The NCAA released its "Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rate Report" today and one thing is clear: Lacrosse -- at all levels and between both genders -- is doing well compared to its peers. In fact, in the NCAA's press release, lacrosse was singled out as a growth superstar, seeing a large spike in sponsorship:
Lacrosse has seen the biggest spike in sponsorship. It was the fastest-growing sport in 2012-13, adding 40 new women’s teams and 26 new men’s teams. Other rapidly growing women’s sports include golf, which added 30 teams, and indoor track, in which an additional 27 teams were sponsored. Nine women’s tennis teams were dropped in 2012-13, most among any sport.
Hooray! Balloon animals and trips to the petting zoo for everyone!
Looking at the details of the report, the game at the men's Division I level -- college lacrosse's highest profile iteration -- is both strong and holding some interesting results:
From 1988-89 Through 2012-2013 (Men's Division I Only)
- Only one sport -- squash (nine) -- had a raw net change at the Division I level that exceeded men's lacrosse growth of six programs. In fact, only squash, lacrosse, outdoor track (five), and sailing (three) finished in net-positive changes over these periods; all other sports were in net-negative changes. That lacrosse has been able to sustain and grow its position in a climate of sports being cut is a positive for the game, especially considering lacrosse's position in the college sports hierarchy.
- Men's lacrosse added 17 teams in these periods, the 12th highest raw growth rate among sponsored sports. Men's lacrosse at the Division I level also saw 11 teams cut in these periods; only six sports -- archery (nine), badminton (six), basketball (two), equestrian (six), ice hockey (10), and rugby (nine) -- had fewer raw cuts. That's pretty good: Lacrosse, once viewed as a fringe sport, is holding the line (and making gains) against other sports perceived as existing on the outskirts of the college sports consciousness.
From 1981-1982 Through 2012-2013 (Men's Division I Only)
- The average squad size of a Division I men's lacrosse team was 33.2 players in 1981-1982; that value jumped to 45.6 in the 2012-2013 period. The average over the periods is 40.6, but there is high variance in the values (11.89) and a notable standard deviation (3.45). Squad size is trending upwards -- the largest squad size over the examined periods occurred in 2009-10 (46.3) -- and that means that more players are getting an opportunity to play at the Division I level compared to 30 years ago. It'll be interesting to see where this trend goes over the next five to 10 years and if the variance and standard deviation moves significantly over that time.
- The number of schools sponsoring men's lacrosse rose from 50 in 1981-82 to 62 in 2012-13. However, the percentage of Division I institutions sponsoring men's lacrosse over the examined periods has stayed fairly static: 18.1 percent sponsored the sport in 1981-82 and 17.9 percent sponsored the sport in 2012-13. The standard deviation here is small (0.43) as well as the variance (0.19) (in line with the average percentage of Division I schools sponsoring men's lacrosse (17.5)); there is stability in the percentage of Division I schools putting a men's lacrosse team on the field. This is good and bad: Lacrosse isn't losing ground, but it also has grown at a rate that exceeds the number of schools participating in Division I competition (in the overall). This is a somewhat troubling development and hangs a cloud over the sunshine that the rest of the report cast.
All in all, though, men's lacrosse at the Division I level is doing just fine and has a clean bill of health. And, in the end, that's the most important thing.