What lacrosse can learn from football
My fall schedule takes me across the country covering college football for 18 weeks. Reporting at top-level games, meeting with coaches and players, watching film with ESPN analysts and play-by-play announcers, watching practice, working and soaking in all of the pageantry and tradition that BCS-level football has to offer is an experience I love.
I've been to 44 of the 50 states. It's an amazing experience to meet lacrosse fans in Alabama, Texas, Arizona and Michigan while reporting on big-time college sports. There are things lacrosse can learn from BCS football. Here's a few lessons for the lacrosse community.
Taking care of business
At Michigan State, each player must carry his helmet with him -- everywhere -- while his team is on the road. Coach Mark Dantonio has taken the term 'business trip' and applied it to his football team. Instead of briefcases, his players lug around their helmets in the hotel. They become a constant reminder of why they are there; the mind can never stray too far from the impending game.
Sunday is practice, film, weight training and therapy. Monday becomes the off day, back to work on Tuesday.
This accomplishes many things:
1. Cuts into Saturday night partying
2. Assures that dinged-up players get treatment within the first 48 hours. Ignoring a small injury on Saturday isn't smart; the first 24 hours are key to preventing swelling.
3. Gives backups and redshirts some significant reps while coordinators and head coaches watch.
4. Monday becomes the pivotal academic day for the student-athletes.
5. Gives the coaching staff more time to construct a game plan and break down opponent film.
6. Correction of mistakes; the focus is strictly on your program, not the opponent.
Wake Forest football redshirts just about everybody, understanding how difficult the transition from high school to college can be. The players benefit academically, socially and on the field with the extra year in the program. Why aren't more mid-tier lacrosse programs systematically redshirting players as a way to even the playing field with the top-tiered programs?
Programs like Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska have a rich tradition of taking walk-on players and making them stars in college and the NFL. The coaches use those examples to stockpile high school talent. Why don't I hear about lacrosse players who started as walk-ons and became All-Americans? Why aren't programs welcoming talent from non-hotbed areas?
Toledo coach Tim Beckman requires all of his players to prepare a scouting report on each opponent. He randomly picks one player on either side of the ball to present the report to the entire team. "It could be a starter, it could be a backup; they never know who's going to give the oral report," he says. "I'm always amazed at what our guys are coming up with."
Paul Rhoads at Iowa State preaches, "Know our game plan. Know the opponent. Win your individual battle one play at a time, all day long."
Interesting that Oregon and Auburn are Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS. Both teams are lighting up the scoreboard using no-huddle, pedal-to-the-metal offenses. Chip Kelly at Oregon and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn are both trying to get as many plays as possible off each game. The huddle is extinct. Defenses don't get to sub. Meanwhile, in lacrosse the trend is to slow down the tempo even though the athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. Go slow, don't take educated chances, don't dictate tempo, sub as much as possible, play incomplete specialists in as many roles as possible. And the fan suffers because coaches are afraid to let their players make plays.
Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern practice in the morning from 7-9 a.m., like North Carolina in lacrosse. The benefits are academic, keeping players in at night, and then weights and extra film during the afternoon.
In football, teams film practice, with full statistics and referees. Some lacrosse programs do, many don't.
Spring football has no outside competition. College teams don't have preseason scrimmages either. Meanwhile in lacrosse we play outside competition in the fall and then play outside scrimmages in the spring. Seems redundant and it seems like some streamlining is needed.
Friday means high school football, Saturday is college. Football coaches take the opportunity to go watch high school football games on Friday nights in their state. If high school programs in hotbed areas are encouraged to play Friday night lacrosse games, you may be pleasantly surprised to see who shows up. Play on a Saturday or weekday afternoon and I guarantee the college coach is too busy to attend.
Factor in TV
The SEC, Big 12, ACC, and Big Ten (going forward) have their title games at a predetermined site for TV. ESPNU cannot cover a college lacrosse game if they don't know where it's going to be played. That's one of the reasons why many of the league AQ games go unseen, which is a shame.
Sing the school fight song to your fans after a big win. Take a victory lap and thank your fans for coming out.
When the television cameras show up, pack the house, bring the band, the cheerleaders and the mascot. ESPNU reaches 73 million homes. Have promotional activities and music ready for TV timeouts. Put your best foot forward when your team hosts a TV game.
Tailgating is a huge part of college football. My favorite spot is The Grove. Ole Miss fans know how to tailgate Southern style. Lacrosse programs need to create mini-tailgate areas for fans.
Ohio State has Buckeye helmet stickers for positive plays. Similar traditions at USF, UConn, West Virginia, Pitt and others. Few few college lacrosse programs (Hopkins does it for As in class) mimic this system, but more should.
What if lacrosse used a bowl system during the NCAA playoffs? Think of the impact lacrosse bowl games could have in Miami, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco, Charlotte, Atlanta, Seattle, St Louis, Chicago and Boston. First-round games on campus sites are a proven loser -- underattended on a yearly basis. Quite frankly, even the NCAA quarterfinals have been disappointing, minus a few exceptions at Navy. Let's give those games to the people in non-hotbed areas who don't get to see top-flight Division I games in person. How about the Brine Boston Bowl, Warrior Detroit Classic, Easton San Francisco Showdown, Great Atlantic Carolina Classic?
Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN family of networks and welcomes your opinions at email@example.com.
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