The Duke Blue Devils are the 2013 men's lacrosse Division I champions, defeating the Syracuse Orange 16-10 to claim the program's second national championship and second in four years. While I will quickly lay my biases on the table - I tend to root against Duke in everything they do and am still wearing the orange (not Orange, but orange) shirt I put on to support their opponents - I do believe that Duke's championship here is a positive for the sport.
While it would be irresponsible of me to tie the young men who just won it on the field to whatever transgressions may or may not have occurred in 2006, it is worth mentioning that that scandal has been the biggest news in that program's history and perhaps the history of college lacrosse. It should stand to reason, then, that the success of a program whose fame transcends the sport would point the spotlight in lacrosse's direction. But beyond simply that scandal, Duke brings with it to the championship three things that are good for the sport: New(er) blood, name brand recognition, and existence outside the hotbed areas.
It's true that Duke just won a championship in 2010, and has made championship weekend eight of the past nine years, so it's a little hard to think of them as new blood. Still, their last championship made them the first new kid on the block in nearly two decades, the eighth new champion in the sport's history and one of only two schools not named Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, or Princeton not to hoist the trophy since 1992 - the other being last year's champion, Loyola.
That said, Duke has one thing that Loyola doesn't enjoy: The clout of a national name. Duke's success in basketball and affiliation with a major conference means that while Loyola's championship, even over the major conference Terrapins of College Park, may have caused a slight disturbance in the force, Duke championship will be discussed on SportsCenter and its ilk. Add that to the aforementioned scandal, and this will be more than that requisite cursory glance.
I watched the game from a Buffalo Wild Wings in High Point, NC, ten short miles from the ACC's Greensboro home. Duke University wears one of the two shades of blue that move the needle around these parts, and yet a plurality, not a majority, of TVs in the place were showing the game and the overhead speakers were tuned not to the game feed, but to the house music. As a point of comparison, I've been at that same location, clinging to one small TV in a corner still tuned to lacrosse, as a UNC basketball game of limited importance against who-remembers-who took over the audio and video in the rest of the restaurant. While there are quite a few steps along the gradient between today's experience and Carolina basketball, I think we can all acknowledge that the sport has some growing to do. While waning attendance figures make it clear that the hotbeds aren't saturated, growth in areas beyond them may pay dividends for the sport. Here in North Carolina, where we have a one year old pro team and an ever-growing cache of college teams, both Division I and club, we're in a growth area.
Finally, it's not insignificant that the victory came over Syracuse. The two schools will be conferencemates starting next season, and I'm fairly confident today's game won't be soon forgotten by the Orange faithful. This may have sparked a rivalry that we come to anticipate year after year in lacrosse's premier league.