NCAA Box Lacrosse Should Be A Thing

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, but NCAA Box Lacrosse should definitely be a thing.

I know that teams play some box lacrosse during practices, and in the intra-squad senses, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a real season of NCAA box lacrosse, played during the FALL, with games between colleges and universities, and an eventual national champion.

Does NCAA Box Lacrosse seem like a great idea to you?

That’s because it is.

Do all great ideas come with barriers?

Typically, and this one is no exception.

Let’s talk about why this is a great idea first, and then we’ll tear it back down a bit. Seems fair.

NCAA Box Lacrosse Elevates Lacrosse

Even though fall ball games are meaningless, and don’t count towards the Spring, people still get excited for them. After all, it’s lacrosse! And while it’s not really meaningful now, it could be seen as meaningful when the season arrives, so fall ball makes great fodder for conversation. But what if we had a REAL set of games going on? Sure, box is not field, but wouldn’t teams playing to win in the fall showcase their abilities more realistically for the spring?

This assumes a lot of any college’s field players would also play box. That’s actually my second point. I think they would. I think a LOT of them would.

Schools and coaches probably couldn’t force players to become two-sport athletes, and a few would likely choose not to play, but with the rise in interest in box lacrosse, I can’t see many of these NCAA athletes turning this chance down. In fact, I’d think most guys would be downright excited about the prospect of being a two-sport college athlete! I would have jumped at the chance to play box in the fall, and field in the spring FOR MY COLLEGE. That would have been the experience of a lifetime, and I never would have played football, which would have been to everyone’s benefit. I was really quite terrible.

The point here is not how bad I was at football (that is indisputable), the point is that a SERIOUS season of box lacrosse in the fall would only spark more interest in lacrosse in general, and in the spring, because it would be real, meaningful games.

A Different Structure

When I think of the NCAA adding a sport, I instantly think of cost complaints, and there will a fair few, many of which I will get into below. But one is travel for games, and a full NCAA schedule. That alone adds a huge cost structure to any sport, but NCAA box lacrosse has a truly interesting opportunity here, and they can do things differently.

Instead of running a full season, with one-off games, create a series of regional tournaments, where teams play Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, and they play 1-2 games per day, for a 4-5 game per weekend total. Games could be shortened games, of 4 12 minute running time periods. Two tournaments would give each team 8+ “regular season” games in their region. After those two tournaments, teams could be seeded regionally. A regional championship tournament would follow, and 4-8 regional champions meet for the Final tournament, held over one weekend.

That means any team has only FOUR weekends of games, still plays 16-20 games in a season, and we still get a national champion. Costs are kept low with the regional structure, and problems relating to small conferences or AQs are eliminated.

It also means that if the fall NCAA Box Lacrosse season starts by the middle of September, it can also END by the middle of October, meaning teams can then transition seamlessly to field lacrosse, and even get in some fall scrimmages during late October/early November.

It would obviously require some change, but really very little, and it would do a lot to keep lacrosse fresh in people’s minds.

It Would Be Optional

There is nothing that says if NCAA Box Lacrosse becomes a thing, that every school would adopt it. In fact, early on, I don’t think a lot of schools would. But the few that did adopt it might see a lot of benefit, so schools that have traditionally been lower tiered programs may leap at the chance. I could also see OSU or Loyola going for something like this as well, and they’ve been pretty successful.

Would OSU or Loyola say yes to a six week long (practices start in early September, season is done by October 18th) season of NCAA box lacrosse? I can’t say for sure, but it seems to line up really well with what they already do. Hopkins also plays some box in the fall, would they get in on this? Maybe not. They seem like a more traditional program in many senses, but WHO KNOWS? That’s kind of the point. Schools who we think might not see value in this might actually see a lot of value in it.

Why?

Because “college box” is optional (and highly informal) RIGHT NOW and schools are already investing in it! The proof is really in the pudding here. Even though these schools are using it as a training tool for the most part, would they not get all that and more by making it into a season?

Random Cool Stuff Could Happen

What kind of random cool stuff? Here are just a couple examples…

  • What if college box existed when the Thompsons were in school? What if we had been able to see Casey Powell or Gary Gait play box in college, for Syracuse?
  • Think of how many more American players we’d see in the NLL! Tell me a player like Marty Bowes, Josh Hawkins, Drew Snider, or Marcus Holman wound’t have been an NLL draft pick and starter if they had played in college. Imagine Tom Schreiber entering the NLL with four years of college box under his belt.
  • Think of how many more great Canadian/First Nations players would come to play in college! Won’t someone please THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!?!?
  • Remember when Cortland (D3) used to play Syracuse (D1)? Wasn’t that cool? Well that could happen again, just never in field lacrosse. With box, we have to be realistic, and assume that most schools wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon right away. That means only a select few might do it. Well you know what? I’d pay to watch RIT play Albany in box lacrosse. I’d watch that all day long. BU vs Tufts? Hello, I’m here and ready to give you my eyeballs. Remember, it’s all regional.
  • With so few teams… there would only be one division. And ONE champion. It’s like Hoosiers. It would be old school and amazing. Don’t think this is possible? The NCAA does it for other small sports, why not box lacrosse? And if that’s an issue, start up a club organization called the MCBLA. That’s the Men’s College Box Lacrosse Association, and go from there. It’s a club sport for now, but the varsity field coach runs it. Boom. Done deal.
  • The short season would hit hard and fast, and make people hungry for field lacrosse. Anyone can give you four weeks of their time. College football would be going on, but you’re not competing with Bowl Games, or conference championships, you’re competing with Oklahoma vs Middle West Northern State U. 75-3. Great game. The box season would deliver a lot of action, quickly, and be the first fall sport to crown a champion. In elongated NCAA seasons, that’s a positive and will get box lacrosse attention from outsiders. People care about NCAA championships. It’s only natural.
  • No one expects a million fans, but box would get some. It would be a start up, and mostly only lacrosse people would care, but since it’s REAL game action, others would care too. It’s only natural. Hey, we played OSU in fall ball, we didn’t keep score. Zzzzzz. Hey, we beat OSU for the NCAA box title. HEY-YO! There is a difference between real games and scrimmages when it comes to other people caring.

