Hidden behind the hysteria of the NCAA basketball tournament lies a different kind of March Madness that most Americans have never seen or heard of. Tucked secretively into midday broadcasts on channels like ESPNU and ESPN3, one of the most impressive showcases of competitive collegiate athletics is on display every weekend — and almost nobody tunes in. Between crushing hits and SportsCenter-worthy behind-the-back goals, sports fans are missing out on watching what some have started to call “the fastest sport on two feet.” Wake up, America — you’re missing out on college lacrosse.
This season alone has been chock-full of storylines that ESPN has curiously left off SportsCenter in favor of NFL draft talk and D’Angelo Russell. Undefeated Brown University, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, is on a scoring binge this season that has the team looking like the Golden State Warriors of college lacrosse. Upsets have been plentiful all year round, as seven of the top 20 preseason teams are no longer nationally ranked. All across the nation, outstanding lacrosse is being played — an Inside Lacrosse report this week claimed that never in Division I history have there been this many contenders for lacrosse’s No. 1 ranking.
The next six weeks are likely to lead to another historic championship season for college lacrosse, and America is missing it to listen to Mel Kiper and Todd McShay debate third-round draft options for the Minnesota Vikings. In this dry season for sports, when March Madness is winding down, the NBA playoffs haven’t begun and football is nowhere in sight, what excuse do you have not to get in on the excitement of college lacrosse?
At first glance, it is understandable that some people might be put off by the idea of lacrosse fandom. A considerable proportion of Georgetown’s student body hails from the East Coast or New England area, meaning there is a good chance if you are reading this, you were dragged to a high school lacrosse game at some point in your life. PSA: this is not the same game you were forced to watch your mildly athletic high school friends play.
The talent gap between college and high school lacrosse is extraordinary. Turn on any Division I lacrosse game this weekend, and you will be sure to recognize the difference in speed, stick skills and creativity in no less than one offensive possession. With a breakneck pace and bruising physicality, watching lacrosse at the Division I collegiate level is like viewing a hybrid of ACC basketball and SEC football — and with no shortage of highlights. It is rare for a half of college lacrosse to go by without a single behind-the-back shot attempt, and some of the country’s best attack players break ankles better than Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving — for example, Johns Hopkins sophomore Shack Stanwick.
There has never been a better time than now to become a fan of college lacrosse. The saying is true — lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in America — meaning there is now a team for everyone to root for. Since 2009, 92 new college programs have been established, expanding as far west as Colorado and as far north as Vermont. This year, in a symbolic moment of the sport’s growing appeal, Hampton University became the first historically black college or university to join Division I lacrosse. Having a Division I lacrosse program has also suddenly become a status symbol for the nation’s most prolific athletic programs. Last year, the Big Ten held its inaugural lacrosse season, boasting a conference made up of Michigan, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State.
Most importantly, college lacrosse has finally solved the parity problem that had plagued the sport for decades. No longer is the game dominated by the ACC, which had for a generation acted as the lacrosse counterpart to the SEC in football.
Last year, Denver became the first school west of Chapel Hill to win a national title, which caused the floodgates of college lacrosse parity to open. Richmond’s varsity program is two years old, yet it upended national powerhouse Duke just a few weeks ago. High Point established its Division I program in 2013, and this year it has beaten five-time national champion UVA. Last year, a then-No. 19 Johns Hopkins team with a .500 record made the Final Four, and this year eight different conferences are currently represented in the top 20 rankings. Hands down, college lacrosse has never been this competitive.
So what is America waiting for? It is early April. College basketball ends this Monday. College football spring games are a month away. The NFL Draft is not for weeks, and the NBA playoffs are still several weekends out.
Meanwhile, this weekend in college lacrosse is ACC rivalry week. No. 17 UNC is at No. 11 Duke, and No. 2 Notre Dame is traveling to No. 7 Syracuse. It is going to be great lacrosse. You have several hours to kill before watching the men’s basketball Final Four games anyway, so you might as well spend them watching the fastest sport on two feet.