MJ: MCLA Votes to Avoid 'NCAA Expansion'
The Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the largest non-varsity league in the country with over 200 teams in two divisions, tackled the issue of whether to accept club programs at schools that already sponsor an NCAA varsity team at its summer meeting. The board, consisting of directors from the 10 affiliated conferences, voted to continue the association's exclusion of those teams.
The MCLA has a long-standing policy about prohibiting club programs at NCAA schools, which was established in the formative years of the league as a sop to the varsity coaches, who were worried that in the dicey era of Title IX restrictions, a club option could be a threat to programs sponsored by the athletic department. With the current varsity lacrosse boom erasing much of that uneasiness, along with the massive growth at the high school level, it was natural to revisit the issue.
"I think we're really riding a wave," said MCLA president Tony Scazzero, who is also the head coach at Texas A&M. "The high school kids are playing lacrosse and enjoying it, so when they get to college, they're saying, 'Hey, maybe we can do this.' Then they work on establishing a program at these schools. I think we're going to continue to see MCLA growth, it's just a matter of what kind of growth it is going be."
Scazzero is personally not opposed to the idea of forging into the NCAA market, but it's not his call. The MCLA is still, even after 15 years, a product of its conferences, with very little centralized power. The conference directors are the ones who ultimately make the final decision – "We don't admit teams to the MCLA, they join an MCLA-affiliated conference," Scazzero said – and they will be the ones who bear the brunt of the problems if a team can not handle the organizational expectations of the MCLA, which are considerably more rigorous than other non-varsity leagues, such as the National Collegiate Lacrosse League (NCLL).
"It's about stability. That was the main concern," said Scazzero. "Everything is done kind of part-time [in the other leagues] and joining the MCLA would represent a real full-time move."
The issue was brought up in the wake of Michigan's move to NCAA Division I. UM still has a club presence on campus and that entity expressed interest in joining the MCLA, according to Scazzero. Even with the prospect of keeping one of its signature franchises in the fold, the conference directors opted not to force an issue that has limited short-term – and unknown long-term – benefits.
"That was the conference director's real point in the whole thing," said Scazzero. "They felt that we have such a great thing going here, to keep tinkering with it in different ways at this time was not something they wanted to get into."
It's the right choice. While I have encouraged the MCLA to pursue expansion onto NCAA campuses in the past, upon further reflection it's not the correct move. At this point, anyway. By limiting its membership, the association ensures that their affiliates are the premier lacrosse product on its respective campuses, which is a tremendous selling point. In addition, as part of the discussion about expansion, the board pinpointed numerous institutions that could sustain an MCLA team, but as yet have no varsity option. Targeting those schools is a better use of time and energy than accepting an inferior product playing in an NCAA shadow.
"We looked around and made a list of schools that were not playing in the MCLA that fit all of the existing requirements and there is quite a good number out there," said Scazzero. "The emphasis is going to continue to be on expanding the MCLA under its current requirements."