The Very Real Threat of MCLA Teams at NCAA Schools

What would happen if the MCLA gets sentimental and wants to keep a team at Michigan? Very bad things.

All week long we’re covering the MCLA Summer Meetings in Greenville, South Carolina.  We’re presenting topics that have been or will be discussed at the meetings.  Got a topic you want covered?  Tweet @PattonLAS or @MCLA_Fan, or email:

Since the dawn of the MCLA, some fifteen long years ago (then the USLIA), there has been a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the MCLA shall not have member teams from schools with NCAA varsity men’s lacrosse teams.  There is some enumeration in the league operating policy, but the wording isn’t entirely clear:

MCLA Operating Policy – Article 1, Section 4, Point A:

“MCLA participation shall be open to all intercollegiate men’s lacrosse teams that are recognized organizations at their academic institutions, but that do not compete in the NCAA. Each school may only have one team per institution.”

So does that mean that the policy of the MCLA is to explicitly exclude NCAA teams?  It says each school may only have one team, is that referring to NCAA teams or not?

Functionally, the league has demonstrated that they have not wanted NCAA varsity men’s lacrosse schools to field MCLA club teams.  There has, however, been plenty of rumblings recently that indicate at the very least a shift in opinion among the unwashed masses.  What about Michigan?  What about Marquette?  What about future MCLA teams that go varsity?  We can’t just ignore their history and potential success in the MCLA can we?

Yes we can, and we should.  A club team that competes at an NCAA institution with varsity lacrosse presents several real threats to competitive balance in the MCLA.  I’ll run them down for you now.

1.  Recruiting – I coach an MCLA team, but I have a life outside of my cushy and lavish MCLA salary that takes up a lot of my time.  You know what I would just love?  I would freaking LOVE it if my school would spend thousands of dollars recruiting premiere athletes for a varsity lacrosse team, knowing full well that most of those athletes won’t EVER want to play for my club team.  But you know what I know?  I know for a fact that some of those kids the school has spent thousands of dollars wooing to come to my school to play varsity lacrosse won’t be able to hack it with the big boys.  I know that some of them will be overwhelmed by either the level of competition, the academic workloads, or maybe just the fact that they can’t drink or smoke as much as they want to and still be able to play lacrosse at the level to please their coaches.  But I’m coaching club ball here, there is a market opportunity if I’ve ever seen one.  In fact, I have the PERFECT escape for Johnny Can’t Hack It for my school’s varsity squad.  Suddenly, I’ve got a team filled with recruits gleaned from the tailings of the NCAA varsity men’s lacrosse war machine.

2.  Eligibility – We take eligibility very seriously in the MCLA.  We keep track of any kids’ playing time and count it against their eligibility, whether it’s at an NCAA team, an MCLA team, wherever, if it’s competitive intercollegiate ball it counts.  But you know who doesn’t view eligibility the same way?  The NCAA.  They don’t care if you’ve played MCLA.  It doesn’t count one bit against your NCAA eligibility clock.  Just ask Kevin Crowley at Stony Brook, or any other MCLA to NCAA converts.  If I’m an NCAA varsity coach, now I’ve got my very own minor league feeder system if the MCLA brings a team to my campus.  Got a new freshman who’s pretty good at attack, but you’ve got a logjam at the position?  No worries, just play him for a year on the MCLA team to get him game reps and experience.  Think a coach would never relegate one of his prize recruits to play with the lowly club ballers in the MCLA?  You haven’t read point number 3 yet then…

3.  Coaching – Want to get more coaches on campus to help your NCAA varsity program?  Pesky NCAA rules limiting the amount of staff you can hire?  No worries, with the MCLA team at your school you can just move some money around and arrange for a whole staff of young, up and coming NCAA coaches who would love to run your unofficial JV squad.  Keep the meetings regular to make sure your new JV staff is installing the proper schemes to teach the kids to prepare them for the jump to NCAA next year.  Think the payments are a little sketchy?  Don’t worry, the whole Willie Lyles thing got brushed under the mat, there’s precedent for ignoring the obvious.

