The only thing I don't enjoy about the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four is that it always brings a lot of casual insight and uninformed opinions out of the woodworks. Based on the results of these three games, there's always a group of people who make sweeping generalizations about the current state and future of the sport.
It also leads to funny tweets like this...
Denver Pioneers make history: 1st team west of Appalachians to win Div 1 lacrosse national championship. Hockey school now lacrosse school.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 25, 2015
I'll give you a second to go look at a map, smile and start thinking about the t-shirt.
The big issue facing the future of lacrosse is whether or not it can eventually become a national sport. Or at least a sport that is played on the collegiate level nationally, which is a different thing. The first one is tricky but the second one seems very possible. But it requires time. Lots and lots of time. And one season does not a national trend make.
First things first, let's congratulate the Denver Pioneers on winning the 2015 National Title. They now become only the 10th school to ever win an NCAA Lacrosse Championship, something that many of the best programs have never done.
Men's Lacrosse is dynastic and elitist. For a long time that's just how it was. But in the last decade, the sport has opened it's borders to the Midwest, the South and somewhat to the West. Notre Dame and Denver are now regulars in the Final Four. Duke, Loyola and Denver have wrested away National Title rights from schools like Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Maryland and Virginia. Ohio State nudges its way past the first round of the NCAA Tournament every couple years as well.
All of that said, let's remember a couple things before we anoint Denver's victory as the dawn of a new, gilded age of national lacrosse.
First of all, Denver is an anomaly. They're coached by a guy who arrived with six National Titles under his belt already. It's one thing to build a program up under that guy. It's another thing to try and build up a program with an untested coach trying to compete with the national powers.
Second, they've been pretty good for a while now. The Pioneers are not an underdog. They didn't come out of nowhere to shock Maryland and the lacrosse world. They were the favorite. They've been to three-straight Final Fours and four total since 2011. They're perennially-ranked in the top five. This weekend's victory was a culmination of something that's been years in the making.
And that's a great thing for Denver. They should be proud and applauded. It's great for the sport to have another champion. Anytime the sport seemingly expands beyond the 7-8 schools that seem to control it, it means we're one step closer to that concept of a national sport.
But it's merely a step. One of many taken and one of many left to take.
Look at soccer. Just now grabbing a foothold in the national American sports awareness, it's taken decades for the world's favorite (favourite?) game to become legitimate in the eyes of the general American public. It took Pele and World Cups and multiple failed leagues and a few generations bred on the sport in order to get us to this point. It was not for a lack of trying. It just took time. And it's still a work-in-progress.
The question for college lacrosse is, what happens from here? Who else "west of the Appalachians" wants to start a lacrosse program? Who else wants to invest in that program? Who is going to tap the ever-growing reservoir of talent on the West Coast? Which Pac-12 school will be the first to really grab the lacrosse bull by the horns? When will Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and other Midwestern schools take the next step to drag the sport further away from it's Northeastern epicenter?
These are all questions that could take years and even decades to answer. We're on the right path, so long as we don't get ahead of ourselves.