A Lacrosse Primer for Big Ten Fans

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

There's no reason to yell "Stranger! Danger!" Let me help you through this fantastic new thing you have on your hands.

Are you a fan of a Big Ten school? Did Jim Delaney just change your universe with yesterday's announcement that the league would sponsor men's lacrosse starting with the 2014-2015 academic year? Do you only know about Johns Hopkins University because you watched The Rock and decided to also get your master’s and doctorate from the school like Dr. Stanley Goodspeed? If so, you're luck: I'm here to help you through this great new wonderful.

Lacrosse has officially achieved "a thing" status, and the Big Ten will drastically change the volition of the game at the Division I level. Whether you know it or not, your league -- and, most importantly to you, your school of preference -- is now a driving factor in one of the fastest growing games in the nation. Big Ten lacrosse is going to matter, and given how the conference took the unique step to invite an associate member into the league to give the conference the legs it needs to immediately succeed, lacrosse matters to the Big Ten, too.

You probably have questions or concerns about all of this. Here's a dirty primer to get you up to speed on the things you need to know about Jim Delaney's newest toy.

"No, you don't understand. I don't care about lacrosse."
I am also to assume that you still watch Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. Look: I can't make you watch or even give a damn about lacrosse. However, there are few games that are as fluid, uniquely skilled, freakishly athletic, fast-paced, violent, and tactically interesting as college lacrosse. If you're looking for a nice bridge from hoops to the summer barbecue season, lacrosse is your answer. You may not completely understand what you're watching right off the bat, but the game has a way of sticking in your skull. And what's your alternative to lacrosse? Baseball? If you want to watch the combination to static nothingness with small glimpses of excitement, I suggest watching C-Span while drinking bleach instead of staring at baseball games. Give your spring some action.

"Just how big is this college lacrosse thing? Is it just Princeton and 10 schools that aren't Princeton?"
63 schools -- primarily east coast, but with Midwest influences -- played at the Division I level in 2013. Five more schools -- Boston University, Furman, Monmouth, Richmond, and Massachusetts-Lowell -- will play at the college game's highest level by 2015. With rumors swirling about a handful of schools considering adding men's lacrosse to their varsity athletic offerings (and not just schools that are known to you only because they accidentally sent you an admissions prospectus 10 years ago), 70 schools playing at the Division I level in the not-too-distant-future isn't out of the question. For reference, 59 schools currently sponsor a Division I men's hockey program, and Division I men's lacrosse has grown -- in terms of participating membership by 2015 -- 21 percent since 2007 when just 56 schools participated (and that includes Presbyterian coming and going). Schools are pursuing men's lacrosse; the game isn't just the Ivy League, ACC, and Johns Hopkins anymore.

"Speaking of Johns Hopkins, what exactly is a 'Johns Hopkins'?"
Good question.

Johns Hopkins, even as the Big Ten's associate member, is going to serve as the league's tent pole program. Syracuse has more NCAA titles than any other school (the NCAA started sponsoring a men's lacrosse championship in 1971), but Hopkins has more national "championships" than any other program with 44 titles (the USILA and ILA used to name national champions prior to 1971, many of them shared). The Blue Jays are basically the Alabama of college lacrosse, and they're just as happy to announce all of their famous success that was earned in non-tournament play. So, yeah. Good luck with all of that.

"I only care about this if the Big Ten is going to be any good. I like winning, okay? It's why I went to [insert gigantic state school] instead of [insert smarty pants liberal arts school]. Is the Big Ten going to be any good?"
Probably.

"OH MY GOD WILL THIS RUIN FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL?"
Unless your athletic director is drunk at the wheel and careening toward a disastrous end, it's not likely. Look: Schools are limited to offering just 12.6 scholarships for men's lacrosse (virtually all players get partial rides, if any), Big Ten schools are already shipping cross country teams to league opponents and it hasn't ruined athletic budgets, there are enough schools in the Midwest to play to keep costs down, and dual facility use is common throughout Division I lacrosse. Your school's football and basketball futures are fine despite the creation of Big Ten lacrosse; screwing the pooch in New Year's bowl games and impossible-to-watch regular season basketball games against Wisconsin isn't going to change for the Big Ten with the addition of men's lacrosse to the league's offerings. And the Big Ten Network -- depending on whatever lacrosse package it chooses to platform -- isn't going to suddenly become 80-hours-per-week of lacrosse coverage. Things will be fine; it's just something new for the spring. Cool your jets.

"So, you're telling me that my school actually has a team? They have uniforms and everything?"
Yup, and your team is probably better than you think. You should really get out more, maybe put away your customized football jersey -- "DOCTOR DOOM #69" -- for a minute and pay attention.

Maryland: The Terps haven't won a title since 1975 but they remain among the nation's elite. I'm assuming that most Maryland fans know about this kind of stuff, instead forgetting about what Randy Edsall does to their brains in the fall. Maryland will depart the ACC -- the nation's best league -- for the Big Ten, assumedly serving as a second tent pole for the conference.

Rutgers: Things are getting better under Brian Brecht, but there's a long way to go in New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights will leave the Big East (a conference in which Rutgers never made the league's postseason tournament) for the Big Ten.

Penn State: Jeff Tambroni, who came to University Park from Cornell, has invigorated the program, guiding the team to the NCAA Tournament this season after sitting on the bubble in the not-too-distant past. Austin Kaut was a first-team All-American this year, Penn State's first such selection in 73 years. The Nittany Lions are on the cusp of really breaking through. Penn State will wave goodbye to the Colonial Athletic Conference -- THUNDERDOME! -- for the Big Ten.

Michigan: The Wolverines finished just their second season of Division I play, but have loads of promise down the road. Recruiting is going well, and there are plans to do impressive things. No program in the country is drawing the kind of interest from lacrosse fans as Michigan, mostly because the Wolverines are the biggest name brand to add the sport in a long time. Michigan is abandoning ECAC play for the Big Ten.

Ohio State: Earned the three-seed in the NCAA Tournament this season, falling to Cornell in the quarterfinals. Nick Myers is building on the foundation that Joe Breschi put in place for the Buckeyes, and Ohio State is heading in the right direction after making its first national tournament just 10 seasons ago. Like Michigan, Ohio State will become a former member of the ECAC to make Big Ten lacrosse a thing.

"When do I have to care? When does this all happen?"
Fall ball -- lacrosse's equivalent to football's spring period -- starts around September and finishes up around Halloween. It's not a huge deal as the time is used mostly for scrimmaging, strength and conditioning, and getting some heat in summer-worn stems. The functional preseason for most teams will start in January, and the season itself will begin in early February (SPRING SPORT!). The regular season will run until the end of April, postseason conference tournaments will start right after, then the NCAA Tournament will begin -- a run that will end on Memorial Day. It's four months of badass action; even if you jump in after hoops finishes up its year, you still have plenty of time to drink in the wonder.

"Lax bros are terrible people."
I agree. You can watch lacrosse and not be a lax bro; doing so will not create a tear in the space-time continuum. Trust me.

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