Memorial Day Weekend is a time for Americans to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. The lacrosse community has long had a strong connection to the military, and the Championship Weekend has been a time to honor those in the lacrosse community have made that sacrifice.
The lacrosse world has sent numerous players into the military. In 2010, former Navy defensive midfielder Brendan Looney gave his life in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The Navy SEAL Lieutenant was the oldest of three brothers to play lacrosse at the Naval Academy, and played in the 2004 National Championship game where the Navy Midshipmen fell to the Syracuse Orange 13-14. On a more personal note, that was the first lacrosse game I ever watched. As a young goalie the one thing that stood out to me, and one of the few things I still remember from the game, was Navy goalie Matt Russell dislocating his shoulder in the third quarter and remaining in the game until just prior to the eight minute mark in the fourth quarter. I grew up a Syracuse fan, but watching Russell hang tough gave me an early appreciation of the fortitude and dedication that those who chose to go down the road of entering our nation's armed forces have.
More recently, Duke's Casey Carroll returned from four deployments as an Army Ranger after graduating from Duke in 2007. Carroll, a Baldwin, NY native, had one more year of eligibility remaining and came back to the Blue Devils in 2014 to help lead his school to a National Championship Title. If you want to learn more about former lacrosse athletes who have made the jump into the military, check out this article from Lacrosse Magazine.
Looney is one of many former lacrosse players to step into the military fold, and that is part of the reason that the playing the championship games on Memorial Day Weekend is so special for the lacrosse world.
Traditionally, Championship Weekend has been an event that has seen families and youth teams travel hundreds of miles to come and watch the best of college lacrosse. As games have become more available on television, however, attendance has declined and there has been some concern amongst administrators, coaches, and the NCAA that not enough is being done to promote the sport. Discussions about moving Championship Weekend away from Memorial Day Weekend have been gaining traction since the decline in attendance became an issue, but such an idea has become a very real possibility.
This past week, at the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) Convention, coaches discussed potential changes to the dates of the Tournament. Speaking to Inside Lacrosse, Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw said: "I think every coach, every administrator is open to what is going to help promote the sport..."
Albany Great Danes' coach Scott Marr said he would like to see the first round of the Tournament begin on Memorial Day Weekend, while J.B. Clarke, the coach of division II Limestone and President of the IMLCA took a different stance. Clarke stated that he would want to keep the lacrosse championships on Memorial Day Weekend. He is concerned, not only about the disconnection with the military tradition, but also that DII and DIII players would get less exposure considering that any movement in the dates may separate the division I championship with the division II and II championships.
Moving away from Memorial Day Weekend would put lacrosse on a similar schedule as NCAA baseball, which doesn't announce its tournament field until Memorial Day.
So what are some of the pros and cons of making a scheduling change?
- First off, this could eliminate the necessity for January and early February games, which are often played in incredibly adverse conditions. Playing in the snow and the cold decreases the level of play, and can often lead to early season injuries. Lacrosse is a spring sport. Most lacrosse programs are located in cold weather areas, and not every school has an indoor facility to hold games and practices.
- Most schools get limited practice time prior to the first game of the season. For IVY League teams, there is often only a matter of days between when the IVY League allows practices to begin and the first game of the season. Pushing back the NCAA Tournament could provide more practices, which would improve the level of play.
- We could finally get rid of those pesky mid-week games, and certainly eliminate double-game weeks. I like the idea of one game a week, it eliminates significant stress on student athletes and coaching staffs. Furthermore, it allows for more fans to attend or watch the games.
- Moving the Tournament back would provide more separation from college basketball. Obviously college lacrosse takes a back seat to basketball, but allowing an extra month when basketball is not being played for regular season and conference tournament games could provide more exposure for the game.
- Memorial Day Weekend is a big travel weekend. While some, more hardcore lacrosse families are making that trip to Championship Weekend, most families don't plan their vacations around lacrosse. This could allow for a greater number of fans who would not be on vacation to attend Tournament games.
- Depending on how the schedule would play out, youth players may be already in summer lacrosse camps or be finishing up with school. This could eliminate a number of potential, out of state attendees.
- Taking away an additional month of summer from student athletes would affect their ability to gain summer employment. Many student athletes intern over the summer. I don't know how many employers would be willing to accept a student who does not know if he will be able to start the Tuesday after Memorial day or three or four weeks into the month of June. For those students that want to earn money over the summer, potentially taking away another full month of employment could affect that student's ability to help pay for books, housing, or food during the school year. Lacrosse is not a sport like baseball, where there is the potential of going pro after school and making a livable wage playing the sport. Lacrosse players are students, not all players them have scholarships and certainly all of them would be better off interning during the summer to help them gain an edge in the hiring process after school or working to help them ease the burden of costs.
- This may sound trivial, but you are encroaching on a student's summer. Most student athletes are incredibly competitive and I doubt any one of them would say he or she would rather have a month off instead of having a shot to win a National Championship, but is it our place to force them into making that choice just because attendance has gone down? These student athletes put in a tremendous amount of time and effort all year long, not only perfecting their craft, but also being a student. They too, need time off.
- The recruiting affect cannot be minimalized. In this day and age, recruiting has become a big part of the game for coaching staffs. The summer months are when most coaches do their recruiting; high-school players are in camps, tournaments, and showcase events, and coaches are finally done with their seasons and available to recruit. Moving the Tournament back could affect the ability for coaches to effectively recruit kids.
- Finally, there is a significant risk of distancing the lacrosse world from its strong military connection. This is a weekend of not only national remembrance, but more specifically, it is a time for the lacrosse community to remember its own who have fallen, and honor those players in a way that only this community can.
There will be no move through at least the 2018 season. The 2016 Championship Weekend will be held in Philadelphia, while the 2017 and 2018 Championship sites will be announced in January.
Moving Championship Weekend would be a huge change, and it would have a significant impact on future of the sport. Therefore we will continue to keep a close eye on the situation. I know this is also a very explosive issue for most fans, so add in your two cents in the comments.