It has recently been brought to my attention that Division I Men’s Lacrosse is becoming somewhat of a hot ticket on gambling websites all over the internet. Chalk it up to the growth of the sport, the dynamic, exciting nature of games, or even the options for lots of different parlays and mini-games, but one thing is for certain: betting on lax is here and it’s real.
The purpose of this piece is not to take sides or pass judgment, just to present the information and caveats, so please keep that in mind. You may find some of the things I say controversial, but realize that they are merely the humble opinions (or jokes) of a former laxer-turned-journalist. We will also not mention or link any websites because of their hazy legal status in the United States. If you *really* have to get the inside scoop, reach out to Bradley Ryder Owens. Rumor has it that he runs the underground lax gambling scene and has been shaving goals since the Gait Brothers first pulled out the Air Gait–apparently he made enough money that game to buy himself a Warrior Levitation, which was the price of a Lexus in those days. Anyways, I digress:
At first it may seem like an exciting proposition–you’re going to be glued to the TV anyways when there’s lax coverage…so why not make it a little more “exciting”? Lacrosse players are fanatic about their teams, so there’s nothing wrong with a friendly wager between buddies, right? Well, maybe.
Setting the Scene
I think anyone can agree that lacrosse is a different sport. The demographic is much more homogeneous than the bigger NCAA sports (football, basketball, etc.), and while it has grown faster than any NCAA sport out there for the past 10 years, it sill enjoys the tightly-knit player and fan base of a smaller, niche sport. We’re now presented with a juxtaposition of big-time national attention meeting head-on with close relationships and a fraternal framework.
The Main Problem
Which brings me to the crux of the issue: because of it’s unique positioning within the athletic and social stratospheres, lacrosse simply does not have the checks and balances that a bigger, more established NCAA sport inherently possesses.
Lacrosse players are very close to one another, and the frequency of college lacrosse players from the hotbeds around the Unites States is disproportionately high. If you played lacrosse in high school, ask yourself how many guys you know, including yourselves, who have gone on to play D1 lacrosse. Now if you also played football or basketball, ask yourselves how many people you know who went on to play big-time D1 football or basketball…do you see what I am getting at?
Now before you get all huffy and puffy, stating that there is a sample bias because this is a lacrosse website and is predisposed to attracting readers who played lacrosse as a main sport, or that this is anecdotal evidence, let’s do two things: let’s remember that these are my opinions and this is largely an assumption-based piece, but let’s also look at a few numbers. Note: In the following section, I am looking at D-1A football and D1 men’s lacrosse because these are the highest levels of collegiate play and feature the most betting action.
There are 1.1 million high school football players in the nation, and 119 D1-A NCAA football teams. Given that a D-1A football team is allowed a “squad size” of 70 players, that means that there are a total of 8,330 players competing at this level (119 teams x 70 players).
This means that of the 1.1 million high school football players, about 0.75% go on to play at the D1-A level.
There are roughly 136,710 boys’ high school lacrosse players in the United States (US Lacrosse Participation Survey, 2009), and 61 teams in d1 Men’s lacrosse. The “squad size” for D1 men’s lacrosse is 32 players, giving us a total of 1,952 lacrosse player competing at this level.
This means that of the 136,710 boys’ high school lacrosse players, about 1.4% go on to play at the D1 level.
What Does That Even Mean?
Proportionately, there are twice as many players who play high school lacrosse who go on to play D1 when compared to football. Layer on the fact that lacrosse players come from highly concentrated areas and you have a perfect storm of interpersonal relationships potentially influencing on-field performances, especially if there’s money on the line.
In lacrosse it’s not rare to know 10 guys from your town who graduated the same year who have gone on to play D1 ball, with 2 or even 3 guys on the same college team. This parallel is harder to find in football. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here, but I wanted to present some facts.
Checks and Balances
Also when compared to D1-A football, the lifestyle of a D1 lacrosse player is quite different. At large D1-A football programs, players are very visible. They are scrutinized, constantly supervised and parented by the coaching staff. The time to participate in illicit activities is minimal, although it does admittedly happen. Point-shaving has been around for a long time in D1-A football, and there are many systems in place to prevent it from happening.
Lacrosse players, on the other hand, have much less supervision and visibility, and practice schedules allow for significantly more downtime when compared to their football counterparts. There are a lot less politics in lacrosse than football, so there is minimal time and attention spent outside practice and games. Again, I will let you draw your own conclusion here.
Due to the community-like characteristics of lacrosse and heterogeneous demographics, combined with the high frequencies of players going on to the next level and lifestyle structures of D1 programs, it’s not hard to imagine why betting on NCAA D1 lacrosse can open the door to controversy. These concepts are largely foreign to lacrosse because of it’s relative youth, but as a sport grows and attracts more attention, one must take the good with the bad. I like to think of them as “growing pains”.
As for myself, I think I’ll go ahead and take the Hopkins/Princeton parlay off of the UVA/’Cuse game. I know a few guys on the team…
Sources: not Wikipedia.org, NCAA.org, US Lacrosse Participation Report 2009