4. The MCLA Brand – I hate using this term, because any schlub can throw around terms like brand equity without the slightest clue what it entails.  But in full essence, the MCLA brand is built around being the premiere non-varsity lacrosse experience.  We pride ourselves on being that much more than the NCLL.  We laugh at summer leagues with the sideline kegs.  We, the MCLA, are where kids want to play virtual varsity lacrosse.  Throw in teams that compete at NCAA schools and you’ve suddenly muddied the waters.  “What exactly is the MCLA again?” asks a concerned parent.  “Club rats!” exclaims a satisfied, anonymous forum poster.  You have nothing to come back with, because now your league isn’t exactly what you thought it was.  Now you are competing against varsity schools, and varsity money.

As a coach in the MCLA, my first question if the MCLA allows NCAA schools to field MCLA teams is: What high school teams are looking for assistants in the area?

  1. The interesting thing is that in the women’s game this is not the case. Many schools have both NCAA and WCLA schools
    Virginia Tech
    Boston College
    Ohio State
    West Chester

    All of those schools have a women’s NCAA varsity team and a WCLA team. There are also probably some that I have missed

  2. If a student athlete competes on the club team at a school that offers
    an NCAA team and later joins the NCAA team he will have burned a year of
    eligibility playing club.  It is different if a MCLA player transfers
    in where it is treated as a redshirt year.  I don’t know many coaches
    that would want an athlete to go to another school for a year just to
    preserve eligibility.

    1. I’m pretty sure that the second you enter a Division 1 institution, your 5 year clock starts up.  When I played at Utah we had a kid transfer to Townsend, and his Freshman year at Utah was more or less counted as his redshirt year.  He could still play 4 years, but he only had 4 to do it.

    2. Can you please explain this to me a little more, because I am having a hard time understanding this.  If I go to Michigan and play a non-varsity, club sport I would lose a year of eligibility for NCAA athletics? 

      1. If you enroll at an NCAA institution and play a club sport that is also an NCAA sport at your school then you burn a year of eligibility.  The NCAA passed this rule to prevent varsity coaches from loading NCAA partial & non-qualifiers onto a club team that is essentially functioning as a JV team.  Coaches have been trying to beat the system for years and this one has already been done.

        1. i would like to see documentation of this.  it must be really recent. 

          as far as i know there isn’t anything preventing NCAA teams from running a JV program.  Navy is one that comes to mind that (though they no longer carry it) carried a JV as recently as 5 years ago.

          1. They can run a JV team but if they play outside competition they burn a season of eligibility.

            From the NCAA handbook page 144  There are several more references but I do not see the need to post a ton of info.

            14.02.7 Intercollegiate Competition. Intercollegiate competition occurs when a student-athlete in either a two-year or a four-year collegiate institution: (Revised: 1/10/95)
            (a) Represents the institution in any contest against outside competition, regardless of how the competition is classified (e.g., scrimmage, exhibition or joint practice session with another institution’s team) or whether the student is enrolled in a minimum full-time program of studies; (Revised: 1/10/91)
            (b) Competes in the uniform of the institution or, during the academic year, uses any apparel (excluding apparel no longer used by the institution) received from the institution that includes institutional identification; or (Revised: 1/16/93, 1/11/94, 1/9/06)
            (c) Competes and receives expenses (e.g., transportation, meals, room or entry fees) from the institution for the competition.
   Exempted Events. Participation in events listed in Bylaw and (b) is exempted from the application of this legislation. (Revised: 1/10/92)
   Participation on an Institution’s Club Team. Participation on a collegiate institution’s club team is exempted from the application of this legislation, provided the institution did not sponsor the sport on the varsity intercollegiate level at the time of participation. (Adopted: 6/24/09)

            Link to the book

          2. TopChedder, thank you and you are absolutely correct.  My point was made knowing this and I think it still stands: a coach could develop the MCLA team as a JV team and use the redshirt year for the player to compete in the MCLA unless the NCAA recognizes that as burning a full year.

          3. Division 1: Has the 5years to compete in 4 seasons

            Division 2: 10 semesters to compete. For every semester you are full time student you lose a semester of eligibility. But no time limit example: Johnny was a full time student in fall and spring of 2006. Then took time off and came back fall of 2009 he stll has 8 semesters left.

