Alumni Call For The Return Of Varsity Lacrosse
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
“Sucks to BU.” That’s what Boston College alumni like to chant about rival Boston University.
But some are now so frustrated with the BC athletic department, they’re joking about making donations to its cross-town rival.
Eleven years after the University eliminated men’s varsity lacrosse—and with BU now adding a team—angry alumni are redoubling their calls to revive the program.
“We don’t need to take a back seat to a school like BU,” said Kevin McLane, BC ’99, who graduated as BC’s all-time leading scorer just before the team was cut.
Those demanding that men’s varsity lacrosse be restored are emboldened by the hiring of a new athletic director and the addition to the Atlantic Coast Conference of schools that have lacrosse. They also cite the additions of lacrosse teams at comparable universities and colleges and the huge growth in popularity of the sport.
“It’s become a joke that BC doesn’t have it,” said E. Ward Bitter, BC ’77 and All-American lacrosse player and a member of the BC Varsity Club Hall of Fame, who says he refused to send his own children—all standout athletes—to the University because it no longer had men’s varsity lacrosse.
Bitter says sarcastically that BC alumni should give $250,000 a year to the program at BU until the university restores the team.
Men’s varsity lacrosse played its last game in 2002. The team was cut, along with wrestling and water polo, to conform to Title IX, which requires equal opportunity in athletics for men and women. Bringing it back would mean cutting scholarships for another men’s sport or adding some for women.
Donors offered $8 million over five years to restore the program, but then-athletic director Gene DeFilippo told them it would take $30 million, alumni said.
“It was an immediate reaction,” McClane said. “We were all rebuffed.” He calls the $30 million figure “absurd.”
The University of Richmond established a men’s varsity lacrosse team, which will debut in 2014, with an investment of $3 million, and the University of Michigan spent just under $6 million to set up a team that began play last year. The average annual operating expenses of a Division 1A men’s lacrosse program is around $1.2 million, according to the NCAA, with revenues of $737,182, for a total cost of $509,567 per year.
DeFilippo, who stepped down in September, did not respond to a request for comment. He has been replaced by Brad Bates, who has spent his time so far dealing with the struggling football team.
“I hope he goes in open minded,” says Brendan Toulouse, another former player, who graduated in 1994.
Lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport in the country. The number of collegiate varsity and club players rose nearly 5 percent last year to more than 33,000. This trend has accelerated in the time since lacrosse was cut at BC. Last year alone, more than 680,000 players participated in organized teams, up more than 60,000 from the year before and the largest single-year increase since U.S. Lacrosse began keeping track in 2001.
That means BC is missing out on a pool of athletic and academic talent, say alumni and some prospective applicants.
The University would attract top student-athletes “if lacrosse was added and kids saw the opportunity they had to go to a school like BC and play,” says Mike Pirone, a junior attackman who was recruited by the University of Denver from Georgetown Prep in 2010.
John Kemp, a senior and goalie for the University of Notre Dame, says he didn’t consider any schools without varsity lacrosse programs. Neither did Greg Perraut, a sophomore defenseman at Fairfield University.
“If BC were D1, it could definitely lure recruits away from major D1 programs,” Perraut said.
Each of Bitter’s four sons was an All-American. Instead of enrolling at their father’s alma mater, one went on to become captain of the team at Navy, another went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later played for the Charlotte Hounds and Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse, and another is now at UNC after graduating from Deerfield as the No. 2 recruit in the nation.
“That caliber of student is choosing Chapel Hill over Chestnut Hill,” Toulouse said. “The caliber of student-athlete we are losing goes to schools like UVA or Cornell.”
High Point University in North Carolina has seen the sport’s appeal since adding men’s varsity lacrosse this fall. “We attract a lot of kids from the Northeast, so having a lacrosse team allows us to look at the best schools, and get the best male students from those schools,” Athletic Director Craig Keilitz said. “It’s a win-win-win for us.”
Not everyone believes the same would be true at BC.
“We can’t get people to go to our basketball games,” says Frank Nemia, a senior and president of the club lacrosse team. “If [varsity] lacrosse came in here, would it be just another sport? And that’s what I feel might be an issue.”
Nemia says it would be harder to get a team off the ground than advocates seem to think. “Basically, you’re starting a program from scratch.”