(Photo Courtesy of Penn State Athletics)
May 25th, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pa. That day is one that many will forever remember as the day Penn State lacrosse officially arrived, becoming just the 10th FBS school to play on Championship Weekend.
Penn State’s ascension into the upper tier of college lacrosse over the past few seasons has been something truly special to watch. But, perhaps, it has also marked a new trend that has been arising in college lacrosse for the past decade and will likely explode as we look forward to the rest of the 2020s and beyond.
That trend is FBS schools coming of age and finally dominating college lacrosse just as they do pretty much any other sport.
Sure, FBS schools like Army, Maryland, Navy, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia all have long and storied lacrosse programs and have shared success since the early days of the sport, and Duke and Notre Dame have risen to much greater heights over the past two decades. But outside of those schools, the FBS hasn’t gripped much of a stranglehold on college lacrosse.
Now with the Big Ten sponsoring the sport, the prospect of FBS schools dominating the sport in the near future seems even more realistic than we ever thought. Programs like Ohio State and Penn State have made their first Championship Weekend appearances over the past three seasons and Utah, a Pac-12 school, now sponsors men’s lacrosse and has shown impressive growth already.
And for a sport that has seen smaller schools like Johns Hopkins and non-FBS schools like Princeton, Cornell, Towson, and UMass have a lot of success, this new resurgence could be a big jolt for some of those programs.
Many of these FBS schools have athletic budgets that exceed the majority of DI men’s lacrosse’s 75 programs. And as lacrosse grows bigger each year, it seems that the money poured into these lacrosse programs at schools like Michigan or Penn State increases.
Michigan recently opened a new multi-million dollar lacrosse-only facility in 2018 and Penn State and North Carolina just invested in hefty renovations to their stadiums. Also, Ohio State is planning on having a new 20-Million dollar lacrosse stadium completed by the 2022 season.
No non-FBS school can or will ever compete against those kinds of facilities. They may be able to sell their lacrosse history or other aspects about the school, but a Loyola or Hofstra just can’t compete with schools in the ACC and Big Ten.
And these facility improvements and bigger investments in lacrosse have already paid off in recruiting for most of these schools. Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State each signed Under Armour All-Americans in the class of 2019, which is something none of those programs are highly known for, opposed to a school like Maryland.
In addition to the facility improvements and increased investments at multiple FBS schools, those programs are easy to sell. Just like Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia have sold themselves for years, the same can be said for a school like Penn State or Utah. We see those names on TV every Saturday in the fall being broadcast to the masses and presented on the biggest stage.
FBS schools are brands. And those brands are much more recognizable, not only in North America but globally. You can go to almost any country and they know what Ohio State or Michigan is. That is an advantage that each one of those schools can play in recruiting that many other schools can’t.
Additionally, they might also be able to give out more scholarship money than some programs at smaller, less-known schools, even ones with long-standing lacrosse traditions.
The college lacrosse picture is certainly changing and will continue to change over the next decade-plus. And that change will see more FBS schools rise to prominence in college lacrosse. While not every one of those schools has officially arrived in lacrosse yet, they are certainly likely to over the next few years.
While mid-majors in conferences like the America East, CAA, Ivy League, Patriot League, and others and more traditional powers like Johns Hopkins will likely still have success, it may not be the same as it once was.
And with more high-level players nationwide than ever before and the greater emergence of some of these FBS programs over the past few seasons, there is no doubt that there will come a day when Championship weekend is nothing but FBS schools that 10 to 20 years ago no one would have guessed would be in that position.