It Would Make Players/Programs Better

On average, I firmly believe 6 weeks of intensive box lacrosse would NCAA players and programs better. It’s a great way to start off the year, and it shows coaches what they are working with right away. There is no where to hide in box. It requires skill, toughness, IQ, and it all must be done quickly. The way the field game has gone, these are all skills of paramount importance.

Players would be thrown into the competitive fire right away, with more pressure than the fall currently provides, but less than the spring season would provide. Field lacrosse would still be king in college (likely for decades), but box would be a nice step up from the current fall, where the spring season can seem distant.

For any program focused on character and team chemistry over simple Xs and Os, box should be extremely attractive. It would also teach next level skills to newer players right away, and when players went back outside, the high level college field game would seem a little slower, and easier to understand. So many of the concepts carry over from one to the other.

I would also think that NESCAC and Ivy League coaches might love this, as it would give them six weeks to work with most of their spring players. It would also give those schools the ability to say an even higher percentage of their current athletes are actually TWO-SPORT athletes. Both conferences severely limit out of season contact, so this could be a great way for them to effectively even the playing field with fall team contact, just through box lacrosse. It’s a different sport, so coaches should be able to coach both, as many NESCAC coaches have long done with say football and lacrosse, or soccer and lacrosse.

Why Hasn’t NCAA Box Lacrosse Happened?

There are a ton of reasons why we haven’t seen NCAA box in any real form. Where do I even begin? I’ll list a reason, get into any potential solutions, or where I don’t see a solution. I’m sure they are out there, chime in with ideas if you have any good ones!

Inevitable Higher Costs – Realistically, we’re still talking about adding on more college field lacrosse teams! Cost is a huge barrier there, and adding on box lacrosse likely doesn’t help the cause… or does it? I’m not talking about USC adding box. They don’t even have men’s field. But what about OSU? Or Albany? They have field already, and if there is more money to be spent, or another sport to add, why not focus on box lacrosse?

It seems like there is some structure in place already for more lacrosse operations at a lot of schools, and while some schools are struggling to pay bills, others are putting water parks into football facilities. So there is some money out there. It’s just about how a school spends it.

Building a new (small?) box lacrosse facility could also provide a resource to the school in a larger sense. Intramural indoor soccer, volleyball, lawn tennis, and an indoor spring facility for soccer teams, etc all makes a lot of sense.

It requires money, but that money can be spent wisely and to the benefit of many. Still, it’s an issue!

Insurance Questions – If US Lacrosse is now on board and providing rules and insurance (they are), the NCAA can now more easily move on something like this. Before that step, box was going to be seen as fringe. Now, it has a chance, but would still require a ton of work.

Title IX Issues – Adding men’s box would add more men’s athletics spots, which would be a Title IX issue. My solution is for women to do the same thing, and also add box lacrosse in the fall. Any school that adds one, adds the other. Women like playing box lacrosse too, and it makes them better players, just like it does for the men.

The Proofiest Pudding – If OSU (or some other program that uses box now) becomes a dynasty and Nick Myers attributes box to his team’s success, it could create a landslide of change. If nothing like that ever happens, NCAA box may never be a thing. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on OSU, I swear, I just like what they’ve done as a program. But this could come from anyone really. Tufts won titles and inspired people to play fast, just as Cuse did years before. Someone can do that with box, but it has to happen.

The Old Traditionalist Guard – There are going to be some people out there who, after reading this article this far (likely they stopped much earlier), will be #%$@ing FURIOUS. They HATE box as blindly as anything. They’ll say this would ruin the game, and they will find every reason under the sun to say this is a stupid idea. When one idea is debunked, they’ll run to find cover under the next.

My take on this is it’s fine. If people don’t want to do box this, they don’t have to. Box shouldn’t be mandatory, just like having a fencing program isn’t mandatory. I just think it should be an option. That way, we can let the market decide. (in any argument throw that out there and you will win. Add in “AMERICA” for emphasis.) “What, are you afraid of the free market? AMERICA”. There, you just won against the old guard.

As silly as “we should keep things the way they are because that’s how they are” is (when has that ever happened?), the argument will be made by some.

My guess is that many in the old traditionalist guard would actually be open to box lacrosse, once they see what it can do, and what a great game it can be.

NCAA Box Lacrosse – Is There A Future?

I don’t believe the NCAA will create a new sport in their offering of their own. I believe this is something that will need to build from nothing, perhaps even with a single game between two schools. Someone will need to take a risk. But when (if) that happens, everything could slowly start to change.

Maybe it’s clubs first, unrelated to NCAA teams. Maybe it’s NCAA teams that can’t practice in the fall with coaches (NESCAC and Ivies to some degree) who get it going. I have no idea. But as more programs play more box, I believe the natural next step is to look for outside competition. When that happens, hold on to your hats. I, for one, will wait with baited breath.

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