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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?