Growing Pains

With the announcement that the University of Dubuque (Division III Iowa) will be adding Men's and Women's Lacrosse the sport hit another benchmark as it continues its westward march. Dubuque represents the first NCAA lacrosse program in the state of Iowa and the first committed to begin in the 2013-2014 academic year. However, Dubuque's announcement that the program's first head coach, Jake Olsen, has no lacrosse experience except for 'being around the sport' while working as a football coach at Southern Oregon University forces those of us that advocate for growth to look in the mirror.

While Coach Olsen is probably a very nice person, and may give his best effort in coaching this program, there is still no question that he is not qualified to coach lacrosse at the collegiate level. 'Being around' lacrosse at a school that you worked at does not qualify you to be a head coach, even if you worked at Johns Hopkins, but especially not if you worked at Southern Oregon, an NAIA school where the program is a club sport. By hiring a part time head coach with no previous experience it calls into question Dubuque's commitment to lacrosse at their university.

But lets not single out Dubuque, they are not the first school that has chosen this route when adding lacrosse. Granted, for some programs starting up in non-hotbed areas it can be difficult to find a qualified head coach in their own backyard. With a regional applicant pool that is likely lacking the alternative is to pay a salary that can lure a qualified coach from outside the region, however some schools are obviously unwilling to do this, and thus you have the end result of a coach that has 'been around' some lacrosse.

So this may lead some to ask of a school such as Dubuque, why even bother adding the sport? Will Dubuque or other similar new programs be able to attract quality recruits with coaches that have little or no experience? Why even have a team if the commitment from the university is so lacking that it can't hire a coach that has coached at any level? The answer is money. Let's not kid ourselves, even though every week it seems a new school is going varsity at the Division III level, it's not simply because the school recognizes a national trend or is conceding to demand among its student body. In many cases it is because a school badly needs more 'heads in beds', and especially male heads since male enrollment has been downward trending in recent years. The lacrosse student athlete is very appealing to these schools due to their strength in academics and the financially sound families they typically hail from. The typical Division III university revenue model is much different than their larger counter-parts, and especially at private universities. With smaller endowments and less revenue sources these schools rely heavily on tuition to fund day-to-day operations. So understandably an opportunity to add 35-70 academically strong, out-of-state tuition paying, east coast student athletes is very appealing.

Now certainly there is nothing wrong with a university wanting to increase enrollment, generate more revenue, recruit in new areas of the country, and add academically strong students through the addition of lacrosse. However, a school should at the least ensure that these students will compete on a program that is well supported and appropriately staffed. If the 'Dubuque model' is what it is going to take to get the sport at universities in the most lacrosse-barren areas than so be it, but hopefully these schools don't forget that the student athlete experience should be paramount above all other priorities.


Anonymous said...

You make a very valid point. But, lets not rush to judgement they may have a slow growth plan that will allow them to get the program up and running at a lower overhead cost by doubling up on an existing employee and build out the program from there. I think the competition will eventually demand the employment of a more experienced full time coach but I am still going to applaud the sports addition to another geography!