What Makes Lacrosse Unique And Special Among Division I College Sports

Lacrosse is a unique game for many reasons.  Its Native American origins, the fact that is carries its own fashion sense, the fact that so many feel compelled to pay it forward and spread the game…are just a few things that make the sport of lacrosse special.  To me, however, the biggest differentiating factor about lacrosse that stands out from other college sports is that its athletes are generally primarily motivated academically.

I did my own private polling of elite high school athletes with legitimate Division I potential across three sports in my community to find out what primarily drives them in their pursuit of excellence on the field.  9 out of 10 football players stated that they are driven to play for a top Division I program to one day play in the NFL.  8 out of 10 baseball players were looking to play for a top Division I school to get drafted into MLB.  8 out of 10 lacrosse players, on the other hand, while of course they wanted the enjoyment and glory of competing on a top Division I college program, cited academics and a great education as their primary motivation.

This explains why programs like Yale, Cornell, Bucknell, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Duke so commonly rank in the top 10.  Cornell, Princeton, Hopkins, and Duke all have won national championships.  Yale is currently undefeated and has a real shot at contending for a national championship…you would not see this in any other sport than lacrosse.

To be fair to football and baseball players, achieving the ranks of professional athlete is a potentially hugely profitable career, whereas professional lacrosse players have to get creative to supplement their meager professional lacrosse pay with coaching and training, endorsing products, etc.  Many have other careers altogether and play professional lacrosse on the side.  However, with so few players actually making it to the pros in the other two more traditional sports, the primary motivation of becoming a professional athlete is usually misguided.

Case in point, I have a friend who was a two time NJ state All-American left tackle that got a scholarship to play for a Big 10 football college.  He was successful and was First Team All-Big 10 his junior and senior seasons.  With his sights on playing in the NFL, he had neglected school and never graduated, throwing away the free education that his athletic talent earned him.

He ultimately never got drafted into the NFL and bounced around the practice squads of several teams for 2 1/2 years.  With no college degree or special skills, he now works an unskilled job that is both financially and intellectually underwhelming for a person who earned a free education.

Had my friend taken full advantage at the opportunity of a free education, he could have ended up perhaps working as a highly paid professional.  He certainly had the intelligence to do so but was overconfident in his ability to achieve what is realistically a very rare opportunity to play professional sports and so single minded in his pursuit of that goal, that he never really took his education seriously or even really had a career vision outside of football.

So many college lacrosse players I know, including several of my former teammates at Montclair State, have gone on to lucrative and interesting careers that enrich their lives.  While we all love lacrosse and cherished every moment we got to play NCAA lacrosse, we also understood that lacrosse was most likely a 4 year endeavor and our education was the real means that would be the engine for how we one day make a living for the rest of our lives.

At the time I was going through the recruiting process, I had opportunities to play at several colleges, but I chose Montclair State for its affordability as a NJ state university, its academic competitiveness, and most importantly, because they offered my intended major of biochemistry (biochemistry was a relatively new branch of science at the time that many colleges did not offer as a stand alone major).

The result was having a blast in college playing lacrosse, but then moving on to use my biochemistry degree to apply for and attend veterinary school.  While lacrosse still flows through my veins and I intend to always remain immersed in the game, I also have a fulfilling career as a small animal veterinarian.  It is the very best of both worlds and I live each day grateful for having had my cake and eaten it to.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Lacrosse Embraces and Promotes High Academic Achievement

Lacrosse Embraces High Academic AchievementOne of the greatest aspects of the sport of lacrosse is the general embracing of superior academics as being just as important as superior play on the field.  Even Division I top 25 programs will reject superior blue chip lacrosse players before rather than admit a great athlete who is an academic slacker.

This is the reason why academic powerhouse programs like Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Brown and Johns Hopkins are also college lacrosse powerhouses.  It is also the reason why in general the quality of Division II lacrosse lags behind that of Division III Lacrosse.  With Division III lacrosse programs having a greater wealth of high academic achievement colleges in comparison to Division II, they tend to attract the better players.

Let us take out of the equation that professional lacrosse does not pay all that well, and simply take a look at the percentage of college athletes that go on to play at the professional level.    According to NCAA.org statistics averaging 5 sports (basketball, baseball, football, lacrosse, hockey), only 3.4% of NCAA college athletes will go on to play at the professional level.  That static is actually artificially inflated by baseball with 10.9% of college players going on to play professional ball, the majority of which bounce around A, AA, and AAA Minor League baseball for a while but ultimately fall short of making the Major Leagues.  Take baseball out of the average calculation, then the probability of a college athlete playing professionally drops to 1.96%.

The bottom line is that for the vast majority of college athletes, their athletic career will be finished after their NCAA eligibility expires and they are faced with the rest of their life having to rely on careers that their academic achievements prepared them for.   When I hear of some of the abysmal graduation rates of college football players, a sport where only2% of players go on to play professionally, I am saddened the fact that such little emphasis is placed on having academics play a more prominent role in the sport’s culture.  My intent is not to just pick on football, as this is prevalent in other sports as well.

I remember we I was a kid and despite lacrosse being very popular in my town, our parents (our Dads especially) were so resistant to those of us that left baseball for lacrosse as our chosen spring sport.  Part of it was that lacrosse was foreign to them, but part of it was that they had some inner pipe dream that their children may go on to play sports professionally.   Consequently, the answer I heard all too frequently from our Dads was “Why lacrosse?  There’s no money in that?” (There was no Major League Lacrosse until 2002)  Such sentiments imply that the primary reason to play youth sports is to one day play professionally, which completely is not only unrealistic, but completely misses the point of youth sports participation.

I do believe that professional lacrosse in the not so far off future will be a lucrative career.   I also hope that will be the case, as dedicated full time professional lacrosse players would raise awareness of the sport and bring it ever closer to the main stream.  However, I also hope when that does happen, that lacrosse maintain its dedication and commitment to academics first and foremost.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of subjects and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse though his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.