Another pro league is on the way. Florida (Florida!) is the fourth seed in the women’s tournament ahead of such well-established programs as Penn and Virginia.
Yes, lacrosse is blooming outside of its longtime hotbeds Baltimore, Long Island and upstate New York. Sure, those are still the most fertile recruiting areas for college coaches, but compared to a generation ago, the sport that combines the physicality of football, the constant motion of basketball and the stickhandling of hockey has spread to more diverse locales.
Maryland, the top seed in the NCAA women’s tournament, has players from Australia, England, California and Northern Virginia.
Syracuse, the top seed in the men’s tournament, which also gets started this weekend, has players from Canada, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Notre Dame and Denver, not long ago granted special men’s tournament bids as non-East Coast teams, are seeded fourth and sixth, respectively, ahead of perennial powers Princeton and Virginia.
Hartford, Siena, Bucknell and Villanova will play for the men’s title while longtime contenders Georgetown, Loyola (Md.), Army and Navy are nowhere to be found.
Over 145,000 fans turned out for the 2009 men’s Final Four at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, even though Syracuse – 259 miles away –was the only participant within 335 miles of Foxborough, Ma.
It’s true that without a major national television contract, lacrosse isn’t perceived as major league. Johns Hopkins’ stars might not even be recognized in the Inner Harbor, let alone outside of Baltimore, while Syracuse’s standouts are certainly unknown outside of lacrosse circles or Central New York.
But there’s a throwback charm to that relative anonymity since, unlike football, basketball, baseball and hockey, the top college players are not only the sport’s biggest stars , but they play for scholarships and the love of the game not the anticipation of future millions. Pro lacrosse players fit their practices and games around their work schedules.
If you haven’t seen top college lacrosse, do yourself a favor and check out Navy vs. Maryland (women), Massachusetts vs. Loyola (women) or Hofstra vs. Hopkins (men) tomorrow or make a weekend of it in Charlottesville with the Cavaliers’ women playing host to the Tar Heels tomorrow and the men facing Bucknell on Sunday. I bet you’ll fall in love with lacrosse like I did when I was covering the powerful Orange in the 1980s.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.