It is a desolate, harsh wasteland of sportsless entertainment right now, so to keep my own sanity I requested topics to post about. First in was Seattle Linga with a question regarding why Ohio State is still a second-tier lacrosse power, specifically from a recruiting perspective. It's a fantastic question, and, much like life, has no single answer. It's a confluence of many factors, and I will do my best to touch on everything.
The basic premise, then, is "Why isn't Ohio State the best at lacrosse?", with numerous rabbit trails to get lost chasing down. For me, it comes down to two main areas, recruiting and coaching.
I think this will be a multi-part series, based on the amount of material to cover, so keep your suggestions coming as we move along. It's going to be a long off-season.
Recruiting, by its very nature, is a months long sales job that is only successful when a player signs on the line to come suit up in Columbus. Recruiting depends on any number of things, including post-lacrosse opportunities, geography, financial aid, and tradition.
Starting off, it's important to note a huge difference between lacrosse and football recruiting. Lacrosse is a means of getting an opportunity for access, not a livelihood for the overwhelming majority of players. No one remembers the starting close D of Syracuse in 1996 on a wide scale (i.e. outside of Syracuse, N.Y.), but has anyone forgotten Eddie George? Chris Spielman? Cris Carter?
These are tremendous football players who made a living around their chosen sport. For lacrosse players, literally everything about lacrosse is over once the final whistle blows, unless you are a superstar.
Corporate jobs are the rule at the highest levels of the sport, not the exception. And what you have to offer that player every team covets post-lacrosse is what counts more than the gear or perks you can offer.
That said, where does Ohio State stand in the pantheon of D1 lacrosse when it comes to post-lacrosse life? If we're being honest, it's mid-tier at best. Ohio State is a fantastic school with an incredible alumni base, and some wonderful opportunities. It's not an Ivy League school, however. Parents don't dream of sending their kids to Ohio State from 4,000 miles away. Kids don't think of Ohio State when wanting to be a US Senator, or a Supreme Court Justice.
Ohio's last two Supreme Court justices went to Harvard and Yale for law school. If you're ambitious in that way, what does Ohio State do for you that going to any of the 7 Ivies who have lacrosse (Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Princeton, and Cornell) wouldn't two or three times over?
Or, for that matter, any of the ACC schools? Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke, and Notre Dame all have sterling academic reputations and incredible alumni connections. All of those institutions just drip money and opportunities. Ohio State is getting there. But all things being equal, what player isn't going to take a shot at Duke or Princeton, for the career and life opportunities alone?
Not to be negative about Ohio State, but pulling a player from New York or New Jersey is a tall order when they have domestic or nearby Ivy League opportunities that could send them on a different life trajectory than would 4 years at Ohio State. It's not a knock on Ohio State at all, just a huge factor in the recruiting game that doesn't weigh in the Buckeyes'. Which leads me to the next major factor in recruiting: geography.
Once more, going back to our basic premise, part of the challenge facing Ohio State's ascension to blue blood status is simply the location of the university. Only 4 of the 73 D1 programs currently in existence are further west than Ohio State. Despite its many decades of existence, Ohio State only has one long-standing rivalry as a result: Notre Dame.
In large part, that is because so many teams have to travel a ways to get to Columbus, making continuous rivalries next to impossible. No one grew up watching Ohio State play a Virginia or a Syracuse year after year. Ohio State has done the best they could, but being a western lacrosse team has been a struggle for years.
It's hard for a player's family to get to games two or three states away on a Tuesday night, when a recruit could go down the road an hour or two to play each conference game by going to a Duke, Princeton, or Yale. As an added issue, the game itself has taken forever to get established in Ohio.
Every lacrosse team in D1 not named Utah, Notre Dame, Air Force or Ohio State has some serious domestic talent to be recruited. Coaches in Ivy and ACC schools don't have to go very far at all to get the best HS talent in the world. Public or private, the players are there for pretty much everyone. It's not that way for Ohio. The sport just got certified as a sanctioned varsity sport in 2017. 2017!
My first high school sent a player to Ohio State in 1987. A full 30 years before the game was even a HS sport in the state. Syracuse never has to leave their own borders, if they recruit at their potential. Maryland can fill its entire recruiting class from kids 30 minutes away or less. Even Penn and Penn State have Philadelphia to recruit heavily.
Ohio State has not really had any consistent feeder schools domestically, though some gems have slipped away from the schools in-state (Connor Buczek at St. Xavier, Brett Hughes from Upper Arlington, Michael Boehm from St. Ignatius). Lacrosse in Ohio is growing rapidly, but it's still only in its infancy. Some players on the Ohio State roster come from programs that are nearing a century old (Zach Ludd at Governor's Academy). Players haven't grown up idolizing local kids who went to Ohio State and did amazing things.
The overwhelming majority of players are imports from out of state programs. That plays a huge part in the success of the program, especially when other schools have some of the opportunity advantages discussed above. It makes it very hard to get the best talent in a scarlet and gray uniform. This has been a tremendous blow to Ohio State's success on the field, as we know from football.
In-state talent will begin to rise, to be sure, but it's up to the coaching staff to lock down the border and keep the high-end prospects at home. There's no reason domestic talent like Michael Boehm should be going north to play.
And, in addition to all of that, there's another twist of geography that hurts Ohio State year after year. Regardless of the growth of the sport statewide, Ohio is a football state. Rabidly so.
The most recognizable export of the university year after year is Buckeye football. Stadiums fill up on Friday nights in the fall with enthusiastic fans coming to cheer on their local kids. Literally millions of kids have dreamed of putting on a Buckeye helmet for Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and now Ryan Day. Trips to the Horseshoe for Saturday games are a family tradition for millions, or being glued to the TV at home.
Heck, this very site had to launch the 12th Warrior program to pay for servers and other technological upgrades to keep up with commitments for the football program. And that's fantastic, especially since I come to 11W daily for all my football info needs. But it sucks away the athletic focus from other sports, especially lacrosse.
3 players in the last 7 years have spurned the Buckeye lacrosse program for football pursuits, in one form or fashion. Sam Hubbard is the most famous one, though he was a Notre Dame commit in lacrosse. JD Spielman is the nephew of Chris Spielman and actually committed to Coach Myers before heading to Nebraska to be an excellent receiver. And current Buckeye player Bryson Shaw was an outstanding lacrosse player for Bullis in Maryland, but signed with Urban Meyer to have a shot at Buckeye glory.
Ohioans, and transplants, live and die with Buckeye football. It's not so in the current lacrosse hotbeds. New York has a huge variety of sports options. The entire Northeast does, really. Football isn't King in that region, and it shows in the recruiting numbers year after year for the D1 powers. In Ohio, and many neighboring states, it's all football, most or all of the time.
That hasn't left room for the pursuit of lacrosse until very recently. And that keeps the talent pool very, very shallow locally. Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus are really the only options for a lacrosse recruit to have a shot at D1, and all three cities are awash in high profile football programs.
Without waves of D1 and borderline D1 prospects graduating each year from in-state schools, Ohio State has had to go far afield and recruit prospects four or five states away to fill out the roster. That's not an insignificant distance, and certainly is a major part of why the Buckeyes remain a second-tier power.
This has gotten to be a bit lengthy already, so I am going to cut it off here and start on part 2 as a separate post. Let me know what you think, and I will try to make adjustments going forward.