Why Isn't There More Growth in Division I Lacrosse?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal ("One Bowl Game Buys Many Lacrosse Sticks") reported that almost all college sports besides football and basketball operate in the red and that lacrosse is the third-highest net revenue loser. That story sparked considerable Forum discussion, where an often-debated topic arose once again: Why isn't there greater growth in Division I men's lacrosse?

One commentary on that question is worthy of note. It is from John Paul, who is in his 13th year as the head coach of the men's lacrosse team at the University of Michigan, which fields one of the top teams in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA), which has teams at over 200 colleges and universities across the country and even in Canada.

Coach Paul's post on the Forum is reproduced below. You can access the complete discussion at WSJ Article on Lax and Net Revenue per School. Paul's comments as well as responses from him and others that followed are on the second page of the thread, which has many other points of interest as well. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts.

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Here goes my annual post on my favorite topic ... My apologies up front if it's redundant, but this discussion often involves a repetition of the same data and opinions every time it comes up. Apologies as well for the self-indulgent length. I have a hard-earned reputation for long-winded posts on CollegeLax, and I only post on LaxPower about once a year. Feel free to skim or skip.

First, a brief bio to establish credibility, although I'm sure this learned audience will quickly point out any mistakes I may make. (I am, after all, just a public school educated college coach and will thusly refrain from invoking my vast knowledge of Latin which extends roughly to "carpe diem" and "quod erat demonstrandum.")

I am in my 13th year as the head coach of the men's lacrosse team at the University of Michigan a reasonably successful MCLA program. In my previous career I was a development officer and major gift officer here at Michigan for five years in our athletic department (where I also had quite a few administrative responsibilities and worked directly with our athletic director at the time) and two years on the academic side with our major undergraduate unit, the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. My father is in the 46th year of a career at Michigan as a professor and then a dean (for something like 25 years now emeritus), so I grew up immersed in the senior administrative culture of this place. It's an up-bringing and career that has given me a pretty unique look inside the major cultures of a big university academics, athletics, administration and the highly influential major donor world. I remain, in the interest of self-preservation and improving our program, pretty well connected in all of those realms. For a club guy I am also fairly well connected in the varsity lacrosse world, if I do say so myself, which I do.

I have some pretty strong opinions on this general topic. Whether or not it is the most important matter facing men's lacrosse today, it is often considered such as evidenced by the length of threads whenever it comes up and the obvious passion involved. As an anecdote, two or three years ago I was invited to serve on a panel that US Lacrosse put together to discuss the future of men's lacrosse. Even with me involved, it was an impressive group. It included leaders from the business and sports media worlds, marketers, major lacrosse manufacturers, an athletic director, a former NCAA administrator, well-known Division 1 lacrosse coaches (and one club coach), the commissioners of both professional leagues, etc. The two dozen-ish of us met for two days in a facilitated think-tank style forum, and any topic was fair game. We covered a lot of things, including managing youth lacrosse, rules, safety, officiating and many others, but at the end of the weekend, when all of the notes and plans and priorities were collated, the topic that was clearly the most important to the group was the growth of the men's game at the NCAA Division 1 level. I'm not exactly sure what USL did with the data gleaned from that weekend, but it was a pretty fun exercise (and we got to take in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony as well, which I recommend to any fan of the game at least once).

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