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NCAA Lacrosse Participation Rates Rise

Good job, everybody!

USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA released its annual Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report yesterday and lacrosse earned special distinction as the greatest grower at the collegiate level:

Lacrosse displayed the greatest growth among both men’s and women’s sports, with 29 new women’s programs added in 2013-14 along with 20 men’s teams. The sport was followed by golf (+23 teams) and indoor track and field (+19) on the women’s side while men’s indoor track and field added 20 programs.

This follows a strong display last year: For the 2012-2013 cohort, lacrosse was singled out as a growth superstar, experiencing a large spike in sponsorship. 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 2013-2014 (Men's Division I Only)

  • Lacrosse is one of 11 sports -- archery, badminton, equestrian, fencing, gymnastics, ice hockey, rowing, rugby, squash, volleyball, and water polo -- to not experience a program drop since the 2009-10 cohort. In the examined periods, a total of 11 men's programs have been jettisoned into space, the seventh lowest mark among the 27 sports considered in the report. Lacrosse is still holding the line from a "Worth it?" standpoint.
  • Men's lacrosse added 21 team in the examined periods, the ninth highest raw growth rate among sponsored sports. The clubhouse leader in raw added teams is indoor track at 101 teams. In terms of actual and potential spring sport rivals, 14 baseball teams have been added in the examined periods and 12 soccer teams -- soccer is considered a fractured fall-spring season -- have been added to the mix in the examined period.
  • No sport had a raw net change at the Division I level that exceeded men's lacrosse's growth of 10 programs. None. In fact, only lacrosse, sailing (three), squash (nine), and outdoor track (three) finished in a net-positive change position over these periods; all other sports were in a net-negative or net-neutral position. That lacrosse has been able to sustain and grow -- on a raw basis -- its position in a climate of slashing opportunities is a positive for the game, especially considering lacrosse's position in the national hierarchy.

From 1981-82 Through 2013-2014 (Men's Division I Only)

  • The average squad size of a men's lacrosse team was 33.2 members in 1981-82. That value has risen to 45.8 in the 2013-14 period (that's a two-tenths of a person increase from last year; apparently teams are adding only a right arm to their rosters). The average the analyzed periods is 40.7 (an insignificant increase from last year), but there is high variance in the values (12.34) and a notable standard deviation (3.51). Squad size continues to trend upwards -- the largest squad size over the examined periods occurred in 2009-2010 (46.3) -- and that means that more players are still getting an opportunity to play at the Division I level compared to 30 years ago. The trend remains an interesting subplot to lacrosse's growth, and it'll be interesting to see where this goes over the next five to 10 years.
  • The number of schools sponsoring men's lacrosse at the Division I level rose from 50 in 1981-82 to 67 in 2013-14. However, the percentage of schools that sponsor the sport at that level has remained somewhat static: 18.1 percent of total NCAA Division I members sponsored men's lacrosse in 1981-82 and 19.4 percent sponsored the men's game at the top level of college competition in 2013-14. This last cohort represents the highest percentage of schools that have sponsored a men's team at the Division I level in all of the examined periods. So, that's good. The flip side of this is that the standard deviation among the percentage of sponsoring schools is small (.33) as well as the variance (.58). There's good and bad in those numbers -- just like last year -- and it implies that growth -- true growth -- isn't coming as quickly or substantively as many imply.