Something is happening in the lacrosse world that has the capability of bringing the sport to heights never seen before. It is occurring at The Ohio State University, and the man responsible has very little to do with the lacrosse world. That man is Jim Tressel, OSU’s football coach.
I do not know the details of how then-Ohio State lacrosse coach Joe Breschi approached Tressel about playing a lacrosse game before the Buckeyes’ spring football game. But it can be assumed that Breschi must have had some doubts when he decided to ask the coach of one of the most prominent football programs in the country to share the most important day of the spring. That’s why it must have come as a total shock when Tressel, backed by AD Gene Smith, signed on for the idea.
Like much of lacrosse, the above scenario has its roots in Upstate New York. Tressel was an assistant football coach at Syracuse in the mid-1980s and said the lacrosse program often played a doubleheader with the football team’s spring game. He said the situation, however, was reversed: It was lacrosse that would lure a crowd to the spring football game.
Anyway, the game last April between the Buckeyes and Denver was a milestone. It ended up being the most attended on-campus game in the college lacrosse history, with more than 29,000 fans in attendance. And that event was not a one-off.
Even though Breschi has left Ohio State for North Carolina, Tressel’s commitment to lacrosse apparently has not wavered. He has agreed to let the lacrosse team share the stage with the spring game next April; this time, the Buckeyes will face Notre Dame.
With all those positive aspects surrounding the lacrosse/football “Spring Event,” it begs the question: “Why don’t more programs and college lacrosse coaches try to follow this model?”
And that question got me thinking. What other schools and lacrosse programs would not only benefit from such an opportunity, but also be great leaders in the movement? The following are a few that stood out.
Notre Dame and Penn State. Both schools have two of the top football programs in the country and could most easily replicate the Ohio State model. They each draw 50,000+ fans for their spring football games, which would probably result in attendances close to 20,000 for the lacrosse “undercard.”
The Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions’ lacrosse programs have had solid success, but haven’t quite been able to maintain spots in the top 10 consistently. A Spring Event like the one the Buckeyes put on would be incredibly beneficial for recruiting and notoriety for both programs. Lacrosse games in Notre Dame Stadium and Beaver Stadium would be sights to behold. (Notre Dame Stadium has hosted women’s lacrosse.)
Virginia. This would be a great fit for a Spring Event because it would benefit both the lacrosse and football programs. Traditionally, the UVa-Duke lacrosse game falls on the same weekend as UVa’s spring football game. The match-up between the Cavs and the Blue Devils has become one of the best rivalries in Division I lacrosse; it drew an overflow crowd of more than 8,000 at Klockner Stadium last spring.
In fact, it drew almost as many fans as the spring football game. The strange thing is that the two games were played at the same time and in different venues (doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?). This would be a perfect opportunity to combine the events at Scott Stadium. Charlottesville is a town that revolves around the University of Virginia, and a lacrosse/football combo would be the highlight of the spring for many Cavalier fans.
To top it off, Al Groh, Virginia’s football coach, played lacrosse at UVa in the mid-1960s. And his current football team has at least 11 players who played lacrosse in high school, including several starters.
Michigan. This is an incredible wild card, but it could be the most important of all the possibilities. Having a Division I lacrosse program in Ann Arbor would be one of the best additions to the college game in many years. What better way to build momentum for the Wolverines’ club lacrosse program’s push to DI than to play a game before the Maze ‘n Blue’s Spring football game?
If the lacrosse program can prove to the University that the support is substantial, the chances of getting funding for a Division I program expands exponentially. The club team has already begun to attract attention by hosting a fall tournament in which Johns Hopkins and Army attended in 2007. Lastly, considering the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry, wouldn’t it make sense for Michigan to want to compete with the Buckeyes on every possible level? Rich Rodriguez is an innovator on the gridiron, so it would make sense that he would be intrigued by something as revolutionary as this.
Picture this, 10 years from now, the Buckeyes and Wolverines playing in front of 50,000 fans in late April in the Big House and then heading to the Columbus and the Horseshoe to do it all over again the following spring.
Maryland and Navy. This would be an interesting combination, as the two schools could rotate a home and home Spring Event series. Navy has played its spring football game with the lacrosse game; the most memorable such event came in 2004. Then, Navy and Johns Hopkins played a classic overtime game before around 19,000 fans. The football game followed.
The Terps and Midshipmen have a long-standing rivalry in lacrosse and the two football programs will face each other in 2010 and possibly 2014. In addition, the schools are 30 miles apart and draw some of the largest crowds in Division I lacrosse. This could be a major event in the state of Maryland. It would be a perfect opportunity for Inside Lacrosse to add another showcase event as both Annapolis and College Park are close to IL’s headquarters in Baltimore. Lastly, both athletic departments are sponsored by Under Armor so it could be a great promotional event for one of the biggest supporters of the sport of lacrosse.
There are obviously other universities that could put together a great event with the lacrosse/football combination. Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina are a few that come to mind (we hope that UNC football coach Butch Davis is as receptive to the idea as was Tressel, if Breschi asks him).
It just makes too much sense for another lacrosse program to try and replicate the Ohio State model. It has been nothing but positive for the sport and the Buckeyes.
The sport of lacrosse has been expanding at a record pace with an attendance of close to 50,000 at the 2008 Final Four, 20,000 fans at the Inside Lacrosse Face Off Classic and most recently the announcement of the Day of Rivals Weekend featuring Army v. Navy and Hopkins v. Maryland. These types of events wouldn’t be possible if the interest was not there. People are showing up in droves for lacrosse games and the sport has been very good at staying ahead of the curve to accommodate the increased popularity. This is just another opportunity to take advantage of the current wave of momentum. Combining the momentum that lacrosse has created with the force that is NCAA College Football would be an unbelievable addition to the spring lacrosse schedule.