Bigger Ten?

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.

  1. Michigan State
  2. Minnesota
  3. Northwestern
  4. Wisconsin
    (cavernous gaping hole)
  5. Indiana
  6. Illinois
  7. Purdue
  8. Iowa
  9. Nebraska

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.

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7 Responses to Bigger Ten?

  1. WolvinLA says:

    The biggest thing that would push more teams to add lacrosse is the BTN showing as many lacrosse games as possible. And why not? There’s absolutely nothing good on BTN during the spring and lacrosse is an exciting and TV-ready sport. They can even do a 30-minute segment once a week about Big Ten lacrosse and more people would watch it than whatever else is on (they have to be to “Top 10 field hockey defensemen of the 80s” by now). If lacrosse on BTN becomes popular and even generates some revenue, other teams will have more incentive to hop on board.

    I agree with the top chunk of your list of the teams most likely to add, but I don’t think the bottom schools are equal. I think Indiana has a better chance than any of them to add, since they have a strong East Coast influence and could also recruit Chicago/Indy/Ohio very well. Illinois would also be more likely if NW continues to drag their feet.

    • Tim says:

      The Big Ten Network, for whatever reason, has been absolutely hesitant to cover lacrosse in any significant way. Even the Michigan/OSU contest was not carried by BTN.

      Obviously there’s not a whole lot of money in the sport at this point, but there’s no way it draws less than Big Ten baseball (generously considered a mid-major league) or Purdue Campus Programming.

      Now that there’s officially a league in place, I would bet they ramp up the coverage somewhat – for both genders – and a studio show would be awesome, but it will take a while for things to get to that level.

      • Jason says:

        This is why I wasn’t surprised to see Hopkins keep their ESPN deal. If BTN wants to get on TV sets in Maryland/Baltimore, covering all Hopkins and Maryland games seems like a heck of a good way to do it.

        • Dan Hogan says:

          This move was actually really smart. JHU keeps their *home* games while the conference retains all of the remaining games including when JHU plays on the road at B1G teams. The real value of doing that is the conference doesn’t have to pay JHU a dime for.. well.. anything. The only thing they need a piece of is the conference championship and their piece of the NCAA payments.

  2. DCLaxFan says:

    Don’t know if it’s the same in the Midwest but in Maryland there are at least 1-2 games shown every Saturday on ESPNU or ESPN2 during lax season. My guess is that UM versus Hopkins, Maryland, or Rutgers would be on ESPNU or ESPN2 rather than the BTN. BTW, I get BTN on my cable package in Maryland, so the station is already on sets here. After hoops season BTN is a wasteland of reruns, niche sports, and spring football redux. I would love to see some Big 10 lax games on BTN. My guess is that a UM-Hopkins lax game on BTN would not have a bunch of Case IH commercials but rather a Warrior commercial……

    • WolvinLA says:

      Yeah, I bet Michigan will get one or two of those ESPN games each year moving forward, but you’re right that the BTN should pick up at least a few (if not all) of the Big Ten lacrosse games that they can (non-JHU home games).

      Of the teams currently in the league, none of the matchups will be bad (and some will be great). The nice thing for the league is that we get paid every time ESPN decides to pick up one of our games (outside of the JHU home game agreement) and there will likely be more and more of those down the road. I could see ESPN picking up nearly all of Maryland’s home conference games.

  3. Dan Hogan says:

    I have to admit I always roll my eyes a little when people mention schools that sponsored lacrosse in the past. Remember, the schools that sponsored it in the past are the same schools that actively took the action to *demote* the sport. It’s not to say that they will never add the sport again, but they did decide at some point that they didn’t want it even though they already had an established program.

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