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Seven bold lacrosse predictions for the 2020s

On the last day of the ‘10s, what could we see from lacrosse in the next decade?

Rob Totaro

Today’s the last day of not only 2019, but the entire 2010’s decade. We’ve been reviewing the entire decade for the last few months if you feel like reminiscing.

But in this post, we’ll look forward to what the future could hold. It could be a big 10-year period for the sport with continued expansion along all levels of the sport. It’s expected that more colleges and universities will add the sport on the men’s and women’s side, the pro game will continue to evolve and grow in popularity, and there’s hope that lacrosse will be in the Olympics for 2028.

With that, here are some bold predictions for the sport for the next decade.

Double digit schools add D1 men’s lacrosse, but only three will be power-five schools

In the last 10 years, 15 schools added men’s lacrosse at the Division I level, but only two of them were from a power-five conference (Michigan and Utah). Every year except for 2018, there was at least one new team starting play with eight teams beginning in a three-year span between 2013 and 2015.

This year, LIU and Merrimack are the “new” teams in Division I, but those two are simply moving up from Division II instead of starting from scratch. There are no new teams scheduled to debut in 2021. That means the earliest a new school could debut men’s lacrosse would be 2022. And it’s pretty tough to find out who could be next because of Title IX as well as the cost of operating a program. Is it a big-time school like Stanford or Oregon out west or perhaps Boston College or Florida State on the east coast? Could it be non-FBS schools like Elon, VCU, or Utah Valley? By 2030, I think at least two more schools add lacrosse out west, but it has to start sooner than later.

Two new conferences will sponsor men’s lacrosse

In the past decade, the Big East (2010), NEC (2011), Atlantic Sun/SoCon (2014), and Big Ten (2015) began sponsoring men’s lacrosse with the crown jewel being the Big Ten.

With potentially more schools coming into the mix in the next 10 years, that will mean needing to find new homes. And maybe it’s homes that don’t exist just yet.

The early favorite to sponsor men’s lacrosse is the Atlantic-10, who already sponsors women’s lacrosse. Current A-10 members that have men’s lacrosse include Richmond (SoCon), Saint Joseph’s (NEC), St. Bonaventure (MAAC), and UMass (CAA). They need two more schools to be eligible for an automatic bid. That could mean adding current independents Cleveland State and Hampton as affiliate members. Or it could mean another A-10 school decides to add the sport (Davidson, Duquesne, George Mason, George Washington, La Salle, and VCU sponsor women’s lacrosse).

If more western schools decide to add men’s lacrosse, that could mean the return of a lacrosse-only conference. The Great Western Lacrosse League and the ECAC Lacrosse League disbanded this decade as more all-sports conferences started to sponsor.

The current landscape for western schools could be improved with the addition of more teams. Air Force (SoCon), Cleveland State (Independent), Denver (Big East), and Utah (Independent) all face difficulties of some sort whether it’s traveling for conference and nonconference games or finding a conference to play in. If those four schools plus two more new institutions come in (say Oregon and Utah Valley), that would certainly help the state of the collegiate game out west.

At least 20 schools add women’s lacrosse, with at least five being power-five schools

As for the women’s side, 30 Division I schools started up play this decade, with five of them coming from power-five conferences (Florida, USC, Colorado, Michigan, and Arizona State). There’s even more growth in women’s lacrosse in the next four seasons. Akron is a new program beginning in 2020 while Merrimack moves up from D2 to D1. Youngstown State will debut in 2021 when the MAC begins to sponsor women’s lacrosse, while Eastern Michigan and Pittsburgh will begin their programs in 2022. It’s also expected that Charlotte will announce a women’s lacrosse program in the very near future.

I’d be shocked if there’s another year like 2013 where eight schools debuted their women’s lacrosse programs, but the steady gains every year has been very notable.

Summer collegiate box lacrosse leagues will continue to grow

One of the more underrated arrivals to lacrosse this decade has been the introduction of USBOXLA’s National Collegiate Box Series with summer box leagues in Colorado and Ohio. Players from Cleveland State, Denver, Ohio State, Robert Morris, and many more schools have participated in these leagues in hopes of improving their lacrosse skills and making strides into potentially playing in the National Lacrosse League.

The NCBS is expected to double the number of leagues for next summer, which means more opportunities for more players to get better. It’s also helping get more American players involved in box lacrosse in hopes of gaining more of a presence in the NLL.

By the end of the decade, the NCBS will become a legit offseason option for many current and incoming collegiate players. And more collegiate coaches will have some sort of box training in the fall before the start of the spring season.

The presence of faceoff athletes will expand

By 2030, there’ll be fewer FOGOs and more faceoff athletes that stay on the field longer than just the faceoff. The majority of them will excel on offense and help their team create a 6-on-5 advantage. But there will be some that will excel on defense or even both sides of the ball to help their teams.

Because of this, teams will be using two or even three faceoff men per game. And most importantly, the faceoff won’t be going away.

One pro men’s field league will exist by 2023

Perhaps the least bold prediction of them all. It’s inevitable that one of the two pro men’s field leagues (Major League Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League) will be left standing in a short time. It might take longer than what some expect, but the pro game will eventually be better with one pro field league.

Don’t be surprised if the remaining pro league continues working with the NLL in making sure there’s still minimal to no overlap between their seasons, especially with the possibility of further expansion and more games being played.

Lacrosse will not be in the Olympics for 2028

I wrote about this two years ago and I still feel this way. Lacrosse won’t be in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Despite all the steps World Lacrosse (formerly Federation of International Lacrosse) has taken since August of 2017 such as getting provisional recognition by the International Olympic Committee, it won’t be enough to get the sport onto the world’s biggest stage.

The new international discipline and rules are still a work in progress with divided opinions on how the game should be played. There’s still a lack of quality players from outside the United States and Canada competing, even though we’ve seen some players from Australia, England, Germany, and Japan compete at the highest levels in recent years.

Using the most recent decision to add sports by the Organising Committee for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2016, lacrosse has a rough timetable of about four and a half years to keep building their case for Olympic inclusion. It’s a lot of time, but also not a lot of time. The biggest tests will come at The World Games in Birmingham, Alabama in 2021, the FIL World Championships in 2022, reportedly in Los Angeles, and the 2023 FIL Women’s World Championships. Will it be enough to get lacrosse into the 2028 games and perhaps even for future editions?

But whether or not the sport gets into the Olympics, the sport will continue to expand internationally. The PLL has done an outstanding job visiting Japan in the offseason and the Lacrosse The Pond program continues to expand the sport in Europe. Expect that to continue and to see more international players coming to America to play collegiately and attempting to play in the pros.