family and now Im playing in it. I am an MCLA fan so I want to read about MCLA lacrosse. Nothing against these teams but I am typically not interested, even if the lacrosse is better, in the outcome of the Mercyhurst vs Merrimack game just as they dont care about the Saint Mary’s – UC Santa Cruz game. Many people like myself read LAS and previously CollegeLax because thats where we can get information on the teams and the games we want to follow. If LAS stopped following the MCLA and stepped up their coverage of DII and DIII I wouldnt suddenly become a Tufts fan I would just stop visiting LAS (no offense).
         Overall there just arent enough NCAA teams to support the explosion of youth and high school players that love the game and want to continue to play. I think the Michigan model of transition is great but unrealistic for most schools. The way I see growth happening, especially in the west is not on the institutional level but on the conference level. For example, I can see a conference like the WCC adding somewhere down the line. All member schools with the exception of USF have a history of stable competative club lacrosse teams. With the exception of BYU and to a lesser extent USD, big time football wont pose a title IX problem, and the small school model matches some of the east coast demographics. I just dont think one team from any conference wants to be the first and/or only west coast team. Regardless of who moves up or when they do, growth at any and every level can do more to help the game than to hurt it.

  • I went to a DI school in Southern California to run on a Cross Country scholarship. I also played on a MCLA team at that school that, after winning the DII championship my freshman year, made the jump to DI. I now live in an area where a bunch of former NCAA DII athletes live and play post-collegite lacrosse. I know what it’s like to be a DI athlete and I know what it’s like to be a MCLA athlete. When my team won the DII championship, we were not very organized. We had roughly 25 guys on our roster and maybe 15-18 would regular show up for practice. After we made the jump to DI, we struggled for a year or two before we hired a coach who help put us on the right path. The team we had my senior year was exponentially better than the team we had my freshman year. Obviously most MCLA teams can’t compete with the top DI and DIII teams. I would say that the top MCLA teams can compete with the lower end DI schools, mid range DIII schools and DII schools. While my MCLA lacrosse experience didn’t demand as much time as my NCAA DI CC experience did, we were forced to get the most out of our limited practice time. Most guys put time in outside of practice to condition, shoot, and hit the wall. 

    Playing post collegiate lacrosse where I do now, I get to go up against all conference guys from DII and DIII teams. The talent gap isn’t what people would think it would be. I’ve been able to hold my own against these guys even though I didn’t play at their level. I think there are a lot of great and committed athletes at MCLA school but the fact of the matter is that the coaching isn’t there for a lot of MCLA teams. 

    I think that as the high school game continues to explode and NCAA lacrosse doesn’t grow, more and more high school athletes will turn to the MCLA. As a high school senior, would you rather play MCLA lacrosse at a school like Oregon or University of San Diego or would you rather play NCAA DIII lacrosse somewhere like Cortland State or Dickinson (NCAA DIII quarterfinalists in 2011)?

    The MCLA gets a lot of coverage online because a lot of MCLA athletes are use to running their programs and know that the only way the MCLA will get coverage is if they cover it themselves.

  • I really hate this argument. I think everyone should stop bitching because, we’re a bunch of grown men who play lacrosse at a particular level (or root for it) for whatever our reasons are. You can’t paint club ball with 1 brush, you can’t paint NCAA with 1 brush. Swank, if you want to let one organization define your lacrosse experience over another, that is your prerogative and I can do nothing to change that. I, however, will not allow 4 letters decide for me what I think is good or bad lacrosse, I will let my eyes and my mind do that for me. I used to be like you, you know. I was an NCAA football and lacrosse player. I know EXACTLY what it is like to have coaches pick your schedule for you, have curfews, weight room, game film, when I arrived on campus our coach gave every player a packet of where and when they would be every day from the second we arrived on campus until the moment we left for that season. I thought club was club, NCAA was the pinnacle of my lacrosse experience. I have played with elite players in both sports who play professionally, in high school I played against Fairfield County and New Haven counties best, many of those players playing NCAA Div 1 and some going pro. Last summer I hopped in goal for shits and giggles and had Ryan Nizolek roast a good 100mph shot at me. 

    I thought that way, until I myself got involved with MCLA lacrosse. I didn’t even know there was a difference between NCLL, MCLA, NECLL, etc club teams. The only difference, as far as I can tell, between the NCAA, and the club organizations, are the rules governing them, and the support systems in place. The commitment by players, staffs, and schools vary widely at all levels of all institutions. You say NCAA IS BETTER THAN CLUB HAHAHA, I can point to Michigan the last 3 years and let them go play Rivier. You can say MCLA IS REAL, NCLL IS BAD BEER LEAGUE, I am sure Salisbury’s club team could man handle half the teams in the MCLA Div II, and half the teams in NCAA Div III. There is no qualifier that says my experience is different playing NCAA, MCLA, NCLL, or some independent club team. 

    The guy who said Montclair State would destroy ASU or CSU earlier, thats a joke. My uncle played for Montclair, his name alone got me noticed by them, Kean, and a few others in Jersey. I have watched ASU and Colorado the last couple of years, and ASU wins that hands down. Dylan Westoff is a talented player regardless of the 4 letter tag you stick to his name and MSU would have difficulties with him no matter who he is playing for.

    You’re saying that MCLA teams arent as committed as NCAA teams, you go tell that to the United States Coast Guard Academy. Those guys are dedicated, talented, and draw players from all over the US with lots of talent (From MD and CT and LI as much as anywhere else) They’re not playing club, they’re dedicated military men who, on top of doing all the things NCAA athletes do, are preparing to defend our country. Compare them to Mitchell, in the same town, who have been on the bottom of DIII for years. Briarcliffe right now, which is drawing a ton of Long Island talent, is better right now, than they were as NCAA D II squad. I know, I have seen them play at both levels. When they were NCAA D II, they had 12 guys, all incredibly talented players, and lost to DIII teams because they couldn’t run with you. That Briarcliffe team in spring 2008 would absolutely NOT be competing for an MCLA championship, thats for sure. Pagano has taken that team from a joke in the NCAA to a national contender in the MCLA because his school, his staff, and his team work to be there, not because theres a brand label saying the NCAA is this and the MCLA is that.

    Where am I going with this? Well, I’ll tell you. The team and its players, staff, and school officials dictate what level that team competes at. Not the governing body they play for. There are varsity teams in the MCLA. There are talented NCAA D 1 athletes in the NCLL. There are kids who have no business playing college lacrosse in all of those leagues who pick up the sport to drink with their friends and can manage because they are great athletes (yes, there are, whether you like it or not, those guys in NCAA from D1 to D3.) 

    With so few teams of “varsity” status out west, the MCLA is their varsity. I don’t even consider the MCLA a club league in the same way despite the bottom 100 teams in the NCAA (all divisions together) being at or around the same level, we don’t call them club. Rather than complain about who is better than whom, or what banner is better or who isn’t getting more exposure, revel in what we are witnessing in lacrosse. We get to see this game boom the way the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL exploded centuries ago. We are a part of this experience no matter what level we are participating in, and when I look back at my experience I am not going to care about which league I played for, I am going to care about the other great stuff that came along with it.

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