            Another tid bit about the NAIA school’s where lacrosse is varsity at their college. Since it is varsity it counts against NCAA eligibility. So johnny played 4 years at NAIA school A he cannot play in the NCAA.  Now MCLA team B is not varsity at their school Johnny can be eligible but in D2 he would not be eligible if he already completed 10 full time semesters

            And the rule that if you go to a school that offers the said NCAA sport and your not on the team … it doesnt matter still counts

  3. 1.  this aspect is overstated.  if they couldn’t hack it for the “big boys” their impact won’t be as significant for the club team.  no one in the mcla world is scared of “ringers” who weren’t good enough to play for the NCAA program. 

    2.  no ncaa coach would have his kids play for any other team to preserve eligibility.  ridiculous concept.

    3.  i’m not aware of a limit on coaches or how many or how much they can get paid. 

    4. this is a solid point.  though i’m sure keg on the sideline summer leagues are embraced by the lacrosse community as a whole

    the real reason is to protect the growth of NCAA lacrosse.  As ridiculous as that sounds, i’m sure you are familiar with the premise, and it should have been the focus of this article. 

    Not because Hopkins or Cuse would ever cut their program for an MCLA squad, but because a top flight, well run, mostly self-funded MCLA program at a small school not in a traditional lacrosse hotbed might make the AD at that school think twice about why they are funding a NCAA d2 or d3 program, when the “kids can take care of themselves”

    nobody wants to see that.

    1. Someone who was recruited out of high school to play NCAA D1 lacrosse wouldn’t be significant for a club team?  Do you honestly believe that?

      1. no i don’t believe that.  read what i wrote again. 

        If i was not clear, i was trying to say that the impact is not as significant for the club team as the article implied.  It happens all the time, every season.  The effect is often overstated. 

        You don’t see a team rise from mediocrity to national contenders because they pick up 2-3 quality NCAA transfers. 

        And the elite MCLA team’s starting lineups are already littered with guys who were recruited out of high school to play NCAA D1 lacrosse.

    2. Joe Costello i believe transferred from UMBC to play at St. Thomas, and was the teams best player all four years as well as first team all-american all four years playing both midfield and attack. point number one is 100% valid.

      1. ….and i’m sure all the opponents he played viewed him as “an outstanding player on a good team”


        “we could have beaten st. thomas if they didn’t have that NCAA transfer, it is unfair”

        Read what i wrote again, i didn’t say the point wasn’t valid or that NCAA transfers don’t help MCLA teams, I said that the notion is often overstated.

        FSU and Colorado are two teams that come to mind who get 3-5 impact transfers every year.  You dont’ hear people attributing their success to their transfer classes.

        Anyone who gives a shet about the MCLA wants the best (eligible) players possible playing in the league.

    3. I think you’re missing the point. The concept for this article originated at the MCLA league meeting, which actually focuses on protecting the growth of MCLA lacrosse.

      It’s important for league officials to (edit: take) the possibilities above into strong consideration when deciding the next move for our league.

      1. “A club team that competes at an NCAA institution with varsity lacrosse
        presents several real threats to competitive balance in the MCLA.  I’ll
        run them down for you now.”

        i don’t think i missed anything.  #1-3 are off base

        and I think you assume the MCLA is looking to grow.  The league’s mission has never been to “be the biggest college lacrosse league”  it is to facilitate the crowning of a national champion for Non-NCAA programs.

        1. Your comment “the real reason is to protect the growth of NCAA lacrosse” is what I was referring to when I said I think you’re missing the point.

          I never said the MCLA was trying to grow in # of teams.

          1. yes, that is the reason for the long-standing gentleman’s agreement barring club teams on NCAA campuses from joining the MCLA.  not ringers or eligibility or ghost coaches.  

          2. If you think that having an NCAA team is not an advantage to the MCLA team in terms of bringing more lacrosse players to the campus, you are seriously mistaken. I’ve seen many quality players (not scrubs as you suggest) get cut from NCAA teams and that trickle down effect would certainly be an advantage. They don’t have to be the best players in the MCLA, but they might be contributors. The impact of 5 to 10 contributors on an MCLA team is a pretty big deal. It would become a competitive advantage for those teams.

