“…The SLC’s Division II consists of Biola, Cal Lutheran, CSU Fullerton, Concordia, Long Beach State, Occidental, Pepperdine and UC Irvine….”
“…The WCLL had been the best league in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) and its predecessor, the Men’s Division Intercollegiate Associates, for years…”
As they lingered by Sonoma State’s lacrosse fields where the Adrenaline Elite Camp was held over the summer, several coaches and administrators from Western Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL) Division I teams talked amongst themselves while viewing potential recruits.
There was Matt Holman, head coach of San Diego State, Chris Malone of Arizona State, Mike Wood of national runner-up Chapman, Gary Podesta, the president of the WCLL and head coach at Santa Clara, and Mike Annala, the academic advisor for Sonoma State. As was custom those days, talk quickly turned to the state of the conference.
The WCLL had been the best league in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) and its predecessor, the Men’s Division Intercollegiate Associates, for years. Recently, however, the cumbersome logistics of the league – 20 teams spread over four, uneven divisions and a geographical area covering roughly the same distance between New York City and Jacksonville, Fla. – had spurred talk of movement.
There was more urgency in the voices this time, spurred by recent developments.
It appeared a solution to the problems had been brokered earlier in the year with Arizona State’s application for membership in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference, a four-team league looking to up its numbers to six for an automatic qualifier to the MCLA championships. In an effort to hit the mark, the RMLC mandated that Arizona be part of the package with the Sun Devils. Without a coach at the time, UA declined, sinking the entire venture.
Determined to realign, WCLL coaches at the Sonoma camp hunkered down and put a tentative plan together.
“I think the seeds of the split were sown during that time, with all the coaches agreeing to work towards a smooth split and everyone having tasks to perform,” confirmed Annala, who is also the WCLL treasurer.
The split would allow for the continuation of the WCLL along with the advent of a new conference, tentatively named the Southwestern Collegiate Conference. Coaches hit the phones – and the road – to make it happen as quickly as possible.
Wood, Malone and Holman culled the rest of the southern WCLL teams who were interested in diverging, laying the groundwork for the fledgling organization. Meanwhile, Podesta and Craig Miller, the WCLL vice president, gave a presentation to the MCLA board in August to nail down an automatic qualifier for the SCC this spring.
With a dozen teams committed, an AQ in hand and a new name – now the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference – the break from the WCLL was official. The North/West division of the SLC consists of Chapman, Claremont, Loyola Marymount, UCSB, USC and UCLA; the South/East has Arizona, Arizona State, UNLV, UC San Diego, San Diego State and the University of San Diego.
“The travel logistics really panned out well for everybody – the remaining WCLL teams and the ones that split,” said Holman, who is now the SLC president. “Creating two conferences in the same region where we’ve all historically been used to traveling was really something we talked about with the [MCLA] requirement to play so many out-of-conference teams.”
The remaining WCLL teams – Sonoma State, Cal Poly, Chico State, Stanford, Santa Clara, Cal, UC Davis, Nevada and San Jose State – helped in the realignment, especially regarding financial issues.
“The WCLL agreed to equitably divide assets to help the SLC in their efforts, and the core SLC leadership has done an admirable job taking care of business and developing their organization,” said Annala. “That is not to say there are not wistful memories of what the WCLL represented and accomplished in its 35-year history.”
And the WCLL has accomplished quite a bit.
Not only can the WCLL take a share of the credit in building lacrosse in California and Arizona – something the SLC has pledged to continue – but it also had some of the most demanding academic requirements of any league. Unlike the MCLA, which simply requires student-athletes to carry a 12-credit course load in the spring to be eligible, the WCLL stipulates student-athletes must carry a full, 12-credit slate in the fall, as well, and maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
The SLC kept much of the same structure and bylaws of its parent league in its inaugural Oct. 4 league meeting. However, the league coaches voted 13-3 to discontinue the WCLL’s academic standards and adopt the MCLA baseline.
Having an automatic qualifier and possibly getting more awards for his players motivated Wood, Chapman’s head coach, to push for the split. But moving away from the WCLL rules that so closely mirrored those of the NCAA did not sit well with Wood, who is also an assistant football coach for the Panthers.
