The Next Battle for Men's Lacrosse

By Michael Spinner

The debate surrounding Title IX is over. It's dead. It's long lost…and nothing is going to change. As we learned this week with the University of Oregon adding Women's Lacrosse as a varsity sport, the positives the law has brought will continue. However, the negatives will as well. The University of Oregon will never add men's lacrosse at this rate…nor will most Division I schools.

There was, recently, a golden opportunity to create change that would have been nothing short of wonderful in the college athletics world. It was called the "Commission on Opportunity in Athletics" and for opponents of the current interpretation of Title IX, it was a dream come true. 15 "experts" from the worlds of politics, athletics, and education; a national tour where forums were held to express opinions on ways to change the law that has done so much good yet so much bad at the same time; and a genuine vote that would result in a recommendation to the Secretary of Education Rod Paige on how to change the law.

It was all just a tease.

In the end, nothing was accomplished. While the panel did make some smaller recommendations to alter Title IX, when it came to creating bona fide change, the panel did nothing. In fact, the final vote for widespread reform that would have caused a major controversy (but still accomplished something good) ended in a 7-7 tie…the tie occurring because Commissioner Lisa Graham Keegan was not present for the vote.

Commissioner Lisa Graham Keegan and Secretary of Education Rod Paige

How convenient.

So, the panel literally did nothing. They left the room on the final day with no sweeping changes, no hope for sports such as men's lacrosse that have suffered as a result of Title IX, and really all that we know for sure is that Title IX is important to maintain but equally important to alter.

In other words, nothing has changed.

When it comes to a politically charged atmosphere where controversial decisions could lead to swing votes to bring a different party to power, nobody knows how to make non-actions look more meaningful than the Federal Government of the United States of America. In this case, political leaders may applaud the Commission for its efforts, and President Bush may speak openly of his opposition to the current interpretation to Title IX, but nothing is going to be changed. The courts won't touch Title IX, neither will the government. Do sports such as men's lacrosse have any hope? Not on this battlefield.

It's time to give up or define the new strategy; find the high ground again. The Commission did bring to light the one aspect of college athletics that may very well be the true stumbling block for the expansion of men's lacrosse. The Title IX route did not work, men's lacrosse now has a new war for expansion to fight against a new enemy…


More specifically, the forums held by the Title IX panel brought to light the fact that overspending by Division I athletics departments is nearly every bit as much to blame for the elimination of many men's sports and the lack of expansion for men's lacrosse as Title IX. Many who testified pointed to the outrageous amounts of money spent at big-budget Division I schools for sports that ultimately lose money. Even the elite Division I institutions that send football teams to bowl games lost money on the very post-season venture that they are competing for and one member of the panel even said that some of the BCS bowl teams lost money despite going to the biggest of bowl games. It's hard to believe but between recruiting, travel, and equipment expenditures, a football program can draw in upwards of 100,000 fans a game and still lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Just incredible.

And for smaller Division I football schools, the losses are just as bad. Recently, three members of the MAAC Conference (St. John's, Fairfield, Canisius) dropped their football programs in cost-cutting efforts. St. John's used this opportunity to specifically begin a men's lacrosse program and Canisius has significantly upgraded the status of men's lacrosse at that school. One must wonder how many other schools out there could add men's lacrosse if only they saw the light.

Will lacrosse pundits out there convince schools to drop football to add lacrosse? Probably not. Could a few economists "educate" school administrators about how sports such as men's lacrosse are far more financially feasible than football? Maybe.

It's plain and simple to see how much colleges can save by removing football and adding lacrosse:

  • Tuition: The NCAA allows up to 88 football scholarships to Division I schools with many offering between 40-65. Basically, colleges do not make a dime off of tuition dollars for football, and when you add to the mix the cost of recruiting a football player (flying a recruit to campus, flying to a home town for a home visit, etc.), schools actually lose quite a bit of money right up front on their football players. For lacrosse, with the NCAA scholarship max at 12.5 (with most Division I schools offering less than that), schools tend to make quite a bit of money off of their lacrosse players right up front. And while official visits and home visits do happen in men's lacrosse, the number and frequency are not nearly as massive as football.

  • Staff: Here's where some money is saved. Division I Football National Champ Ohio State has more than 20 full-time members of its coaching staff. Defending Division I Lacrosse Champ Syracuse has three. If the National Championship is the goal of an institution, it seems that lacrosse is a far more financially feasible possibility.

  • Travel: Granted, the expansion of men's lacrosse would mean more travel for lacrosse programs, the massive amount of travel for football programs is simply overwhelming. When football programs travel to a game, they bring the immediate team and an entire entourage of administrators, support personnel, etc. Lacrosse travel requires maybe an SID and most Division I teams make most of their trips on buses.

St. John's, Fairfield, and others including the Big Ten's University of Minnesota can attest that football is an institutional investment that can lose lots of money. While lacrosse is certainly not a college cash-cow, it is far more financially feasible and every bit as exciting as football. It may just be a matter of making the information public.

Those who blame Title IX for the lack of expansion in NCAA men's lacrosse have a valid point, but there is no longer a venue to fight Title IX. That war is over. It's time for the next chapter in the fight for men's lacrosse, a new battle over the use of what are limited resources for college athletics programs. When it comes to gender-equity, there are not many willing to listen to reason. When it comes to saving money, there are very few who will not. Perhaps it is time to start talking about this new battle a little bit more.


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