          3. i’m getting tired of repeating myself.

            of course that would be a competitive advantage.

            my point is NO ONE ON THE MCLA SIDE CARES.

            Yes some teams would immediately improve their on-field competitiveness.  Ok, great for the overall competitiveness of the league. This is a non-issue. 

            Say Presbyterrian (D1 school in south carolina that just ended it’s men’s lacrosse program) joined the MCLA Division 2 next year, and somehow retained all of their NCAA athletes.

            Do you think MCLA Division 2 programs would complain that it is not fair, or just view Presbyterrian as another challenge they would have to face?

          4. Where is this discussion taking place? In a blog dedicated to the MCLA. So, yes, I believe those on the MCLA side care about this issue. If my conference admitted a team that had this competitive advantage, I would most certainly care. I’m sorry you feel that you are repeating yourself, but no matter how many times you express your point, I disagree with it.

          5. with all due respect to the blog and the author, it’s one man’s opinion in a pretty loose open forum (blogs). 

            you think it is unfair that schools like FSU and Colorado get 3-5 NCAA transfers per year?  I have never heard the outcry.

          6. There is no outcry because it would just be sour grapes. It might be frustrating that CU and FSU are attractive schools to transfers, but it is not unfair. An unfair competitive advantage would exist if the school had an NCAA team that attracted the players and the MCLA team were able to reap the benefits of that draw. Comparing transferring to staying at the same school is an apples/oranges comparison.

    4. Thanks for the comments jamlando.

      Every NCAA sport has scholarship and coaching limits.  One of the sanctions against Washington State’s football program recently was they lost a coach.

      To a couple other people’s comments: Yes  I know that your 5 year clock starts when you attend the school that you will play at.  My point is that if the varsity team implements the “feeder” team concept, he would get more playing time and experience in the MCLA as a starter than in the NCAA varsity team as practice squad guy in “redshirt” year.

  4. Great write-up, Will! I like the way you’ve looked at this from different angles. The truth of the matter is that if a new NCAA team arrives on an MCLA campus, the MCLA team will have a much tougher time staying relevant. Meanwhile, the NCAA team will have a red carpet leading the way to making lacrosse a prominent school sport.

  5. While I think that the MCLA/NCAA is an issue worth discussing, I believe its impact will be much less than NAIA teams playing in the MCLA.  How is this not more of an outrage?  Varsity teams are able to compete against club teams.  Even more shocking, is that most of these teams compete in D2.  

    At a minimum these teams can offer admittance assistance, they receive funding for uniforms, travel, etc.  Their coach is a paid employee of the school, and in some cases they may even receive  athletic scholarships.

    Personally, I don’t think any of these teams should be allowed to compete in the league at all.  NAIA doesn’t offer lacrosse, not our problem.  Its not like the MCLA is desperate for numbers.  If an NAIA institution wants to field a club team, that isn’t an issue, but if they want to treat it as a varsity sport, they should not be able to compete.  

    1. Great points.  I will be discussing the implications of NAIA teams in the future.  I want to research before I throw out my disruptive opinions :)

  6. I think Jeff makes a good point. While the idea of potential division 1 players using the MCLA as a “JV” sort of experience is interesting, I just don’t think that would be a very realistic thing.

    In my opinion, you’re simply hurting the growth of the MCLA by allowing teams at NCAA schools. I’ve often thought of the scenario of playing on a club team at Maryland, and that sounds terrible. At MCLA schools, you are the only team for that particular sport. So, at least you feel like you have some credibility. Having a higher organization above you makes one feel like a true “club” player, and I think that would drive a lot of kids away.

    Why do I think this? Basketball is a huge, HUGE sport in Indiana and especially at IU. Guess how awesome the club basketball team is. It’s not. Their talent level is weak, especially considering there are tons of high school studs who didn’t want to play D3, D2, or even lower level D1 ball in the middle of no where. Why don’t those kids want to play club? Because it’s a “club team” with “no skill”. It’d probably be different if there wasn’t already a prominent basketball entity on campus.

    This is my own opinion and it might be terrible, but oh well.

    1. Agreed that the “feeder/JV” team concept is a long stretch, but we cannot say that it is impossible, which is why it poses a threat.

