You literally asked for it, so here's part two of my three part series on this topic. Hope you enjoy it!
In the first post of this series, we talked about the impact of post-graduation life and geography on Ohio State's recruiting. Hopefully, I established why it's just not as easy as saying "This is Ohio State", and picking from amongst a human wave of talent willing to sign up. There are some very real obstacles that have kept the Buckeyes in mid-tier status. Some can be mitigated over time, others will be hindrances for as long as college lacrosse exists. It's just the reality of the game.
Moving onto to this next section of "Why Isn't Ohio State A Lacrosse Blueblood?", I will cover the other two factors that have a tremendous impact on recruiting success: financial aid and tradition.
More than a few of you had great points about both topics in the comments of the first post, so feel free to refer back to them for some additional context. I will take my own angle and hopefully outline the issues that come with the current scholarship scheme as it pertains to Ohio State. Then we will get into the muddy waters of tradition.
I have mentioned before, and another poster shared in the first post of this series, that lacrosse team at the D1 level only have a maximum of 12.6 scholarships to hand out for a roster that typically ends up being around 45 players or more.
It's not hard to do the math on that, even for me, to see that this is not all that much money to attract talent to any given school. This is where coaches, and institutions, get really creative to sign student-athletes.
For a bit of context, it's important to know a couple of things. One, none of the service academies have the same limitations put on the rest of the lacrosse world.
Air Force, Army, and Navy are allowed to contact players before any other institution, and none of their players will EVER pay a dime for their education at these schools should they graduate. Obviously, the big string attached is military service, but new guidelines handed down have allowed players to defer their service to pursue pro sports opportunities. That's a big deal to football and basketball, but could have a tremendous impact on these service academies in other sports too.
Pulling the reins in a bit, the possibility of not paying anything for your education is a huge deal to any athlete. It is a game changer for lacrosse, where scholarship splitting is the rule, not the exception. This gives these three schools a huge leg up on the other lacrosse teams, especially Navy. You'll see why once we get to the tradition portion of the show.
Second, you need to understand that the Ivy League funds its athletes differently. No one "officially" gets an athletic scholarship in the Ivy League. You get a "financial aid award" at the discretion of each institution's financial aid office. So, really, as far as we're concerned, everyone could be on scholarship at an Ivy, if they're able to get in. That is also a huge game changer for those teams.
While service academy tuition is all taxpayer funded, the Ivy League uses its contributions from alumni to offer wide-ranging aid to those able to navigate the admissions process. This means more funding to potential players than would otherwise occur at another conference's institutions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the matter.
Ohio State, to bring this full circle, is bound fully by that 12.6 scholarship rule, which means a lot of the players on the roster are paying out of state tuition to play in Columbus. The vast majority, actually. And, as 11W noted previously, none of Ohio State's lacrosse players are on a full ride currently, so everyone is paying something.
Depending on a player's financial situation, a partial scholarship to an out of state school isn't going to cut it. Especially if a Maryland, Virginia, or Ivy is in-state, or willing to give some really good financial aid based on need. The best way for Ohio State to help itself is for the domestic landscape to be as elite as possible.
Unfortunately, Ohio State hasn't really locked down the elite talent in the state that IS being produced. So that avenue is blocked for now. Granted, the Buckeyes have more than a few Ohio players on the roster. But none of them contributed in 2020. Or 2019, really. This is an issue when trying to fill out your roster.
If the staff can't rely on Ohio players to be impactful at the D1 level, they're going to continue looking elsewhere. And that will only continue to curtail their efforts in recruiting the biggest powers. Especially since they don't have the luxury of incredible tradition as a lacrosse school.
Yes, we have finally arrived at that ugly spectre of past results. And special moments. Or, in the case of Ohio State, a severe lack of both.
At this point, I will pause for a moment and say that every editorial comment I have is relative. Ohio State has come incredibly far, in a fairly short time, but has some serious ground to make up when it comes to perception.
The Buckeyes started playing organized lacrosse in 1953 (shout out to regular contributor of historical Buckeye lacrosse knowledge, Brutus Buckeye). By 1953, Johns Hopkins had won 5 national championships, and Maryland had won 4. That's just prior to Ohio State even having a program. The next year, one Wayne Woodrow Hayes would win his first national championship for Ohio State football, laying the foundation for the program that brought us all here. Ohio State lacrosse was decidedly less successful.
A few good seasons were had, but it was always against lesser competition. The NCAA started a title tournament in 1971, really incorporating the sport into college athletics. Prior to that year, Navy won at least a share of 15 championships, and Army won 7. Maryland and Johns Hopkins won 8 and 11, respectively.
For some added context, TTUN claims 11 national titles in football only one of them after 1948. Hopkins won 11 before 1971, and then proceeded to win 9 more after that year. That sort of winning pedigree can only be earned. And that's over decades. And decades. Making it harder is the fact that all the talent in D1 goes to just 70+ schools. Which is even more deceiving, as no one thinks Siena and Syracuse are in the same stratosphere, let alone Siena and Johns Hopkins. Sorry, Siena.
