Boosters, Bagmen, and Money: The Future of College Lacrosse Recruiting

Photo Credit: Youth1.com
The world of college athletics is one that is ever changing as it seems there is always a new scandal or situation between a school and the NCAA. This kind of stuff is always in the news and usually concerns basketball or football programs. Those two sports are the biggest revenue generating sports and therefore those sports get the most coverage. Sometimes those cases involve a player or players getting paid to play. Those payments are usually made to the player from a booster, and the head coach may or may not know about it. And YES, it is entirely possible this is happening at your favorite school.
 
If that stuff happens in college football and college basketball who’s to say that it couldn’t ever happen in college lacrosse. The first and most important thing to note here is that college lacrosse is a non-revenue generating sport at most schools. The only two schools where lacrosse may actually generate revenue is Syracuse and Hopkins. There could be a few other schools, but those two schools make the most money from lacrosse. That is the main reason as to why you don’t see that kind of stuff in lacrosse, yet. Also, the demographic of lacrosse is smaller and much different than football and basketball at the moment.
 
College lacrosse just adopted new recruiting legislation last year that limits contact between a recruit and coach until September first of their junior year. That legislation comes after many years of early recruiting plaguing the sport. Personally, I found it ridiculous that some of the top programs had each recruiting class finished before those kids finished their freshman year of high school. That is just crazy to think that we had kids committing to colleges as seventh, eight, and ninth graders. The growth of the game and the boom of club lacrosse all contributed to that system of recruiting that has been stopped for now.
 
College lacrosse coaches can not contact potential recruits until September first of their junior year of high school. That gives a college coach and his staff only two years to recruit the player. Coaches can watch the player at a camp, tournament, or prospect day but can’t have any contact with them. That is a big change from the old system, a change that I feel all college coaches have embraced heavily. Many college coaches were very happy with the change in recruiting legislation. They even changed more of it to clear up any grey areas where coaches could potentially talk to a recruit through one of their coaches.
 
The grey area may be cleaned up, but there are still loopholes and backdoor ways that a coach could possibly recruit a kid. If you look at college lacrosse coaches and the support they have given the new recruiting rules, I don’t exactly think those ways are being used yet. They soon will though and when that happens lacrosse recruiting will reach the level of basketball and football. I really think that we are heading in that direction as the sports grows and gets more diverse ever year.
 
As the sport grows each year and more recruits are added to the ever growing pot that creates more talented players that top schools will be after. We are just now starting to see programs competing for recruits and it gets more prominent every year, which I love to see.
 
Now, where we get to the grey area that I have been talking about is the club circuit. At those club tournaments there are a lot of college coaches from top programs there watching players. There are also many other people there as well, that makes for a pretty unique environment. That environment is good for brewing potential recruiting violations and shady people to enter a players inner circle. That is exactly what happened in college basketball in the AAU circuit and it will happen in lacrosse sooner rather than later.
 
How would that system be able to take place and progress within the club lacrosse circuit? That is the question, isn’t it?
 
A system like that would be able to take place in the world of college lacrosse recruiting because of the club system and the many people at those tournaments. It would start with boosters or fans who feel the need to get a littler closer to that specific program. Those people are considered to be shadow boosters. These shadow boosters would have to follow and chase down recruits and get to know their families and their situation. The shadow booster would also have to establish a certain level of trust with the head coaches, but the coaches would want to keep a safe distance from these people to prevent getting busted by the NCAA.
 
These ghost boosters would use the connections made at club tournaments to build a relationship with these recruits that their school is targeting. That relationship would be used to pay the kid through bagmen. That would help steer a recruit to sign with their school. The players could even continue to get money after they are enrolled at that specific school.
 
A recruit could also “play the system” by taking money from various schools and signing with the school he actually wants to go to. I mean what can a School do about that? It’s not like they are gonna tell the NCAA about it.
 
This system has been viewed as the underbelly of college sports for many years now. There are two different sides to this. There are people who think it is good and right, but there are people who think it is very bad.
 
The bad side of this system is that it is technically illegal in the NCAA’s eyes. If a program is busted they could face heavy sanctions. This is the kind of stuff that the NCAA does not want because they want to protect amateurism in college athletics as a whole. People think that this system is bad because they view college sports as armature. Some people also say that the athlete getting scholarship money to attend that school is good enough and they should not be compensated any more than that.
 
