All Eyes on New Orleans for Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic
By Daniel Pyser, President, University of Miami Men's Lacrosse
MIAMI, Fla. - The palm trees of South Beach and the bright lights of Bourbon Street don't exactly bring to mind images of collegiate lacrosse.
Nonetheless, the University of Miami men's lacrosse team, as well as teams from seven other universities will meet in the Big Easy for the fourth annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic this weekend.
Yes, that Sugar Bowl.
Born and raised in Baltimore, lacrosse became a part of my life from an early age. Growing up in arguably the biggest lacrosse hotspot in the country, I learned to love the game by watching a seemingly endless list of collegiate lacrosse powerhouses, such as Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Loyola, to name a few.
I would never have associated my future at the University of Miami with a collegiate lacrosse career. Similarly, I would have never associated the Sugar Bowl with a major lacrosse tournament.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl has been hosting this lacrosse tournament for eight years for high schools but decided to include teams from the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association four years ago.
"This is a great way to spread the sport in our region, and to give our high school players a look at the talent at the next level," said UL-Lafayette Head Coach Cliff White.
Less than a week into my four-year stint at the University of Miami I joined the club lacrosse team. It was the best decision I've made here at the "U".
I would quickly learn that the term "club" was simply a technicality. We would be facing legitimate collegiate lacrosse programs. Over time I have understood the true magnitude of the MCLA, something people unfamiliar with the league fail to grasp.
"There are many of the higher tier Division I MCLA teams scheduling and beating NCAA varsity teams at the Division II and III level," said LSU Head Coach Jeff Echols. "The talent level of lacrosse is very apparent in the MCLA and it has verified the legitimacy of the MCLA as an organization."
"Considering there are more high school graduates who want to play legitimate collegiate lacrosse than there are opportunities to play NCAA lacrosse, collegiate club teams naturally would also become legitimate," echoed Texas State Head Coach Michael Brand, whose Bobcats are the only nationally ranked team headed to New Orleans sitting at No. 24 in the polls.
The MCLA is the nation's premier collegiate club lacrosse league, with over 200 programs, none of which have a varsity NCAA team. Of those, 97 compete at the Division I level and include some of the biggest names in college athletics.
For example, 20 of the 25 teams from this year's final college football poll have teams representing their universities in the MCLA, including the teams ranked 1-11. Three of those teams will be competing in New Orleans: Alabama, LSU and South Carolina.
These teams draw upon their university's success in other sports to help build their reputation as a legitimate athletic program. The remaining five teams, Houston, Miami, Tennessee, Texas State, and UL-Lafayette, all have Division I athletics that have seen some level of success.
The eight teams participating in this year's Sugar Bowl Classic all hail from the two conferences that make up the Southeast. The Southeast Lacrosse Conference (SELC) is home to Alabama, Miami, South Carolina and Tennessee while the remaining four teams, Houston, LSU, Texas State, and UL-Lafayette come from the Lone Star Alliance (LSA).
The Sugar Bowl provides these teams with the opportunity to play each other at a great venue in a great city as well as the privilege of playing in an event synonymous with one of the biggest events in college athletics.
"It's a big stage to play on as far as lacrosse in the South goes, and after seeing how much work went into setting it up, it means a lot to be a part of what will be an awesome weekend of lacrosse," said senior attackman Billy Binder, president of South Carolina's team.
Club lacrosse has given me the opportunity to not only go on the road and represent the University of Miami throughout the southeast, but it has given me the opportunity to visit schools and cities I might not have otherwise seen.
New Orleans will certainly be the highlight, thus far, of my college lacrosse career and it's thanks to the Sugar Bowl for making that possible for me, my teammates, and the seven other teams who will be joining us there.
Not only does the Sugar Bowl Classic give the visiting teams an incredible experience, it provides an excellent stage for New Orleans to promote lacrosse in the local community.
"Being one of the ‘local' universities in this lacrosse weekend, LSU is honored to be a part of this experience," said Echols. "The excitement for growth [of lacrosse] in Louisiana is very positive."
Every team participating is coming from a community not particularly rich in lacrosse history. As lacrosse continues to grow across the country, the development of these non-traditional communities is imperative.
"When I first got to SC it was surprising how small lacrosse was, but it's really starting to pick up, the youth and high school teams around Columbia are some of the best in the state," said Binder, a Maryland native. "We have many players and coaches that are involved in growing the game locally and I'm excited to see how far lacrosse will progress here over the next five-to-ten years."
New Orleans natives who are used to being fired up about a LSU vs. Alabama matchup won't have to wait until the Fall as they'll be meeting on the lacrosse field this weekend. This is just one of the many intriguing matchups that the Sugar Bowl Classic has to offer this weekend in what is bound to be an exciting weekend in a city that never sees a dull moment.
[The University of Miami won both of its games in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl Collegiate Lacrosse Series, defeating UL-Lafayette, 8-7, on Saturday, and Houston, 10-7, on Sunday.]