“Why should I be coaching football players here that abide by those rules and my lacrosse players don’t? When I sat down with my AD, he said, `I thought you guys were going from the beer-drinking league to being recognized as trying to be an NCAA thing.’ I said, `Yeah, that’s why I voted to keep the rules as they were,'” said Wood. “The WCLL has been around for 20 years, and those guys worked hard to get those rules to where they were at, and, in one fell swoop, we changed the league and cancelled the rules.”
Annala, and many of the remaining WCLL personnel, expected as much.
“The decision by the southern teams to eschew more stringent eligibility requirements did not come as a surprise to members of the WCLL Board of Directors,” said Annala. “With the increase in the number of young coaches in the SLC, there had been rumblings that the standards were too hard to keep up with for coaches who only wanted to coach and not necessarily follow up on their player’s academic progress.”
Holman, who also voted to keep the WCLL’s academic standards, said that while there were disagreements over this issue, it wasn’t one of the reasons for the genesis of the SLC. “You really had to be at the meeting to see that the discussion was well presented, for both arguments, and that it was not a reason to enact the split,” he said.
Eligibility standards appear to be mostly an effect, not a cause, of the SLC break-off from the WCLL, and it’s an issue that might be revisited in the future. Also, in an effort to promote lacrosse at the collegiate level, the SLC has decided to let several junior colleges play under its organizational flag (not for playoffs or awards), which could have influenced the accepted eligibility guidelines.
“They don’t become members of the MCLA, but we felt it was a wise thing to do,” said Holman. “If they’re out there, why not give them an opportunity to play under our organization? California has a lot of junior colleges and, unless you research it, you don’t notice it.”
The split between the WCLL and the SLC became a reality when a bunch of guys decided to brainstorm during a summer camp, and it is now a reality for the 2009 season. But it doesn’t mean the two leagues have washed their hands of each other. With the MCLA’s non-conference game requirements, the presence of two conferences in the same region will provide both the WCLL and SLC easy dates in their quest for national berths. Instead of being adversaries, the symbiotic relationship should help both leagues.
“I don’t think anyone’s feelings were hurt,” said Holman. “I think everybody realized it was good for all. I think it’s going to be kind of cool, and everyone will enjoy it.”
Slides & Rides
– The SLC’s Division II consists of Biola, Cal Lutheran, CSU Fullerton, Concordia, Long Beach State, Occidental, Pepperdine and UC Irvine. Teams will be eligible for an automatic qualifier to the MCLAs, although Biola (La Mirada, Calif.) will not play in the playoffs. Due to a carryover infraction from the 2008 WCLL rules, the Eagles will be on a yearlong probation.
– There will be six-team playoff in SLC D-I, with the two division winners earning byes and the rest of the teams being seeded by record. This does not necessarily mean that each division will receive three bids, as there could be fourth team coming out of one and just two out of the other. The playoffs are April 24-26 at the University of San Diego. SLC D-II will have a four-team playoff featuring the top four eligible programs.
– I always wondered why I could never find club programs in the Chicago area, like Northwestern and University of Chicago, or in Wisconsin, like UW-Madison and any of the other satellite schools in the state system, when I searched the MCLA and NCLL ranks. Well, I finally found out why. They belong to their own association: the Great Lakes Lacrosse League. Started by Hal Rosenberg, the league is seven years old and boasts 30 teams. According to Rosenberg, he started the GLLL because the MCLA was not receptive to the development of a Wisconsin-based conference and just wanted the area schools to join the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League.
Rosenberg, who is also the head coach at Wisconsin-Madison, keeps the travel and costs to a minimum in his league. “It is an alternate model and has helped grow the sport tremendously in this area of the country,” he said. “The low cost and minimal travel has made it possible for small programs to get started and grow.” It’s that kind of strategic thinking that keeps lacrosse growing.
– Kentucky is moving from the NCLL to the MCLA this year. The Wildcats will play in the SELC…The WCLL and SLC have formed separate conferences, but Matt Holman, the SLC president, hopes to have a WCLL-SLC “Game of the Week” starting in 2010 to highlight some of the old rivalries within the league. Sonoma State-UCSB is always a dandy…Indiana and Purdue are moving from the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association to the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference this spring. They’ll join traditional Big 10 rivals Iowa and Illinois…Think you’ve got to wait a while for the first lacrosse game of the season? Well, Claremont plays Biola on Jan. 24. That’s 52 days.