The 2022-23 school year marked the first season of the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Organization (WCLO), one of two women’s non-varsity college lacrosse leagues. On the surface, it may seem strange that an entirely different league would form when the Women Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) already existed, but there are very good reasons for the split.
To provide a brief history, the NCAA did not organize an official college lacrosse championship for men until 1971, and the women’s did not come until 1982. Prior to this, varsity and non-varsity teams regularly played each other. After the NCAA became involved, the US Lacrosse Intercollegiate Associates (USLIA) began supporting the non-varsity teams that were left out of the NCAA competition and formed the Men’s and Women’s Division of Intercollegiate Associates (MDIA) and (WDIA). Before the 2006-07 season the MDIA Board of Directors formed a new separate organization, the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA), which would control its own budget and national tournament outside of US Lacrosse. The WDIA, however, did not follow and stayed with USLIA. In 2011, while still under USLIA, the WDIA was renamed the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (WCLA). The USLIA was rebranded to USA Lacrosse (USAL) in 2021.
After years of being run by USAL, some of the leaders in the WCLA felt that they were slowly becoming an after-thought compared to other organizations within the national governing body, for many reasons.
To start, the ‘A’ in the WCLA was changed from ‘Association’ to ‘Associates,’ a very strange move considering in almost every pro sports league acronym with an A, it stands for ‘Association’ (i.e. MCLA, NBA, WBNA, etc.) USAL never gave a clear explanation as to why this change was made.
Social media promotion has been relatively lackluster as well. At the time of me writing this article (April 2023), the WCLA Instagram only has around 1,400 followers despite being an account for over five years, and the last post on the page was August 2022.
I reached out to USAL and asked why they hadn’t posted since August, and Senior Director of Communications, Brian Logue had this to say.
“We also cover the WCLA play on the field through our print magazine and magazine website. Since the start of the season in February, we’ve published nine articles on our magazine website www.usalaxmagazine.com and shared them on multiple organizational social media platforms. We will continue to cover the WCLA season in the coming weeks.”
– Brian Logue, Senior Director of Communications
After I reached out, but before I received a response, someone posted on the WCLA Instagram for the first time in seven months.
The biggest issue came with the finances. There was minimal transparency as to where player and team contributions were going. After teams paid dues to USAL and had all players purchase USAL memberships ($35 per player), Regional League Presidents were given incomplete statements or accounting records of where their money was going. Dues stayed the same, yet each year it appeared less money and resources were actually going back to the WCLA.
This became extremely evident in the past few years as the national tournament began to subtly decline in quality. Events such as the welcome ceremony, which was once a formal presentation and meal turned to appetizers with lemonade and water, and eventually became a brief outdoor event in the stadium with two food trucks. Players also noticed that the once highly anticipated participant gifts at team check-in had gone by the wayside in lieu for streaming the quarterfinal and championship games, a service only beneficial to a fraction of the teams who had traveled to play.
Sponsorships also seemed to disappear for the event. WCLA National Tournament swag and All-Tournament Team branded shafts went away, and the vendor village shifted to minimal WCLA-specific gear crowded by USAL branded merchandise. Teams that did not qualify for the national tournament had little to no interaction with USAL other than the monthly magazine and online resources, which came from mandated USAL memberships.
Senior Director of Communications, Brian Logue had this to say about the financial concerns.
“USA Lacrosse staff works with WCLA subcommittee leadership, with representatives from every league included on the subcommittee, each year to review the annual budget. All of the team dues go directly to the WCLA budget with additional funding coming from other USA Lacrosse budgets used to help cover costs such as committee travel and streaming for the national championships. The investment each year from USA Lacrosse exceeds the revenue generated from team dues and this is done because USA Lacrosse views this level of play as a valuable component in our effort to help fuel the growth of the sport.“
– Brian Logue, Senior Director of Communications
In response to Brian’s comments, WCLO President, Jen Kramer, can be quoted saying the following.
“We hope that is what is being done at USAL with the WCLA now, but it is not what our experience had been in the past.”
– Jen Kramer, WCLO President
After years of frustration, tenured leaders within the WCLA decided to take things into their own hands this past offseason, and left USAL to form their own independent league, the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Organization (WLCO).
