With the NCAA men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments having recently wrapped up, we again found ourselves thinking about what could have been. Yes, our Wahoo neighbors to the north have found their niche in the world of lacrosse — good for them; in case you haven’t heard, they just won their sixth national title in men’s lacrosse (yes, 6th).
But back in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, William & Mary also fielded a D-1 men’s lacrosse team. But it wasn’t easy. The team operated with 0 scholarship money; all players had to pay their way.
And it was a time when lacrosse was still in its infancy, with U.S. participation rates nowhere near as high as they are now. Perhaps more difficult was the fact that participation rates in-state, in the great state of Virginia, were relatively poor.
In January of 1984, holding a 94-89-1 all-time program record, the William & Mary men’s lacrosse team was cut (along with other notable sports, including women’s field hockey and women’s lacrosse, as well as men’s swimming).
Just why were these programs cut, you ask? They were cut to balance the athletic department’s budget amidst the 1980s recession, as well as increasing costs associated with Title IX.
But with several of the aforementioned “cut” sports having returned to the ‘Burg since, including both women’s lacrosse and field hockey, as well as men’s swimming — is it time to reconsider a men’s lacrosse team? Let’s delve a bit deeper.
The Argument FOR Men’s Lacrosse at W&M
Academic-minded schools have had immense success in the sport.
This season, 17 schools qualified for the recently completed men’s lacrosse NCAA Tournament.
Take a look at some of the programs that qualified for the men’s lacrosse tournament this season (10 out of the 17); it doesn’t take an in-depth analysis to understand that the William & Mary brand name would fit in quite well here:
- West Point (Army)
- Johns Hopkins
- Marist College
- Notre Dame
- University of Pennsylvania
- Penn State
- University of Richmond
- University of Virginia
Not only do these schools maintain men’s lacrosse teams, but they are also excelling — and in UVA and Yale’s instance, advancing all the way to the National Championship game.
Now, you might be asking yourself, why is this the case…why are so many “academic” schools seemingly great at men’s lacrosse? At a macro-level, there are some trends that might better explain the phenomenon.
Perhaps most importantly: what does lacrosse not have that basketball, football, baseball, and soccer all have? That’s right: a legitimate professional league. Yes, Major League Lacrosse exists, but its players are not well paid, and most players work other jobs to make ends meet.
With that in mind, is it any wonder that lacrosse players are that much more interested in furthering their education through lacrosse, rather than worrying about going pro? That’s where Duke, UVA, Yale, and perhaps, W&M, come in.
Overall, there are only so many great lacrosse players out there; while lacrosse is a sport still growing in participation, it doesn’t yet boast the sheer number of overall players that basketball or football do — or as many as soccer and baseball do (though baseball better watch out). Simply put, academic-oriented schools have an edge in the recruiting field, and are able to offer a great value proposition for rising prospects in the sport.
Virginia Lacrosse has Advanced Dramatically since 1980.
And no, we’re not talking about UVA lacrosse — we’re talking about lacrosse participation in the state of Virginia as a whole. Looking at the macro-picture, lacrosse participation was sparse in the 60s and 70s, when W&M fielded a team.
To make matters worse, and as mentioned above, the team had no scholarship money to offer, and was focused on recruiting in-state players who could pay their own way through college. Of course, out-of-state tuition was an even bigger hill to climb (as it still is today), which made recruiting those athletes next to impossible.
This is all to say that lacrosse participation in the major metropolitan areas of Virginia (especially Northern Virginia and the D.C. area in general) has exponentially increased since then. As a quick example, of the 44 active players on UVA’s men’s lacrosse roster, 6 players hail from Virginia — and 6 more from neighboring Maryland.
Of course, if W&M were to field a men’s lacrosse team today, it would not be beholden to recruiting solely in Virginia, but it’s good to see that there’s plenty of local talent should the school choose to move in that direction.
National Publicity Potential in a Fast-Growing Sport (that will only continue growing).
