Apr 04, 2008, 05:25AM

Waiting for EA

Lacrosse won't become nationally popular until people can play it from their couches. Pretty strange for a sport that thrives on violence.

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Phot by polluxchrista

Each time my friends and I sit down to watch the movie Wedding Crashers, we can’t help but feel a little bit angry at the line, “Crab cakes and football! That’s what Maryland does!” I’ve lived most of my life in the small Maryland town where that movie was filmed, a place where culture revolves not around football, but the sport of lacrosse.

In my neighborhood, every kid had at least one stick, and even if he didn’t play in a league, there was a good chance he knew how to use it well enough for a backyard toss and catch. My friends and I bought Inside Lacrosse magazines, we watched Blue Jays (Johns Hopkins) and Terrapins (University of Maryland) contests, we played pick-up games in back lots until the sun went down. We dreamed of playing for the high school team and when we did, we felt like gods.

What attracted me to the sport of lacrosse was the speed. It’s the only sport I know where a team can be down by four goals with less than a minute left to play and the game’s not over. A quick face-off and a well-executed fast break can change the momentum of a game in a matter of seconds. It’s a sport where each moment counts. There’s almost no stalling, no running the clock. Players are on the field for 60 minutes and each second is crucial.

Lacrosse is also one of the most violent games the world of sports has to offer. It’s rugby with weapons. A player ducks his head to scoop up a loose ball and he knows he’s going to catch the shoulder tackle of a sprinting behemoth defenseman. Offensive players bear the slashes and beatings of aluminum poles. Goalies stand between the pipes, wearing little protective padding, waiting for shots that can exceed 100 miles per hour.

The brutality of the game is something that continually leaves me baffled when I hear stereotypical comments describing lacrosse as a “preppie” sport. When I think of the physical violence of lacrosse, images of spoiled country club kids do not come to mind. The lacrosse players I know are built hard; they’re quick, muscular, and athletic. They can deal out heavy hits, and they can take them.

The stereotype as a sport for the affluent does, however, hold water, considering the types of universities who have found success in the game. The top Division I lacrosse schools in the country tend to be generally wealthy, upper-class institutions (Duke, Johns Hopkins, Princeton.)

The sport in itself is expensive to play. Good lacrosse shafts can sell for as much as $200, not including heads, which usually run around $80. Then there are stringing kits, shoulder pads, arm guards, gloves, and helmets. Even the cheapest equipment adds up to a sum that can exclude lower-class kids from playing the game.

The stereotype is also a result of the extremely small population of lacrosse followers and players in recent years. Although the sport is growing, there are still only two colleges west of the Mississippi that field Division I lacrosse teams, both of which are located in Colorado (Air Force, Denver). It is largely an eastern sport, and of the 58 teams in DI, several happen to be fielded by the “rich” schools. The modern form of the sport originated in these colleges and is thus often associated with them.

This is changing. In the past few years, Division III schools across the country have put together competitive lacrosse teams, soon to join the ranks of the DI giants that dominate the sport today. The number of high school programs has shot up significantly through the decade, with states as far as California making their way to the national rankings.

The sport is growing significantly each year. Attendance at NCAA games is skyrocketing. With the advent of ESPNU, games are nationally televised each week. Major League Lacrosse, where players once were required to wear advertisements on their uniforms and were paid $7000 per season, is starting to see an increased cash flow. This year, the NCAA National Championship, usually held in the lacrosse Mecca of Baltimore, will move north to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the lacrosse fan base will inevitably expand.

But despite lacrosse’s massive growth over the past few years, it is still dwarfed on the national scale by the major sports of football, baseball, basketball and hockey. The organization that will help the game cross this obstacle will not be the NCAA; it will be EA Sports, the video game franchise.

Lacrosse is still one of the only sports that doesn’t have its own video game, mostly since its eastern popularity has not fully reached the state of California where the Electronic Arts company is located. This has been a point of frustration for many lacrosse fans, especially since the company has produced games centered on several sports even less popular in America such as rugby and cricket.

I’ve watched several of my friends become die-hard soccer fans from playing the FIFA games, and I believe that those games are one of the major factors accelerating soccer’s growth in America. It may sound silly, but the future of lacrosse rests not on the field or the television cameras, but on the joysticks.

I hope that some day lacrosse can become as popular nationwide as it is in the east. I’d love to see National Championship parties and May Madness brackets. With such an exciting sport that combines lightning speed and breakneck brutality, I don’t think lacrosse has very far to go.

  • There is this one game, which has a sort of cult status, called Blast Lacrosse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blast_Lacrosse). It's NBA Jam for pro indoor lacrosse, and you can't buy used copies for less than $40.

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  • I always forget that lacrosse is a dangerous sport. I tend to associate it with the rich kid with the bad poofy Quicksilver-catalog hair. Perhaps another argument for why people should pay attention is to watch rich kids get the snot beat out of them.

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  • Hey Shadowtalker, did you get cut from your high school's lacrosse team? Besides, part of the author's point is that "rich kids" hardly make up a majority of lacrosse players. Anyone for tennis?

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  • Lacrosse isn't big where I grew up. You're right, the author does point out it's hardly rich kids making up the majority. And then points out that lower class kids can't afford to play it.

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  • Even if lacrosse gets a video, it will never get as popular as baseball, basketball, or football.

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  • Well, it already is as popular if not more in states like Maryland and Virginia. It's just a matter of whether or not the sport can spread west. Also, I've played Blast Lacrosse a few times. It's pretty awful and untrue to the sport, so I don't really consider it a true lax game.

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  • I actually just heard of Lacrosse about a year ago, and it seems that it's very similar to basketball, which I don't like too much. My favorite sport is baseball, and I think that Lacrosse, no matter how much publicity and video games it gets, will ever be as popular as America's pastime.

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  • I don't think lacrosse's popularity is hindered by a lack of video games, but rather by a lack of network broadcasting. Lacrosse is a great sport to watch, but the games are only ever shown on ESPNU, which is not a network that most people have regular access to. As far as I'm concerned, they should replace all those god-awful NASCAR broadcasts with lacrosse games. Or those poker shows. Seriously, poker on TV...so dull.

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