Monday, May 3, 2010

Where Is Lacrosse Going?

According to U.S. Lacrosse, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport for high school kids. The sport has had a huge jump, up 138% in just the last decade, and now has 228,000 athletes in high schools. And lacrosse is a sport Central New Yorkers know pretty well. Denver University assistant coach and former All-American Princeton goalie Trevor Tierney says the rest of the country is going to find out more about the game soon.

"I really trust that this sport will become one of the biggest sports in the county as more people become familiar with it," Tierney says. "Now you're seeing 70,000 people starting to fill up NFL stadiums so we're really catching onto it and I think its just because its an exciting fun game".

But, colleges outside the hotbeds of lacrosse (Maryland, New England, and New York to name a few) aren't sold on collegiate lacrosse yet. Despite 41,935 fans and ESPN exposure at Gillette Stadium for last year's national championship classic between Syracuse and Cornell, Rob Edson, senior Associate Director of Athletics at Syracuse Unversity, says the exposure isn't always enough.

"At the end of the day, we're never going to make money in men's lacrosse," Edson said.

And Syracuse is the premiere program for men's lacrosse, and still it is a hard sell. Edson pulls out a calculator to hammer the point home. Syracuse brings in about $350,000 from ticket sales in one season, which is about half of its scholarship budget.

"So we have to double our attendance, and we're the leader in the country in attendance," Edson said. "We would have to double our attendance just to have a chance to cover the scholarship portion".

Money is one of the issues facing the growth of Division I lacrosse, but others find another reason. Title IX. Edson says its hard to add a men's team because it just exacerbates the problem of gender equality in athletics.

"Well, the biggest thing holding it back at the college level is Title I," Tierney agrees.

Title IX and the BCS. John Paul has been coaching Michigan club lacrosse for 13 seasons. The team is looking for its third straight Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association championship, but he doesn't see it becoming a varsity sport anytime soon.

"Smaller schools, including Division I schools, add lacrosse, and at big football schools they just don't need to do that," Paul says. "This is a 100 million dollar athletic department that is completely driven by football".

There is no doubt lacrosse is a growing game.

"There's very few among us that think lacrosse will fall back into a rabbit hole of a niche sport," said Terry Foy of Inside Lacrosse magazine.

Tierney says the future of the game is in big time venues like the New Meadowlands Stadium at the Big City Classic or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for the National Championship.

Paul still thinks it should stay on campus.

"And as much as these big events are great to draw attention to the sport and get big crowds, the kinda take away from the really collegiate atmosphere that lacrosse could be," he said.

Wherever lacrosse goes, big venues or small fields, playing club or D-I schedules, West Genessee High School head coach Mike Messere says there will always be kids who love the game. And that is all that really matters.

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