The other side of this argument is that college athletes need to be compensated for what they do. They have to do so much more than regular students do and they can’t even have a job to make money on the side. Many people feel that these athletes should be able to make money off of playing no matter how they get the money. People also will argue that certain athletes would not even be at that school if it weren’t for lacrosse or what ever sport they play. Therefore they are there for sports first and academics second.
 
Each side of this argument is very valid and makes sense in many different ways. The one thing that you need to keep in mind is the player. What is the players situation at home and financially? That really makes both sides valid, because different players come from different backgrounds and walks of life.
 
We have discussed the system of payment and how it would start at events like club tournaments and showcases, but we haven’t discussed how lacrosse will get to that point. We all know that lacrosse has 73 DI teams, starting in 2019, and that is pretty small compared to other sports. We also know that lacrosse is the fastest growing game in the United States and it gets bigger every year. That is how lacrosse will get to that point in the most simplest way, but there is much more to it.
 
Lacrosse in general is perceived to be a sport played by the middle class suburban kids. Well, that is not entirely accurate anymore. Ten to fifteen years ago you could say that lacrosse was 95% rich white kids from the east coast. Fast forward to 2018 and that is no longer accurate. Nowadays probably 70-80% of lacrosse players are of that stereotype. It is much better, but we still have much work to do in making the sport more diverse and inclusive.
 
US Lacrosse has taken on some pretty big initiatives in making the sport more diverse and inclusive. They have worked on projects in places like Cleveland and the New York City. Organizations like Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, Bronx Lacrosse, Nation United, Charm City Lacrosse, and many others help deliver the sport to kids that may have never had the opportunity to play the game. All of these things combined make for a more diverse and inclusive game and that will be great for lacrosse in the end. Also, those things bring us closer to the recruitment system of Bagmen, Boosters, and Money in lacrosse.
 
It’s not just great organizations like Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership that will take this sport to the next level. It’s schools and athletic departments at the high school and college level that will help as well. Also, the pay for play and overpriced “elite” club teams need to stop as well.
 
Starting with the high school athletic departments, lacrosse needs more support. There are still very many states that don’t even have lacrosse as a sanctioned sport. There are a handful of states like Maryland, New York, New Hampshire, and more that do have lacrosse as a scanctioned sport. The good news is that states like Utah are starting to sanction the sport at the high school level.
 
The reason that lacrosse being a sanctioned sport at the high school level is a big deal is that it helps support the game. Lets face it, many states who have lacrosse still at the club level don’t show much support at all for high school lacrosse. The only people that do are the coaches, players, fans, and some media members. That is a problem, a big problem for lacrosse. All that needs to improve if we want to sport to grow to the level of popularity that we want it to.
 
Now, the elephant in the room here is the number of college programs. That is the main thing that needs to increase for this next level of recruiting to take place. We currently have 73 DI men’s lacrosse teams. That is a lot smaller than basketball or football. College, High School, and Youth growth is all going to contribute in the process of college lacrosse recruiting going to the next level.  
 
Lastly, the attitudes of Lacrosse players needs to change. I touched on this a tad bit but I’m going to go deeper into it here. In other sports we see athletes viewed more as an athlete than a student-athlete. That is not the case in Lacrosse so much. Lacrosse players tend to choose a School based on academics first and Lacrosse second. 
 
Now, Lacrosse is still very important to these college players, but I’m just saying it is perceived they care more about academics than other athletes do. Part of this is due to the fact that pro Lacrosse doesn’t pay as well as the NBA or NFL. So yes there is a realistic way of thinking behind that. 
 
If Lacrosse recruiting is going to reach that next  level then players will have to start looking at Lacrosse more than academics like some, not all, basketball and football players do. I think that is also coming as the sport grows. The pro game has to get bigger too, because right now not many guys actually think about college as a steppingstone to the MLL or NLL, even though it most certainly is. 
 
It may not be happening now and it may not be happening in five years, but the system of Boosters, Bagmen, and Money will take hold in the world of college Lacrosse recruiting. Time and the growth of the fam at every level will all contribute to Lacrosse recruiting being taken to the next level. 

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