Over the years, lacrosse has gained a tremendous amount of popularity. No more has it been apparent than at the professional and collegiate levels. I recently spoke with a few individuals who coach and have played, or even still play in the MCLA in order to gain some insight as to how the MCLA has changed just in the past couple of years. We all know lacrosse is one of the two fastest growing sports in the United States right now, but so many questions exist in the forums and on many people’s minds. Therefore, I decided to ensure some of those questions get answered.
Josh Nelson (University of Missouri Lacrosse)
“Well, I think that there are a lot of positive changes that have occurred in the MCLA from the time I have been apart of it. I’ve seen teams grow not only talent wise, but also program wise. Teams have not just one, but multiple media sources in which they feed their fans updates about their team. I think there has been a huge stride as it grows the programs, which in turn grows the league. The connection teams can build with potential players and fans is something that I have personally seen that really grows a team. I think that the teams/programs within the MCLA are the ones with the most power to grow the league.”
“I think that on the other side, the MCLA has made huge strides in building the league into a serious one. When people imagine club lacrosse teams, there is a stereotype of kegs on the side, and not a real serious commitment from anyone. The MCLA has/is changing that. For the teams who really compete at the top level of MCLA, the commitment is comparable to other varsity sports. If you look closely at these teams, you see that they mimic varsity level teams in the way they practice and work. The MCLA has created a very high standard for teams, not only at a skill level but from a professional level as well. The Nike partnership is what really made me a believer in the MCLA. People can bash club ball and say it’s not serious or legit, but they can’t say anything to a Nike sponsorship. Nike is synonymous with the greatest in athletics. Having that backing sets an even higher standard for the MCLA and the teams that compete within it.”
“From my position as President, we have been able to expand our program exponentially from years past. Not to take away from past presidents, we are just moving a new direction. Our budget expands every year, as we do more and more to raise money. Our program does multiple fundraising events to not only help increase our budget, but more to get involved in our community and really be known for helping out. At Mizzou, our community is a huge part of us and so anything we can do to help them out we will. The growth of our program has increased dramatically. This year, we now have a media coordinator, as well as our leadership team who help manage and run our website, twitter page, and Facebook. Through these social networks we are able to expand and grow. Our Nike sponsorship is something we are really excited about. To be chosen was a great honor and we are looking forward to building a great relationship with them. Through our sponsorship with Nike, we are able to not only expand from an equipment standpoint, but we are able to better market ourselves to future players and fans. With Nike being the leader in sporting equipment and apparel, we are able to attract more people. The Nike label is a label of excellence and professionalism; we are excited about maintaining this high level of expectation.”
Pat Callaham (Missouri State Lacrosse Coach)
“Since I started coaching in the MCLA a lot has changed. For one, there are more teams in the league every single year, as the numbers have grown, the level of competition has gone up. There has also been a jump in the leagues exposure, not only in the Division 2 championship game televised, but the entire Division one final 4; and even one or two regular season games have been televised. When you then add in the league has a sponsorship with Nike it is an exciting time to be in this league. As far as recruiting goes I think you are starting to see that there are two types of high school players. You have players that are for the NCAA and ones for the MCLA. The difference between the two is not always talent. Some young men seem to just enjoy the club experience, if they find the type of program they want to be around (Many MCLA programs are very competitive). For us scheduling is interesting because we run on a low budget, but at the same time we want to remain competitive on a National level. In order to do that we need to travel at least 8 Hrs to play an OOC (Out of Conference) game against a nationally ranked opponent, which we have done the last three years. This year it will be to St.Paul to play NDSU, St. Johns, and St.Thomas. We got lucky this year and are going to be able to meet Hope in St. Louis. As far as exposure we are working on broadcasting our games via UStream. As far as players go, they seem to just keep getting bigger, strong, and all around better. With all of the youth programs in the area, you are seeing more experienced players coming out of high school, which has elevated the level of play through out the conference.”
Alex Cervasio (University of Florida Lacrosse CEO)
Fan Base, and the growth.
“I think the visibility of the league has grown tremendously and caused our fan base to increase as well. We now compete in tournaments with NCAA schools (Wounded Warrior, featuring Air Force, Maryland, FSU, Florida, Clemson), fundraising events are featured at neutral sites throughout the state in front of large crowds (Tiger Challenge, Stuart, FL), and now with the MCLA National Tourney being further televised more people can see the game.”
“I think though that it comes down to each individual team and conference to self promote their brand, if you can build a buzz on campus, that gets you more fans at your game, more fans lead to more exposure in school papers, on websites, etc. We’ve been able to do a great job with our fan base because anything Gators pretty much works down here, last year playing in Doak Campbell against FSU was great for the game of lacrosse and the sport in the state, but that game aside we’ve had upwards of 2,500+ fans at our home games here in Gainesville at UVS Field against teams like, FSU, UCF, and Michigan. The game of lacrosse is spreading like wild fire throughout the state so it’s made it easier for us as well.”
“A lot easier. For us, mainly because of the way we have traveled across the country. Our travel schedule has enabled more teams on the west coast who may have thought less about Florida lacrosse to see that we are just as good as any team in the MCLA, not only able to compete but able to continuously win on the national stage. The Sunshine State also helps, most teams come to us on their spring break and it really makes attracting teams a whole lot easier.”
