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The Boston University Model For D1 Lacrosse Growth

6 - Published February 15, 2012 by in College, Grow The Game

Boston University recently announced that they will be adding D1 men’s lacrosse to their offering of intercollegiate varsity sports, and we’re going to take a deeper look at WHY Boston U. added lax, and HOW they were able to do it.  My focus will be on trying to establish a model or set of criteria for sustained future growth, especially at the D1 level.  For the most part, we won’t be looking at schools that had former D1 teams, just those that could.

Boston University isn’t the biggest school to add D1 lacrosse in recent memory.  That distinction obviously belongs to Michigan, and if you’re looking to add SEC schools, PAC-10 and Big 12 schools (or whatever those super conferences call themselves now) then the Michigan model is probably the one to follow.  Build a club team, see a lot of success, bring in a ton of money and MAKE it happen.  But those moves will take time, dedication and definitely won’t just happen overnight, or even over the course of a year or two.  The path for big time schools to add lacrosse has already been laid out.  ASU, BYU, Oregon, Florida and others have their work cut out for them.

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But there are a LOT more D1 schools out there like Boston Univerisity than Michigan, and while we want to keep the biggest schools in the back of our minds and see growth at BCS institutions, we also want to see mid-range, and small, D1 colleges and universities add the sport.  And BU Is a great example to follow.

BU has a strong history with sports.  They have a legendary ice hockey program, have had some excellent basketball players come through the school, and they even have a strong crew program.  One thing they don’t have, however, is football.  And this opened up the doors for lacrosse faster than anything else, at least in my opinion.  Football is often the great killer of new men’s sports at both colleges and high schools, and BU not having a program was instrumental in the school adding lacrosse.

Simply put, football requires a TON of money and resources.  And most schools don’t make money from their football programs, especially those outside of the big boys.  Football also requires a TON of players, scholarships, coaches, field space, equipment, travel budgets, etc.  The list goes on and on.  Now lacrosse is also an expensive sport, but roster sizes in lacrosse are HALF that of football, scholarship offerings are about 1/8th the size and even coaching staff requirements are far less.  Lacrosse, unlike football, doesn’t require its own stadium AND there is a complimentary women’s sport (women’s lacrosse, duh) that a school can offer which as similar roster size requirements.

So far we have two major reasons for BU adding lacrosse:

1) Boston University has a strong sports tradition.

2) BU doesn’t have a football team.

But what are the other reasons for adding lacrosse?  It can’t just be that they like sports and don’t have football.  There has to be more going on here… and there is!

The first “other” is money.  Schools need money to make it happen.  BU got a big donation, and so did Furman.  Michigan also raised a ton of  money to fund their program. But that’s obvious, because this is America.  Nothing happens without cash.  But money isn’t the only driver here.

Lacrosse players graduate from college at a very high rate.  Lacrosse players tend to have good grades in high school, and every year there are more and more kids playing and interested in playing D1 lax.  The City of Boston itself has seen a HUGE growth in lacrosse, and more HS kids play the game there now than ever.  Simply put, this means BU can bring in qualified student-athletes, recruit locally, attract a higher caliber of student overall, and push their school into the upper echelon of college sports, by adding the fastest growing sport in the country.  For BU this is a win-win-win.

So are there other schools out there that could follow this path?  All they need to do is meet three or four criteria points, and the potential is there.  Let’s look at a couple of potential candidates, shall we?  First off, we’ll stick to New England.  There is a lot of high school growth in this region, their ties to the game overall are lengthy, and football is not exactly King in the area.  It seems like a good place to kick things off.  Or is it?  Finding schools to fit the model might not be that easy!  I guess we’ll just have to do the research first.

In Massachusetts, only two D1 colleges do NOT already have lacrosse; BC (used to have a D1 team) and Northeastern.  BC’s team floundered for years, but their club program is making big strides on campus.  Unfortunately, with BC’s focus on football, basketball AND hockey, lacrosse will need to make a big push in order to become reality.  But it could happen.  The fact that SO many local Catholic schools play the sport will definitely help any push that does come.  Northeastern is another possibility, but probably only if they pulled a BU and dropped football first  and since they don’t have football anymore (thanks for the correction comment, LaxGrowthBlog!)  lacrosse is definitely a better GREAT fit for Northeastern.  As the LGBlog said in their comment, Northeastern SHOULD be near the top of the list.

The only D1 school in Maine is the University of Maine and they still offer football.  And their focus is clearly on hockey.  The in-state talent in Maine will need to improve before they will add a team.  And even then, drawing kids up to Orono, ME is going to be difficult when they can go play in Jacksonville, FL or Georgia.  New Hampshire has 2 D1 schools, but UNH does not have a team anymore.  Dartmouth obviously does.  UNH dropped the program in the 90s.  This is one of those state schools that could add lacrosse, because of good in-state talent, but the cost issues and Title IX issues stand in the way.  Unlikely to happen it seems, especially if football stays on.

