When I mentioned that I would be returning to this series last week, I planned to pair up the remaining B1G Ten schools. But as I began researching these programs I realized that the Gophers were vastly different from the Hawkeyes, Cornhuskers, and Illini. I’ll worry about the arrangement of those three as I come to them.
Professional lacrosse is the biggest thing that separates Minnesota from the rest of the B1G. The Land of 10,000 is the only state with an active pro team (the Swarm). Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan formerly housed NLL teams; all three franchises were fairly short lived. Sure Illinois had the Machine and Ohio will have them this summer, but the team is currently inactive. The Swarm are not only one of the healthiest teams in the NLL, but they also contribute heavily to the growth of the sport in the Twin Cities area.
Minnesota currently fields a team in the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League of the MCLA. Although they struggle against out of conference competition, they are consistently one of the top two teams in the UMLL. Granted the UMLL is not exactly the heaviest conference out there, but consistent victories over middle-of-the-road programs like St Cloud, Marquette (going D1 next year), and Mankato are respectable. Being able to trade blows with nationally ranked Duluth is also noteworthy.
It looks like the school is Title IX compliant, or at least very close to it. This removes a major obstacle, provided the Gophers add lax for both genders simultaneously. With gender equity often cited as the main reason for the lack of growth, this is a welcomed relief.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle then is Mother Nature. Minnesota is an inhospitable tundra throughout the early parts of spring. High school teams are not allowed to start practicing until March 26 and games do not begin until April 5, primarily because of the weather. Meanwhile NCAA teams are starting their games in February. Since the Gophers lack a suitable indoor venue, this is a major issue. It is possible that the team could play early season games in the Metrodome, but that would be prohibitively expensive.
**Edit 11/5/11 – Sarah Connor reports that the MCLA team is moving into a dome:
Gopher Lacrosse’s invasion of Dome City is drawing ever closer as the fall progresses. Within a month, dome sponsored practices should be underway. It’s getting cold. I couldn’t feel my hands for the first 15 minutes of my history lecture today. Not ideal conditions for laxing as one might imagine. The dome will provide the boys hours and hours of lacrosse without the constant nagging worry of frostbite or disk hernias from snow slippage. Being freed from the shackles of Mother Nature and the less than idyllic field house the team was relegated to in years past feels like a deep breath after taking off a really tight shirt you’ve worn all day. Is that a girl thing only? No matter. We’re getting a DOME! The dome is a testament to the legitimacy of the lacrosse program at Minnesota. It’s specifically for rec sports teams but we get first priority.
Of course the team could arrange to play its early season games on the road. They could also find or build a suitable practice location. TCF Bank Stadium would be the ideal home venue, and has hosted MCLA games in the past. Match ups against Michigan, Ohio State, Marquette, and other marquee opponents would be huge, especially if paired with a spring football game.
Recruiting would focus heavily on the Gophers’ traditional footprint of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both states are newer to lacrosse but already have strong talent. Top players from Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, and even Iowa and the Dakotas could help round out the roster. Of course the team would still need to pick up some first line talent from established hotbeds; I suggest bringing recruits to a packed Mariucci Arena to really sell the school and its athletics.
The popularity of the Swarm suggests that lacrosse fans in the city could be ready to embrace a D1 team. The rapidly improving talent indicates that several in-state players could provide a strong backbone for a team peppered with key out of state talent. Built in rivalries with their B1G conference mates, as well as a renewal of the series with Marquette brings immediate attention. The school’s storied hockey history would also make Denver a notable opponent. Everything seems to be in place. Bring in a significant financial endowment and the program will be good to go!
Check out Sarah Connor’s posts on 412 for the latest info on the Minnesota Gophers lacrosse club.
On a related note, yesterday Wilson posted a list of former D1 programs. It is definitely worth reading. Also check out his Top 25 series: College Football Schools, Academic Schools, & Other Colleges and Universities. It is pretty neat to see the state of lacrosse at these various schools and levels.
Trevor Tierney has some great advice for college-minded laxers.
B1G Ten Expansion Candidates
Other NCAA Expansion Candidates