Overall, as a player, and now CEO, what are the biggest changes you have seen?
“I’d say the big thing is the quality of talent in the MCLA, the increase in NCAA transfers together with the increase in HS AA’s attending MCLA schools has really brought the league to a point where many of the top programs can legitimately rival, recruit against, and defeat NCAA DII and DIII teams.”
Additions of more conferences?
“I think more conferences are needed, I think the west coast of the MCLA does a great job with their conference structure and layout. The SELC needs to be split up, I think a simple split into two conferences wouldn’t make sense geographically, a 3 way split would split teams better, but a 2 way split would allow for an AQ for the tourney.”
“I think the MCLA needs to go towards an NCAA March Madness tournament structure, with more teams making the tournament but having regional weekends to cut down on the actual amount of teams that will make it to Denver. This would eliminate the argument of some conferences getting an AQ over other, allowing for the best conferences and teams to have the best opportunity for making it to Denver.”
What do you think about more televised MCLA games?
“I don’t see this really taking off, Chapman/Michigan on ESPNU last year was awesome, and the MCLA tournament coverage has been great, but it’s too expensive to execute nationally for the league to really pursue.”
“I think the MCLA should go after the online streaming market, provide teams and conferences with opportunities to provide cheap live video broadcasts through the mcla.us site.”
Selling of MCLA jersey’s/merch
“Merch is easy for us to sell because like Michigan or Texas if you put Florida or Gators on a t-shirt people will buy it. This has been a HUGE fundraiser the past few seasons, people want to buy Gator Lacrosse t-shirts, Nike shorts, Nike jerseys, gloves, stickers, helmets, car decals, sweatshirts, etc. We’ve really been able to sell anything we’ve made that says Gator Lacrosse.”
“Gym Tan Lax tanks have been a constant stream of fundraising for the team, they single handily funded our National Tournament trip last summer and continue to be hot sellers on gatorlacrosse.com
They’ve caused us to move on to new colors and start focusing on team orders, facebook.com/gymtanlax has over 1,500 fans from across the world and continues to grow.”
Has the MCLA done a good job of marketing the teams, or could they do a better job? Is it up to the teams solely?
“I think the MCLA has done a good job, but I think they’ve really missed some areas of focus. The league does a great job if you are already associated with the MCLA to be able to stay up to date (mcla.us, mag, etc) but it really shuts out attracting any outside lacrosse fans (high school prospects, parents, youth lacrosse, NCAA potential transfer players, etc) I think the league needs to move more towards a bigger online presence with more content and more video that would be contributed by the teams, conference, and league itself.”
Andy Joly (Missouri Baptist Lacrosse Coach)
“I think just in the past few years we have seen the MCLA make a name for itself…its more recognizable and there are more and more people that recognize it as a legitimate source of high quality competitive lacrosse. Another big change that I’ve notice is that there are more and more MCLA schools getting out on the national recruiting scene, I’ve seen many MCLA schools at such showcases like Adrenaline Challenge in San Diego, Denver Shootout, and even the Ultimate Performance Camp in Annapolis. Lastly, the MCLA is rapidly breaking into social media and publication: more websites devoted to MCLA news, Facebook, Twitter, magazines, etc.”
“I think the average team in the MCLA (DI or DII) are light years ahead of the average team 5 years ago in terms of funding, commitment, and training. Teams are operating with bigger budgets than ever; programs are starting to see more and more university support (in some cases TOTAL support, raising dues, and fundraising like crazy! We see that make a direct correlation to which team can have the best uniforms, gear, and equipment…also letting teams traveling further to play better teams improving their strength of schedule. Teams are training earlier, longer, and harder than ever…at MBU we had a 2 month fall ball with 5 scrimmages, winter workouts every week, and we started practice in the second week of January in an indoor facility. Another good example is the University of Missouri who have been doing two-a-days for the last 2 months. It seems like more and more teams have their sites set on the National Tournament and anything short of that is a disappointment.”
“It’s an extremely exciting time to be in the MCLA, with new partnerships with Nike, Lax World, talks with television rights to our National Tournament, and more… it has grown into a league that we can all be proud to be a part of. It’s more common now that if someone asks “what is the MCLA?” that person just doesn’t know lacrosse.”
It is safe to say that between partnerships, scheduling, merchandise, games with benefits, coaching clinics, better known lacrosse athletes, and the MCLA doing a better job of getting the brand across to all the athletes, I can only see the MCLA brand taking off even more over the next couple of years as well. It’s exciting to see where it may be, and even though it has been said televised games are expensive, it is not out of the question to ask just when they will be televised. In fact, I think with how well taken in the MCLA is right now, it’s only a matter of time. By time, I most definitely mean in the very near future. Till next time my lax fiends…
I am the Managing Editor for UMGoBlog and UMGoBlue, and I am originally from the Detroit area. I love sports and have played and excelled at them all; football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, hockey, powerlifting, and baseball. I cover mainly the University of Michigan Men’s lacrosse team, and occasionally do the graphics as well. Feel free to contact me to chat about anything as I even write for CollegeLax as well. [email protected] and Twitter.com/TheRealHag