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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lacrosse Waxing, Waning

Be forewarned: Some of this is only tangentially related to the state of Michigan.

If you've ever been around a lacrosse community on the internet (or even in real life), you're well-aware that most people firmly believe lacrosse is on the upswing at the varsity level in college. Well, that's not always the case. Within the past week, two schools have announced that they'll be shuttering their NCAA programs soon.

Going Down

I'll go in reverse chronological order, with NCAA Division-2 Grand Canyon ending its lacrosse program. The problem for the 'Lopes (yes, the abbreviated version is their official team name) is that they're between divisions:

The decision to eliminate men's lacrosse came amid discussions by the university to initiate a transition to the NCAA Division I level... "There is just really nothing out west in the Division I market besides the University of Denver and the Air Force Academy, so there was a really depleted field of competition for us," said Baker.

It's a shame that a school trying to go Division-1 would cause them to have to drop a lacrosse program, but it is what it is until there are more programs west of the Mississippi, much less the Rockies. As a new entrant to the lacrosse community (first season: 2008, as an MCLA program), hopefully a smooth transition to Division-1 will be followed by another shot at lax - as of now, they're exploring fielding a partially-funded MCLA program.

The other school dropping its lacrosse program is Division-1 Presbyterian. Though most lacrosse fans are focused on D-1 expansion, contraction is a real factor as well.

Presbyterian College is a member of the Big South Conference, which does not include men's lacrosse as a conference sport and, according to officials, is not expected to add it in the future. This was the overriding reason that the college decided to drop men's lacrosse as a varsity sport, Reese said.

That's disappointing, especially since there had been lots of recent talk about restructuring conferences in Division-1 to form a sort of Southern Conference, with the likes of Jacksonville, Mercer, High Point, Bellarmine, and VMI combining with Presbyterian to form a geographically-sound league (High Point and VMI also happen to be Big South-affiliated schools).

Presbyterian's current players will continue to receive their grants-in-aid until the end of their now-hypothetical NCAA eligibility, or they will be free to transfer to another Division-1 institution without penalty.

Coming Up

On the other end of the spectrum, there is still expansion happening (i.e. Marquette) and possible (Nobody in particular) in Division-1. The coach of one of Division-1's most recent additions, Detroit's Matt Holtz, took part in an Inside Lacrosse podcast about program-building.

In it, he talks about what it was like for the Titans as they started their program, the response from the community, and how it feels to be the new kids on the block (Not Those New Kids On The Block). There's also some good discussion on growth in the midwest and Michigan specifically. I would be remiss not to mention what Holtz says about the potential of Michigan joining the ranks of Division-1 in the near future:

Holtz: "It'd be absolutely phenomenal for the sport in the State of Michigan. You're right, I am a Michigan State guy; I'd love to see Michigan State bring back their NCAA program, but [Michigan going varsity] is a first step."

"For us, we're excited: I think it'd be great. You know, I think Coach Paul's done a phenomenal job with his MCLA team down there, and you know, he deserves it, and it's just a matter of 'can they pull the trigger,' can they get the money together is the biggest issue right now. And obviously adding another... adding a BCS school would be phenomenal. The last BCS school to add was Notre Dame."

While I'm on my podcast-linking game: of course Michigan coach John Paul talking about the potential for the very same thing (relevant portion transcribed here). In other IL podcasts relating to nascent programs, the head men of Jacksonville and High Point Universities talk about what it's like to be new programs - not unlike Holtz's interview.

Don't forget, of course, that Marquette will expand the sport's footprint in the midwest, starting with the 2013 season.

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