Connecticut has some serious potential.  There are 7 D1 schools in the state and FIVE of them already offer D1 lacrosse.  UConn and Central CT State do not.  UConn just went D1A-BCS in football, but this might not be a death knell for lax.  If they’re investing in their sports program, they MUST know that CT has great in-state lacrosse talent, much more than football, so all hope isn’t lost.  But they do not meet the model for success.  So there are definitely some concerns.  CCSU is also unlikely as of now, but with a lower football budget, and the knowledge that they will never compete with UConn at basketball, they COULD make the move.  If either school decides to add lax, I wouldn’t be surprised to see CCSU do it first.

Rhode Island has 4 D1 schools and THREE of them offer D1 lacrosse.  Brown, Bryant and Providence all offer lacrosse.  Providence doesn’t have football, and should really support their lacrosse team more, but both Brown and Bryant are doing it right.  It may be the biggest little state in the Union, but RI has some lax talent.  I’d love to see URI add a team, but that school does seem a little fixated on their D1AA football team.  I don’t get it.

Finally, Vermont has only 1 D1 University, and UVM does offer lacrosse, so that’s a win.  And what’s that you say?  They do NOT have a football team either?  No team at all?   Not since 1974?  And they cut baseball last year and kept lacrosse?  Sounds like these guys actually know what they’re doing!  Football was never a winner at UVM, and it wasn’t popular.  Baseball was going down a very similar path.  But the school saw lacrosse as a sport with potential, and kept it around, while reinvesting in the program.  Being the oldest non-Ivy in New England, UVM has always been setting trends.  Hopefully the other New England state schools follow suit (UNH, UMaine, URI, UConn, CCSU).  If that were to happen, the only D1 schools in New England WITHOUT lax would be Northeastern and BC, both located in lax-crazed Boston.  And then they’d pretty much HAVE to join in.  Peer pressure!

Overall, D1 New England institutions are now 14/21 for offering lacrosse.  TWO THIRDS of New England D1 schools have lacrosse.  My model is starting to make a lot of sense, isn’t it?  Schools without football (UVM, Providence, BU) all have the sport, and those with big time football programs (BC, UConn) don’t.  Is it really that simple?????

Other interesting schools to look at:  UMBC – no football team, but they do have a lacrosse team.  Binghamton – again, no football but they do have lax.  Jacksonville – has a football team, but they are not in a football playing conference.   They also offer lacrosse.  Marquette – killed football in 1960, adding lacrosse next year.  St. Joseph’s – has no football team, but they do offer lacrosse.  Add in to the mix Siena, Manhattan, a huge school like Hofstra, and a number of others and you really do start to see a pattern.  Lacrosse can thrive where football can not.

Mike Allain Hofstra lacrosse

Notre Dame and Hofstra made it work two different ways.

But of course, on the other hand, there are schools with football who have added lacrosse (Furman, Notre Dame, Michigan), and schools that have added lacrosse, which will ALSO add football.  Mercer comes to mind immediately as an example of the latter.  So it’s not like the BU method is the ONLY way.  But at a first glance, the date certainly seems to suggest that schools without football are where the focus should be.

So now let’s try to find some D1 schools in NEW areas that do NOT have football teams.  These may be our biggest target schools over the next 5-10 years.  Especially if we want to see a lot more programs at the D1 level.

Here are some schools that stand out to me as having a LOT of potential:

Santa Clara University (CA) – SC dropped football in the mid 90s and has had a successful men’s club lacrosse team on campus for at least a couple of years.  SC is making moves in the MCLA and is showing the school that yes, they can attract high quality student-athletes to the University via lax.  If there is one D1 school in California that could make the jump quickly, it just might be Santa Clara.

Bradley University (IL) – Bradley got rid of their football team in 1970.  They are located in Peoria, IL and could definitely draw from all of the local talent in the upper midwest.  They could immediately play Marquette and have other regional rivals in Michigan and Detroit Mercy.  Chicago, like Boston, is ready for more D1 college lacrosse.  This one, at least on paper, seems to have potential.

Oakland University (MI) – Oakland is in Michigan, has no football team and doesn’t offer Men’s Lacrosse OR Women’s Lacrosse.  This is one of those schools that could add both sports at once.  Lax is big in Michigan, and the sport presents Oakland with a chance to make a much bigger name for itself.  There are now two other programs in-state as well.  Almost seems like a no-brainer.

Gonzaga University (WA) – This smaller Jesuit school in Spokane, WA hasn’t had football since 1941.  They love their basketball team and are located in a high growth state, Washington.  There are a number of jesuit high schools that play lacrosse in the Northwest, and recruiting would be a coach’s dream come true.

St. Mary’s College (CA) – SMC disbanded their football program in the early 2000s after a number of lackluster years.  They have a D1 women’s lacrosse team and a strong athletic tradition.  Title IX is somewhat of an issue here, as it played a role in the football disbanding, but it’s not insurmountable.  Another good opportunity.

So there you have it.  I’ve laid out what I think are the required ingredients for further quick growth at the NCAA D1 level and I have identified a number of schools where it could all go down.  So am I missing anything?  Are there other important ingredients out there to consider?  Did I miss any truly huge opportunity schools?  I’m sure I got at least a couple things slightly wrong, so let me know if you catch something!

Sound off in the comments and I’ll keep the conversation going with you!

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