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…
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