What US Lacrosse Can Learn from USA Triathlon

Earlier this week, Wagner University, a Division I school in Staten Island, NY, announced the addition of varsity Women’s Triathlon to its school’s athletic offerings. Triathlon, over the last two years, has become one of the fastest growing sports of the NCAA’s Emerging Sport offerings, which has also included the likes of EquestrianSand Volleyball, and Rugby.

But what has made a sport such as Triathlon the apple of so many athletic director’s eyes? There are likely several reasons, most significantly the NCAA now recognizes it as a women’s sport, and the addition of Women’s Triathlon can be counted towards satisfying Title IX roster equity requirements. Additionally, the cost to outfit a varsity triathlon team is relativity low, with equipment costs minimal, especially if a university has an existing pool and track facility.

But there have been other low-cost women’s sports that were at one time labeled an NCAA Emerging Sports (Archery, Badminton) but have failed to take off with NCAA institutions. So what makes Triathlon different than those sports? For one thing, the sport’s governing body, USA Triathlon, has been paying millions of dollars to schools to add the sport. In fact, below is a list of schools that have added varsity Triathlon over the last two years, each of them receiving commitments from USA Triathlon ranging from $70k-$150k (press releases linked)

Arizona State University
Belmont Abbey College
Black Hills State University
Centenary College
Concordia University Wisconsin
Colorado Mesa University
Daemen College
Davis & Elkins College
Drury University
East Tennessee State
Millikin University
Milwaukee School of Engineering
North Central College
St. Thomas Aquinas College
University of South Dakota
Southern Wesleyan University
Transylvania University
Trine University
Wagner University
University of West Alabama

Is there anything wrong with this approach? Not at all. In fact, USA Triathlon should be applauded for taking this proactive approach to growing their sport. The question is, why is US Lacrosse not taking the same approach? US Lacrosse does have grant programs, but they are mostly directed towards youth and PE programs. All noble causes, but why is there no focus on collegiate level growth? On the men’s side, especially at the Division I level, is where growth has been the most stagnant, so should there not be grants to help stimulate growth in this area? Unfortunately, at the current growth rate, all these youth players that US Lacrosse is investing in are going to grow up someday and realize that there are very few high level college roster spots or scholarships available for them.
US Lacrosse should consider fundraising for, and establishing, an endowment that annually would support grants that incentivize the addition of lacrosse as a collegiate varsity sport. Additionally, they should hire someone who’s job is not only to manage this grant program, but someone who can also meet with schools considering adding lacrosse and discuss the required costs and investments needed to support a team at the varsity level.  This person would serve a similar role that Dave Cottle served when Marquette was considering adding lacrosse, but would be a US Lacrosse employee and able to answer questions, emails, phone calls and hold meetings at a whim with any school even remotely considering adding the sport.  This person should also be proactive, and reach out to colleges that have yet to consider adding lacrosse, and educate them on why the sport would be a good fit for their institution, and how US Lacrosse can support them on the road to varsity sponsorship.

If US Lacrosse won’t take the lead in this area than perhaps it is time for someone in the lacrosse community to start their own organization. For example, a similar approach has been taken by MotorMVB, a private non-profit with the goal of creating opportunities for male volleyball players. Like USA Triathlon, MotorMVB has been focused on the collegiate growth of Men’s Volleyball, and has also distributed grants to schools willing to add varsity Men’s Volleyball.
The sport of volleyball has a drastic difference in the number of Division I schools that sponsor Women’s Volleyball (334) vs Men’s Volleyball (43). While the difference is not as drastic for lacrosse (112 teams for Women and 71 for Men) there is still a gap that many would like to see closed, and perhaps the grant-incentive approach that USA Triathlon and MotorMVB have taken could help close this gap. Here’s hoping that our sport's leadership can learn from these two programs and the successes they have had at growing their sports at the collegiate level.