Lacrosse growing across the US with colleges adding programs
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — From Florida to Stanford and Albany to Denver, the sport of lacrosse is growing at the college level in the United States.
US Lacrosse, the governing body of the sport, has produced a participation report annually since 2001, and the latest figures show that 39 schools added varsity programs in 2014, bringing the total number of schools playing the game across three divisions to around 450.
That spike included Division I men’s programs at Boston University, Furman, Monmouth and Richmond, and women’s programs at Colorado, Elon, Mercer and Michigan. In the previous year, 60 new varsity programs were added, including eight in Division I.
“The growth is faster than I thought it was going to be,” said Bill Tierney, who guided Princeton to six national championships before leaving in 2009 to take over at Denver. “It’s out there. There’s tons of teams playing great lacrosse.”
The US Lacrosse survey also shows that over the past 14 years the number of people participating in the sport nationally has tripled to more than 770,000, counting only people who play on organized teams, not leisure players. The largest segment of participation is children under age 15 with nearly 425,000 participants. At the high school level, just under 300,000 players competed on teams in 2014, with Washington, Oregon and California among the hotspot states.
“I remember when I was younger, I’d go out to the West Coast and a lot of people didn’t even know what lacrosse was,” said Denver midfielder Trevor Baptiste, a native of Denville, N.J. “It’s not East Coast-dominated (now).”
Tierney sees room for more growth among football schools. The Atlantic Coast Conference has only five members and the Big Ten just six, including the storied program of Johns Hopkins, a longtime independent.
“The only place it’s not growing exponentially is at the Division I men’s level. That’s because of cost. There’s not enough teams out here yet for some athletic directors to buy in,” he said. “It would mean they would have to have a pretty sizable travel budget.”
The participation numbers help colleges recruit more players. Tierney’s roster has players from 17 U.S. states and Canada.
That’s encouraging to Albany’s Lyle Thompson, a Native American from upstate New York who last week set Division I career records with 400 points and 225 assists. Thompson is the only player in Division I with three 100-point seasons.
“I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given to grow the game,” said Thompson, whose college career ended last week in a loss to Notre Dame. “This game is the fastest-growing sport in America right now, and I want to be a part of that, hopefully make it a mainstream sport.”
The growth of sports programming on cable television since the 1990s also has helped bring lacrosse into more living rooms, but attendance and ratings haven’t matched the growth on the field. Syracuse led Division I men in attendance in 2015, averaging just 4,802 fans for nine home dates.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.
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