With the official creation of a Big Ten Lacrosse Conference, my natural inclination (obvious for anyone who has ever stopped by this site) is to wonder whether other Big Ten schools – particularly Michigan State – would consider adding (or re-adding, in the Spartans’ case) the game.
Obviously there are budgetary implications and a Title IX angle to the whole thing, making it tough for schools to add new sports. The staff of Inside Lacrosse sees the addition of another program from the existing Big Ten ranks as unlikely.
6. Does this mean more Big Ten schools will add lacrosse?
Not likely, though that becomes easier if an angel investor emerges with $10 million to fund men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse and a third women’s sport. Though the B1G’s reputed finances suggest its members would be more than capable of taking on such a burd[sic], the addition of lacrosse is a university-based decision and would mean extra spending, which most members would be loathe to do. …There’s a reason the B1G is breaking long established policy to bring in Hopkins; there were no other in-house lacrosse options available, now or for the foreseeable future.
Michigan coach John Paul, at the very least, is hopeful that the creation of a conference will at least be a nudge in the right direction. He spoke with GLS earlier today.
With three of our members coming from East Coast expansion, I don’t know that this move says much about the westward growth of the sport. But I’m very hopeful that it helps influence other Big Ten athletic departments toward taking a hard look at varsity lacrosse.
As has been and will be the case for athletic departments with bigtime football – which means every Big Ten school, no matter how uncompetitive their football squads may be on a yearly basis – expansion will come slowly, if at all. I’ve put out guess lists as to the likelihood (from most to least) of programs to add lacrosse, and it’s time to run through that exercise again really quickly.
- Michigan State
(cavernous gaping hole)
Michigan State obviously had a program in the past, and has history on that account. Perhaps just as important, there’s an alumni base of those who played varsity lacrosse in East Lansing, and while that wouldn’t be the exclusive money stream that starts a program, it’s certainly a fundraising opportunity among a group very invested (no pun intended) in the sport. As of August 2011 (and obviously a lot has developed since then), MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis didn’t see that being enough:
“I just can’t do it without having revenues in place,” he said. “What you’ll do is deplete the programs that you already have in place. Never say never, but it’s probably not going to happen tomorrow. We love to add sports, but it’s resource-driven. (Expansion is) not in our short-term plans.”
Minnesota has had some success at the club level, and while that’s a far cry from Division-1 – as Michigan has learned the hard way over the past two years – it’s a start. The state is also diehard hockey territory, and there’s significant overlap between the two sports. Minnesota even has a well-supported NLL team in the Storm, and a growing high school participation in the sport. SB Nation Minnesota blog The Daily Gopher chimes in on the topic.
I’m a complete noob on the lax front, but seemingly the support would be there to bring the Gophers up from club level to NCAA competition. Enough to actually compete? That would depend on the talent, and that’s something I can’t answer. But the point is that such a move wouldn’t be completely out of character for a sport that has pretty strong participation in the metro area.
We’ve seen that the mechanism for a Division-1 program is definitely not the elevation of a club team – even Michigan’s club team, which had an unprecedented run of success prior to announcing the move, has struggled to compete – but there is some support for lacrosse in Minnesota.
Wisconsin has a growing participation in lacrosse, and now a geographic rival in Marquette, should the Badgers choose to make the leap. Northwestern already sponsors women’s lacrosse, but that’s a blessing (clearly, the school has experience in the game and it fits the socioeconomic profile of students already in Evanston) and a curse (what women’s sport would NU add to reach Title IX compliance) when it comes to the men’s game.
Beyond those four, I think the remaining five schools in the league are pretty much equally unlikely to add the game.
As is evident, the Inside Lacrosse staff’s position seems to be right on the mark, at least in the foreseeable future. I would love to see the league expand as much as anyone, but it’s a long road to the day that we see more additions to the Big Ten. Perhaps when Michigan gets competitive (and I think they will, but the path may be a little extended compared to what I previously thought) or puts up big attendance numbers, it’ll be a little more eye-opening.
Stay tuned to GLS for more in the coming days when it comes to Big Ten lacrosse. Up next: the effects that this move might have on the Detroit program.