      Many people are unaware that back in the day (say pre-1970’s) the NCAA did not allow freshmen to compete with the older students and there were freshmen leagues.  An entrepreneurial NCAA varsity coach could see an MCLA team on campus as an opportunity.  I’m not saying ALL coaches will, I’m just saying the opportunity would be there, and tempting.  If a kid is starting his 5 year clock, why not get that redshirt year in with game time?

  7. This issue seems to have emerged this year because 2 MCLA schools are adding varsity lacrosse and therefore will not be allowed to participate in the MCLA. Its easy to enforce the rule when you are telling an outsider that they cannot be admitted because they have an NCAA team at their school. It clearly gets much more difficult to say goodbye to programs that have been in the league for so long and, at least in Michigan’s case, been such a crucial part of what the MCLA has become over the last 5 or so years. What I think people fail to realize is that, especially in Michigan’s case, their departure from the league is a major step in the right direction. They achieved what every program should realistically be shooting for, even if its nothing more than an “eventual” goal. It is my understanding that their club team was elevated to varsity status. This is different than at Marquette, where the school’s athletic dept is adding the sport independently from the club team. At Marquette, the club will still exist. At Michigan, to the best of my knowledge, there is no more club team. So even if we were to change the rule to keep our flagship program, it really wouldn’t be the same program with the same traditions and history. That team has moved on. And we should say goodbye to them with a celebratory respect and all hope the same for our programs one day. I feel for the club athletes at these schools that can no longer compete in the MCLA, but I do think that the league should be very hesitant to open the floodgates to the likes of the NCLL. While the level of play in the MCLA is still far behind NCAA programs for the most part, the elevation of Michigan shows that with a certain level of professionalism and investment in the program, you can catch the attention of your institution. In my opinion this should be the goal of every team in the MCLA. Someone said earlier that the point of the MCLA is to crown the best non-NCAA lacrosse team as a national champion. I would disagree with this statement. What sets the MCLA apart from other leagues like the NCLL is that it requires from its teams and players a commitment on, and in many cases off, the field that mirrors and can sometimes exceed the NCAA. Whether or not all the negative things mentioned in this article would happen, that’s not to say that they couldn’t happen, I think the question we need to ask is “What are the positives that we can take out of this rule change?” And in my opinion there doesn’t seem to be many.

    1. Michigan does still have a club team, I know because I coach it. While we understand that the MCLA isn’t a realistic option because of the current rules, we struggle with the fact that the NCLL/GLLL are our only options. We would like to compete at the highest level of club available, but are stuck. We are nowhere near what the old MCLA program was, our players are guys who didnt make that MCLA team, but are still good enough to play at some level. The Varsity coach who we all know well, has made it pretty clear that he wants nothing to do with club lacrosse in any capacity. He also makes it clear to interested players (who aren’t good enough) that there is no walk-on tryout at Michigan so they should not bother coming to play lacrosse.

  8. This is a great article. I never played MCLA, but did play in NCLL and there were multiple times that we would play teams that had more than a few of the school’s varsity players on it. While we held our own in some of those games and could serve as a great morale booster for my team, a 23-2 blowout against 13 varsity guys from a DI school can really sting. I found that the NCLL was a great league because rarely did you play a team that did not carry at least one or two guys who had never played the game before arriving at school, but the lack of oversight into an issue known all around the league is the reason MCLA is seen as the premier club league and the NCLL isn’t talked about nearly as much. 
    I have always seen the MCLA as something special and I feel that if teams were allowed in from NCAA schools, it would take away something very special from the league… it’s CLUB affiliation. Like said in the article, soon the MCLA would go from elite club ball to the “lazy kid’s DI league”. 
    One other item to think about…. kids who play club ball do so because they love the game. Think of the thousands of dollars they need to personally raise every year just to outfit and field their team. Do you really think the kids who decide DI is too hard for them, or was too much work are going to be willing to do the work, which can turn into a full-time after school job, to make sure the team has the necessary amount of funding to play for the year? I really hope that the MCLA doesn’t do anything that would ruin all the progress made to establish itself as THE place to play club lax. 

Related Posts