With another year gone by, we at the WMSB can’t help but continue to wonder about the possibilities of a D-1 men’s lacrosse team at W&M. Yes, our Wahoo neighbors to the north have found their niche in the world of lax– good for them; in case you haven’t heard, UVA recently won their seventh national title in men’s lacrosse (yes, 7).
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 when W&M had its team, lacrosse was still in its infancy, with U.S. participation rates nowhere near as high as they are now. Perhaps most difficult was the fact that participation rates in-state, in the great state of Virginia, were relatively poor back then.
In January of 1984, holding an impressive 94-89-1 all-time program record given the program’s lack of financial support, 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. Makes total sense, but those were the reasons given at the time.
But nearly four decades later and 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.
Last season, 16 schools qualified for the men’s lacrosse NCAA Tournament.
Below, you’ll find a list of programs that qualified for the tournament (10 out of the 16); it doesn’t take an in-depth analysis to understand that the William & Mary brand name would fit in quite well here:
- Notre Dame
Not only do these schools maintain men’s lacrosse teams, but these teams are also excelling — and in UVA and Maryland’s instance, advancing all the way to the National Championship game this past year.
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 fully-developed professional league. Yes, the new and rapidly expanding Premier League Lacrosse exists, but its players are not yet well paid, and most players have to work other “normal” jobs to make ends meet.
With that in mind, is it any wonder that lacrosse players then are more interested in furthering their education through lacrosse (in hopes of landing a good job post-graduation), rather than simply worrying about going pro in the sport? That’s where Duke, UVA, UNC, and perhaps, W&M, come in.
Overall, there are only so many great lacrosse players out there; and while lacrosse is still growing in participation, it doesn’t yet boast the sheer number of young athletes like basketball or football — or as many as soccer and baseball do (though baseball better watch out).
Simply put, academic-oriented schools currently boast a massive edge in national lacrosse recruiting, as they’re able to offer the best overall value propositions for high school 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 out of state 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 ~45 active players on UVA’s men’s lacrosse roster, 7 players hail from Virginia — and 4 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 — plus a built-in fan base with W&M students who are now more likely to have grown up playing and following the sport compared to their older alumni counterparts.
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 garnered following their national title win.
In a 2019 article, we profiled W&M Athletics’ Strategic Review — in which W&M’s Athletics Department published its strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats; a takeaway 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!
But it’s also important to keep in mind here that the 2019 Strategic Review came from W&M Athletics’ prior leadership regime. It of course remains to be seen just how aligned W&M’s current leadership group, led by Athletics Director Brian Mann, is with those goals.
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? No, our plan isn’t to follow Richmond’s lead, but our larger point is that there is precedent for this type of thing happening. Not only is there precedent, but there’s precedent quite literally right down the road in our own state of Virginia.
Obviously, Richmond had to make an incredibly difficult decision to cut both its men’s soccer and men’s track and field teams to make way for lacrosse — something that W&M may never do (and not something we’re advocating for), but it is however interesting to note that as recently as 2014, a local Virginia school started a men’s lacrosse program “from scratch.” And, having already qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times since, Richmond’s impressive lacrosse program is already paying massive dividends.
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 the CAA member that sponsors the highest number of sports programs in the conference, it’s already difficult for W&M to maintain its facilities, scholarships, and its coaching staffs from a financial perspective alone. In fact, poor finances was one of the primary reasons given by former W&M AD Samantha Huge to justify cutting (unsuccessfully) 7 W&M sports teams during the pandemic. It’s also why she’s no longer with the school.
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.
Shouldn’t the school be focusing on the teams it currently has, rather than spending its time and attention on creating another team? That sounds like an easy case to make.
As one can tell by now, 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, new W&M AD Brian Mann probably has his hands full with other matters, and while this topic is probably nowhere near his radar, it would be nice to know that a men’s lacrosse team has at least been considered as a legitimate possibility with this new regime.
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.