“We made this move to create a positive change for women’s non-varsity club lacrosse and whether that is within the WCLO or WCLA, we are proud of it. We agree, this level of play is a valuable component in the growth of the sport!”
– Jen Kramer, WCLO President
The new league was able to get 70 teams from the WCLA to play in the inaugural WCLO season, and they are looking to keep expanding. The group is led by WCLO President, Jen Kramer, who comes with 13 Years within the college club lacrosse scene as a member of the 2013 national championship team, league president, and the national board member. She is joined by Ashley Nelsen, Vice President of Competition, who also played at the collegiate club level and has continued to coach, serve as a league president, and serve on the national board. Towbey Kassa, the Director of Marketing for the WCLO was the Head Coach of Oakland University Women’s Club Lacrosse team for over 15 years and also sat on the ranking committee for almost ten years under the national board. Kim Barber, Vice President of Eligibility and WCLO Website Support, is a former collegiate club level player, current club level coach, served on the national board as a league representative and webmaster, and is currently serving on league board. 2022 Division 2 Coach of the Year, Emily Ward will serve as Secretary. She also played collegiate club lacrosse, is a current coach, and serves on the league board.
These dedicated individuals have already done a tremendous job getting the new league started in just a short amount of time. Their goal is to provide a league truly for the players, without distraction of other obligations.
The league has already made vast improvements on the social media side. Sarah Wentworth, of the University of Maine, has hit the ground running as the Social Media Officer, by posting every game in the league on their Instagram. Needless to say, teams are feeling the acknowledgement. The WCLO also has their own website, which is constantly updated. Daryl Fernquits and his team from Fern Web Design Services have truly taken the WCLO vision and made it into a reality.
”The WCLA has a website, but it is not accessible from the USAL website, and it’s not even updated consistently, which has always made us feel like these teams and these ladies deserve better recognition.”
– Jen Kramer, WCLO President
The WCLO also posts a professional graphic sponsored by New Balance for the weekly rankings, and has partnered with Brine Lacrosse to start showcasing WCLO players. Brine Lacrosse is also presenting custom handles for all of the women who get named to the WCLO All-Tournament Team at this year’s national championship in Round Rock, Texas.
This story has a lot of similarities to another new, up and coming lacrosse league, the PLL. Director of Marketing, Towbey Kassa had this to say about the comparison.
“I know Paul Rabil personally. I have spent some time working with him at Warrior Lacrosse in years past. Paul and his brother’s vision was to create a league to really showcase the sport and the players, and don’t forget fan experience! He and his team have done an amazing job. When Paul was in the MLL, I believe he noticed a lot of things that were holding the growth of the game inside of the MLL, from a fan’s perspective and players. I believe that’s why the PLL was born. It’s not fake news that Paul and his team tried to purchase the MLL since there was already a branded organization. However, when those conversations did not move forward, I believe it fueled Paul to create something special. From the outdoor league, to the Sixes format that was just showcased, he is bringing attention to the sport.
Bringing attention to the sport is something we would like for our women’s club athletes. Take a look at Athletes Unlimited; these women are the evolution of the game! They are giving women and little girls across the country the dream of one day becoming a professional player. I have a 6 year old daughter who loves the game! One of my personal goals in life is to help give her a great experience, resources, and avenues to do so. Our executive board felt that if those professionals can do it under an organization that may have held them back, then we could as well.”
–Towbey Kassa, Director of Marketing
Since going independent from USAL in 2006, the MCLA has been doing extremely well. The number of teams has gone up, the national tournament is a well-organized event, the social media coverage is consistent and up to date, and the overall quality of play only gets better every year as well. If a non-varsity men’s league can operate successfully outside the reach of USAL, there is no reason a women’s league following a similar path can’t also be successful.
The evidence makes it alarmingly clear: the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Organization has the best interests in mind for women’s non-varsity lacrosse. The WCLO has worked hard day in and day out since their departure from USAL to establish a new playing field for their teams who have made the transition and invested loyalty and trust in the overall vision. Their efforts should be recognized as such.
To support the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Organization, follow their Instagram (wclo.us), their Twitter (@WCLO_US), and bookmark their website (www.wclo.us). To support the teams that are still in the WCLA follow each team’s individual social media pages.