This one seems self-explanatory, doesn’t it? Just look at the national headlines that UVA is garnering following their national title win.
In a recent article, we profiled W&M Athletics’ recently released Strategic Review — in which the department published its strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats; one of the things that stood out to us was the department’s newfound focus on sports programs that they have deemed “highly visible, community-building and greater-revenue-producing sports.”
Unsurprisingly, the Strategic Review lists those sports as: women’s basketball, men’s basketball, and football. But why couldn’t men’s lacrosse be added to the list? Of the three criteria listed above, men’s lacrosse checks the box on the first two (highly visible (and growing), as well as community-building).
Perhaps the knock could be on the “greater-revenue-producing” part, but that seems like less of an issue if the team is able to bring significant national attention to the school through stellar play on the field and in the NCAA Tournament. Again, do we need to mention the list of successful academic schools already excelling in men’s lacrosse? Because we will!
Speaking of which, Richmond has Already Done it.
Per the program’s Wiki:
“In September 2012, the University of Richmond announced a reconfiguration of its athletics program, discontinuing its men’s soccer and men’s track and field programs at the conclusion of the 2012–13 season and the elevation of men’s lacrosse from club to varsity status at the NCAA Division I level starting in 2014.
In February 2013, Richmond announced it would join the Atlantic Sun Conference as an associate member for men’s lacrosse when the program began play in 2014.
Richmond went on to finish the regular season with a record of 4–10, but with an Atlantic Sun record of 2–3, the Spiders earned the fourth seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament held at the campus of No. 1 seed Mercer. Richmond upset Mercer in the semifinals, 14–6, before defeating No. 2 seed High Point, 8–7, to earn the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship. Richmond became the first first-year program in NCAA Division I history to qualify for the tournament.”
Did we mention Richmond has already done it? Oh, and did you notice the third-to-last bullet point on the list of 2019 NCAA Tournament schools listed above? In case you don’t want to scroll up (we don’t blame you), that school is Richmond.
No, our plan isn’t to follow Richmond’s lead, but our larger point that there is certainly precedent for this type of thing happening. Not only is there precedent, but there’s precedent right down the road.
Obviously, Richmond had to make incredibly difficult decisions to cut both men’s soccer and men’s track and field — something that W&M may never do (and not something we’re advocating), but it is however interesting to note that as recently as 2014, a local Virginia school started a men’s lacrosse program “from scratch” — one that is already competing on the national stage just 5 years later.
The Argument AGAINST Men’s Lacrosse at W&M
Now, although we’ve laid out some of the benefits that a men’s lacrosse team could bring to the school, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the drawbacks — because they’re certainly there.
As much as the aforementioned W&M Strategic Review mentioned new opportunities for the school, it also noted several of the school’s weaknesses. As a CAA member that holds the most overall sports programs in the conference, it’s already difficult for W&M to maintain both its facilities, as well as its coaching staff.
Overall, it’s expensive to maintain D-1 programs, especially when you have more of them than your peers; on top of that, W&M is currently in a position where it has less staff per student athlete than other CAA schools do — certainly not a recipe for success.
On top of that, shouldn’t the school be focusing on the teams it currently has, rather than spending its time and attention on creating another team from scratch? Put our already limited resources into other programs, or make difficult decisions to cut multiple programs to make way for a new one.
As one can tell from the above, there’s no right or wrong answer here; there are valid arguments on both sides of the table. But with our compatriots in Charlottesville competing for National Championships year in and year out — poaching talented lacrosse players from an ever-increasing pool of in-state players — it’s hard not to wonder what could be at W&M.
Either way, W&M AD Samantha Huge has her hands full with other matters, and while this topic is probably nowhere near her radar, it would be nice to know that a men’s lacrosse team has at least been considered as a legitimate possibility.
After all, if men’s lacrosse can help put W&M on the national stage, isn’t that a good thing? The obvious answer seems to be yes, but the true answer is far more nuanced than first meets the eye.
LET’S GO TRIBE.