Where do I begin with fixing NCAA lacrosse? Well, for starters, I would undo the restructuring done this year. There had been a conference known as the Great Western Lacrosse League. Teams in this league included: Air Force, Denver, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Bellarmine, and Quinnipiac. Notre Dame left the conference to join the newly formed Big East lacrosse conference, which is their conference in every sport but football. With only five teams, the GWLL would lose its automatic tournament bid. This led the remaining teams to join the Eastern College Athletic Conference Lacrosse League (even the Colorado-based schools).Pushing all of the teams into eastern conferences reinforces the perception that lacrosse is exclusively an East Coast sport. This pushes lax back a few decades. The western US teams have a responsibility to the game to increase the presence of the sport from the Midwest to the West Coast. Is it fair that a half dozen teams are stuck with this responsibility? No, but since these schools are not traditional lacrosse powerhouses, they are in the unique position to capitalize on the growth of lacrosse across the country. Their proximity to these new regions gives them access to more fans than other more established sports programs can gain.
Even if a western lacrosse conference returned, the NCAA is left with a bigger problem. Title IX legislation is largely responsible, at least indirectly for the lack of lacrosse programs at many big time, well-funded universities. Enacted with the most noble of intentions, Title IX was designed to provide equal opportunities in education for men and women. Originally, the legislation targeted math and science education, which had been primarily aimed at male students. Before long, the legislation spread to health care, work study programs, and extracurricular activities - including athletics.
In the case of athletics, Title IX requires that equal opportunities must exist for both men and women. Some sports, like basketball, track, and baseball/softball, easily compliment each other and create equal opportunities by providing a team for each gender. Lacrosse and soccer also fit into this category, but one or the other is typically used to balance the only major male sport without a female counterpart. Unfortunately, this single sport is the primary money maker and recruiting tool. In case you are still wondering, I am talking about football.
Football is quite possibly THE SPORT in the United States. Most schools require them to promote themselves and draw major attention. Not many people could tell you which programs have the highest enrollment at Boise State, but they probably know about the "Smurf Turf." However, this behemoth of a sport requires sacrifices elsewhere - usually in lacrosse or soccer. Schools like Michigan State have had to drop its men's NCAA varsity lacrosse program to be in compliance with Title IX.
Forcing schools to drop sports programs to allow perceived "equal opportunities" is unfair to the schools, athletes, and fans. First of all, football is unique in college sports because there is no female equivalent. Second, football generates more revenue than every women's sport combined at a given university. Third, women's sports in general are less attended than the equivalent men's sports. Fourth, by removing a men's sport to be in compliance with a misapplied socialistic piece of legislation limits the schools' abilities to recruit high quality student athletes (or even student fans). Should a specific program not be available at a given school, an interested student is likely to find another school where it is. Because of football's irregularity, it causes all interested parties to be screwed over. It should be granted a special exception to Title IX.
Would exempting football from Title IX bring more schools into NCAA lacrosse? Maybe. Some schools, Michigan for example, would most likely jump at the chance to play with the big boys and dominate on another field. Testing this concept out is at least a small step in the right direction and a giant leap for lacrosse's national presence.
Continue to Part 4