Navy, as I talked about a couple of times, had 15 championships prior to the NCAA tournament, and has been to 8 Final Fours since the tournament's inception. Ohio State has been to one Final Four. Ever. And this is just a school-level look.
From a player level, it gets worse. The now-fired Dave Pietramala coached 93 All-Americans during his tenure. 93! Ohio State has had 20ish All-Americans, ever. The vast majority of the 3rd-team variety. Furthermore, players at Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Syracuse, and Virginia have been transcendent names in the sport. The Gait brothers for Syracuse made that program into what it has become. They were transcendent players who are still inspiring awe today.
Watch their 1990 title game (vacated due to NCAA ruling) on YouTube. Then realize that they're doing these incredible feats with equipment 30 years older than today's stars. Paul Rabil won a title for Johns Hopkins, then became the most known midfielder in all of lacrosse for over a decade, starting his own lacrosse league in the process. Kyle Harrison won a title at Johns Hopkins in the mid-2000s and is STILL playing pro ball.
After the Gaits were the Powells at Syracuse, inspiring a whole new generation of players. Type in Mike Powell on YouTube and get your popcorn. His highlights are the stuff of legend, and will make you wonder how the things he does are even possible.
Programs at Virginia, Maryland, Duke, and North Carolina are littered with All-Americans, perhaps not transcendent players in each case, but routinely 1st-teamers left, right, and center. A Blue Devil holds the NCAA record for most career goals (Justin Guterding).
Blue Devils actually occupy the top 3 spots in goals scored, Guterding, Zack Greer, and Max Quinzani, the first two having over 200 goals scored each, Quinzani coming in at 199. An Albany player owns 4 of the top 5 seasons for offensive points scored, with only Grant Ament's 2019 season breaking up the Great Dane stranglehold. You might be asking, after all this trivia, so #&$@ing what?
The reason this matters is that the Buckeye program, despite its age, is barren of truly incredible players or moments.
Ohio State's 2017 season was an incredible run, to be sure, but it was a fluke for the program. I will go on a deep dive for that season sometime this year, but it was an exception for the team, not the rule. As I mentioned earlier, Navy has been to the Final Four eight different times since the NCAA created a tournament, albeit none since 2004. And it shows.
It shows in the way Navy recruited in 2020 after firing their previous coach (7 top 100 recruits in 2020, lowest recruit was #69). It shows in the way Navy's alumni have an impact on the program. It shows in the way the Army-Navy game is a can't miss game, the way Navy-Maryland is always a good game. It shows in the expectations and standards the program has for itself.
The same can be said for Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Virginia, and Syracuse. As a young player, there are literally hundreds of All-Americans to look up to, to learn about and from, to be compared to for four or five years as you showcase your talents. At Ohio State, there are very, very few of those people, of those moments, of those games. There are some tremendous players to come through the program recently, no doubt.
Jesse King, Logan Schuss, Ben Randall, Tom Carey, and others did some tremendous things for the program. But none of them made Ohio State a power. Tre Leclaire is the best goalscorer to ever come to Ohio State. Whatever the numbers say right now, he will demolish the record in 2021. But who will replace him?
There's not the lineage of Buckeye attackmen like there is of Buckeye running backs. Chic Harley, Jim Otis, Archie Griffin, Keith Byars, Eddie George, Maurice Clarett, Ezekiel Elliott, JK Dobbins. These names are etched in the pantheon of Buckeye lore.
The years 1954, 1968, 2002, and 2014 are forever etched in the minds of Buckeye football fans. Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer are coaches that fans of any age can recognize as pillars for Ohio State football.
The Horseshoe has seen more special moments, even in mediocre seasons, than most conferences combined. Lacrosse at Ohio State doesn't have those tentpole outcomes. There aren't conversations about where you were when Mario Ventiquattro was patrolling the field.
You don't speak in hushed tones about how Colin Chell was a tremendous player, and deserves more credit. There's no awe at how Jack Myers is shaping up to be the best assist man to ever suit up in in Columbus. Not because Myers is not doing so (he is, by nearly half an assist per game right now), but because there's little in the way of comparison for his accomplishment.
Ohio State just doesn't have a Grant Ament, Lyle Thompson, Mike Powell, Ryan Powell, or Paul Gait to compare Myers to. And that, more than anything else, underlines the issue facing Ohio State as a program in its quest to become lacrosse royalty.
Being competitive, or rather lacking, in these factors prevents Ohio State from recruiting at the level required to win a place among the elites of the sport. Players like Tre Leclaire need to be coming through in threes and fours, not one every 5 years or so. Then we will see the program take that next step.
It is far from a hopeless cause, however it will not be an overnight resolution. There will need to be a continuous build to that level. Certainly a lacrosse-specific stadium, continued recruiting success, and continued growing interest in the sport provide the materials for such a build. Now we just need to see it all come together.
Next up: why coaching hasn't propelled Ohio State to the land of the blue bloods.