The Northeast region has been a breeding ground for lacrosse since its earliest days of existence at the college level.
Today the sport is the fastest growing on all levels – youth, high school, college and professionally – as its fast-paced and hard-hitting action draws comparisons to football and ice hockey.
Sports network ESPN currently airs the Division I NCAA Championship games for men’s lacrosse, a sport that had seldomly received national coverage.
That game was played at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. So will this year’s contest. In record numbers fans turned out to witness the culmination of last season and even more already have purchased tickets to this year’s game.
But all of the excitement and hoopla about college men’s lacrosse seemingly has blown past North Broad Street, as Temple is without a team.
“As much as we would like to field a Division I men’s lacrosse team, our focus right now is expanding the opportunities for more of the women at the university,” said Larry Dougherty, Temple’s Assistant Athletic Director. “We are looking to take our women’s programs to another level.”
Dougherty spoke on behalf of Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw, who was on vacation.
The university has recently been under fire regarding its compliance with Title IX and athletic equality between genders, according to a study conducted by the Women’s Law Project.
Through its findings, the study reported that Temple’s ratio of women-to-men enrolled and its ratio of positions held by women in the athletic department and full-athletic scholarships, the university fails to comply with the 1972 piece of federal legislation.
Adding another male sport without the addition of a female sport would likely throw Temple further off its attempt to fall in line with Title IX, Dougherty said.
“The feasibility of adding a men’s lacrosse team would have to be carefully looked at by the school,” Dougherty said. “A team would add 30 to 40 more male athletes, making it even harder to achieve the status quo.”
Dougherty has had experience with adding a men’s lacrosse team to a university. During his tenure as Assistant Athletic Director at Saint Joseph’s, the school added a men’s lacrosse program to its athletic slate. Saint Joe’s and Massachusetts are the only Atlantic Ten Conference schools with a men’s lacrosse team.
“The team drew a decent following, very similar to men’s soccer,” Dougherty said. “But it really didn’t produce much revenue. [St. Joe’s] is a smaller school and also is without a football team.
“If Temple were to add a team, it wouldn’t be in position to draw much revenue either because of the current facilities it would have to work with.”
Temple’s women’s lacrosse coach Jennifer Ulehla said she is indifferent to the university potentially adding a men’s program.
“Whether or not they choose to do it is completely up to them,” Ulehla said.
Dougherty said a men’s lacrosse team at Temple would have to play its home games at Geasey Field, where the women’s lacrosse team plays its home games. The venue is without permanent seating and is a difficult site to sell athletic patrons on, Dougherty said.
FIELDING A TEAM
With Temple’s geographic location, putting together a men’s lacrosse wouldn’t be a difficult part of the operation.
Though Temple would be competing with local lacrosse powerhouses Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins for recruits, the Delaware Valley is brimming with growing lacrosse programs at the high school level. The tri-state region has already produced a number of players who have contributed to National Championship squads.
Grady Wise said fielding a men’s lacrosse team at Temple would not be challenging. Wise is the current president of Temple’s men’s lacrosse club, with which he plays the long-pole midfielder position.
“The rosters of a lot of the top schools are filled with players from this very area,” Wise said. “The Lancaster, [Pa.,] and Delaware Valley regions are hotbeds for talent, and although it would take some time and hard work, a team would be a great addition to the school.”
In its eight seasons of play, Temple’s club team has never made the playoffs. Its league, the National College Lacrosse League, is filled with the names of household lacrosse programs like some of the aforementioned powerhouses and other notable regional programs like Syracuse and Maryland.
“At some schools, lacrosse is so big now that they have both club teams and D-I teams,” Wise said.
The NCLL has more than 85 participating teams and is broken into 14 divisions. Of the 85 teams, there are D-I clubs and D-II clubs. At the time of print, Temple, a D-II team, was 3-10 overall and in sixth place in the Liberty Division.
In the NCLL, there are separate playoffs in which D-I teams face each other and D-II teams face each other. The league has teams competing as far south as the Carolinas and as far west as Ohio and Kentucky.
“Word is really starting to spread about how much fun lacrosse really is,” Wise said. “Although we have never made the playoffs in my four years, I have a lot of fun competing and traveling.”
But even Wise knows that starting a D-I program is not as easy as snapping his fingers. For him, maintaining a steady club team has gotten difficult at times.
“It’s much harder being a club team, though,” he said. “With scheduling issues and people having to work and what not, being able to put together a good team is hard. But it’s even harder finding a balance between being serious and wanting to win and still having fun, which is something we all want to do.”
Winning is something that has become commonplace at Penn, where its program has built a quality reputation in men’s lacrosse. The Quakers are currently ranked seventh in the D-I national rankings, their highest spot all season.
At 9-2 overall, Penn has beaten three ranked teams this season including then-No. 2 Cornell and then-No. 17 Maryland-Baltimore County. The Quakers’ four Ivy League wins are the most since 1989.
Quakers coach Bryan Voelker said having a lacrosse team at Temple would build another bridge toward connecting with a new generation of athletes that has embraced lacrosse.
“Lacrosse used to be thought of as a preppy white sport,” he said. “But more minorities and kids from blue-collar families are picking up sticks and playing today.”
Voelker said lacrosse can create opportunities and benefits for student-athletes that other sports cannot, including professional and global levels of competition.
A member of a National Championship team as a goalkeeper at Johns Hopkins and a two-time World Champion with the United States’ team, Voelker said lacrosse was his ticket to success.
“Lacrosse has opened a lot of doors for me and has provided me with some of my most memorable experiences,” he said. “With the sports’ recognition growing at the rate it is now, more kids should be able to enjoy this game as much as I have in my life.”
Both Wise and Voelker agreed that the first and most important step in building a team at Temple is obtaining the backing of the school and finding a capable person to lead the way.
“With Temple’s women’s team having so much recent success, Temple could build a solid men’s squad with the right leadership,” Voelker said. “They’ve just got to find their niche. Sell the university. Tell the kids they are pursuing Temple because of the opportunities and recognition that comes with starting a program.”
Wise saw things the same way.
“Whoever would become the coach would really have to focus on combing through the towns in the area and appeal to kids in a way that the larger programs fail to,” Wise said. “That is the most important thing.”
“What’s the use of having a team that nobody supports?” Voelker asked. “In order to have a good program, it must have the backing of the school and its student body.”
How about getting the backing of Temple’s women’s lacrosse team?
“The women’s team would fully support a men’s program,” said Patty Glavin, a senior on the women’s lacrosse team. “The men’s game is gaining popularity and is a great game to watch. It would probably draw a good crowd here at Temple.”
Ulehla, Glavin’s coach, agreed.
“They feed off of one another,” she said, “and, of course, [the] women’s [team] will feed off the men’s a little more [because], for whatever reason, people tend to come to men’s [games].
“Men’s lacrosse games in this area tend to bring a lot of people out.”
Despite the school’s Title IX standing and its lack of adequate facilities, the demand for a men’s lacrosse team hasn’t been so strong.
“To my knowledge, there has not been a request or meeting regarding the start of a men’s lacrosse team since I’ve been here,” said Dougherty, who is in his third year at Temple.
Wise, a 22-year-old senior, said he has not heard of a possible meeting in his time at Temple.
“There hasn’t been a real push for a team since I have been here,” he said.
Although men’s lacrosse has made a push on the national level, a push for men’s lacrosse in North Philadelphia is a couple steps behind.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.