The Cooler is a summer-long series featuring opinions about the MCLA and where the league stands heading into the 2017 campaign. Have an opinion piece about something MCLA related? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a comment or rebuttal to this column? Hit us up on Twitter.
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
One of the long-standing tenets of the MCLA – it’s actually codified in the association’s bylaws – is the organization’s membership is limited to those institutions that do not have a varsity program to offer its student-athletes. It’s a rule whose genesis dates backs to the fledgling days of the MCLA when it was working to establish itself as nationwide player in the lacrosse community.
For those just getting their feet wet with the MCLA or weren’t aware of this mandate, it dates back to a so-called “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the MCLA and the USILA coaches (not to be confused with the USLIA, which, along with the MDIA, were nominal precursors of the MCLA).
Varsity coaches were worried back in the late-90s and early aughts that having an organized club presence on the campus would provide a weak-willed athletic director an avenue to cut the sport from the varsity rolls because he/she could insist there was still opportunity to play lacrosse. Twenty years later, and knowing what we know now, that may seem like a silly notion, but at that time it wasn’t unreasonable.
With budget concerns and the demands of proportionality requirements, D-I men's athletic programs were getting chopped at a mildly alarming rate. Wrestling took the biggest hit, although baseball found itself in the crosshairs with some frequency. Even though it had a relatively small scholarship stake, lacrosse’s typical roster size had the potential to put it in the danger zone, too.
Within a historical context, the varsity coaches’ request was not illogical.
Taking into consideration how many colleges and universities did not have varsity lacrosse at the time, entering into this agreement was a small price to pay to get a seat at the table with an influential coaching organization. The presence of former MCLA presidents Jason Lamb, John Paul and Tony Scazzero on those coaching committees was invaluable, and it continues today with Ken Lovic and the IMLCA.
Alas, over the course of the last two decades, some new realities have emerged. Instead of being considered a force that could potentially retard varsity lacrosse growth, the MCLA has unquestionably been the biggest driver of it. As we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks in Utah and Michigan before it, the presence of the MCLA has provided the foundation for a rapid ascent.
With this in mind, along with the mild attrition rate the association is facing, is it time to revisit the MCLA’s prohibition on schools that may have a varsity outfit?
I’ll admit to having no set bias either way on the question. From my perspective, there are pros and cons about possibly enjoining this venture.
For starters, it creates a nearly unlimited supply of potential members for the MCLA. Not to say that there will be a huge glut of teams lining up to join. The NCLL currently provides an organized non-varsity league for most of those institutions with a varsity component, but the structure of NCLL programs does not furnish a ready-made MCLA outfit. This is not a dig at the NCLL, which has numerous talented programs that could hold their own on the field, but the off-the-field organizational benchmarks to become an MCLA member are considerably more rigorous than that of the NCLL.
Second, taking off the varsity-school shackles would unlock nearly the entire Eastern Seaboard for the MCLA, and with it, the status of becoming truly the only coast-to-coast league in the country. In the same vein, the Mid-Atlantic region – currently an MCLA desert save for a couple of hearty stalwarts like George Washington – would be thrown open to the MCLA brand.
The negatives of changing the bylaws to open up all schools to MCLA access are mostly based on the hard-won reputation of the league. Under its current iteration, the association has established itself as a league of programs that are the premium on-campus option to play lacrosse. What would be gained by having a Hopkins or Syracuse MCLA team when it just plays into the archaic mindset that we are a “secondary” league? We’ve never played the role of second fiddle before, why start now?
Perhaps the most compelling reason for not opening up our membership to any school is it isn’t necessary. The MCLA still has 200 teams in two divisions that are stocked with highly competitive programs that provided a pair of dynamic championship tournaments in ’16. If and when the time comes that we’re populating the varsity world with former programs and thinning our membership to a tipping point, this discussion might be necessary.
For now, we’re good.