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The second article of the professional lacrosse model, where past initiatives can represent a possible learning experience for future pro rugby projects.
In French, la crosse means the stick.
USA History (Post 1950)
Lacrosse was a Native American sport (mainly, eastern Canada and the United States) that took root in US colleges, high schools, and prep schools from North Carolina north to Boston. For decades, the game witnessed competition solely among 25-30 colleges along a narrow, east coast area. Clusters of importance at the secondary school levels were found in Baltimore and Nassau County, Long Island.
One of the main reasons for its limited play was that the wooden sticks were hand-crafted by Iroquois, limiting the potential expansion to other American universities. When plastic models appeared in the mid 1970’s, it facilitated the explosion of the game at college and high school levels, and no team sport expanded as rapidly as lacrosse. Today, some forty plus years after the plastic revolution, about 360 colleges play in D-I, D-II, and D-III levels in an NCAA sport. (Statistically, D-III numbers around 230 teams.)
Yet, despite this westward growth, the corridors of powers continued to rest among east coast colleges. Since 1971, only Notre Dame have reached the NCAA finals, all other finalists coming from the east powerhouses. In 2014, a paltry four universities west of Pennsylvania placed in the top 25: Notre Dame (4), Denver (5), Air Force (23) and Ohio State (24). The Fighting Irish have been to the finals twice (2010 and 2014) losing to Duke on both occasions.
Denver secured the coaching brilliance of Bill Tierney, former Princeton and USA national team coach in 2009. This active lacrosse legend built a dynamic program that has gone 66-23 in his tenure (.742). The team has its own 2,000 seat lacrosse stadium.
With the proliferation of the sport, ESNP took a gamble to air games on Saturdays and to devote more coverage to the D-I championship, played similarly to the March college basketball event. Part of the reason for this multi-week daytime lacrosse coverage rested in the final game, where upwards of 40,000 fans packed the stands, event attendance secondary in numbers to college football. The college ratings proved satisfactory, and, when the MLL started, cable televised the new league’s games, which currently air in the evening. Judgmentally, there is a niche audience for the sport.
The eight team average of 4,500, while not spectacular, provides revenue income to the stadiums in which they play. Denver, new to the sport, first enjoyed the success of the University, and averages 10,000 fans for the MLL team.
(In Part III, what can rugby learn, if anything, from the MLL model?)