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College Lacrosse: Surging Popularity Means More Scholarship Opportunities

Since the start of the new millennium, lacrosse has been the fastest growing high school team sport in the United States. US Lacrosse claims that the number of prep players doubled from 162,021 in 2006 to 324,689 in 2017. This surge in popularity has also expanded into the collegiate level. As new college lacrosse programs continue to spring up every year, scholarship opportunities multiply.

Lacrosse's popularity has long been concentrated in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast. The Native American tribes that originated the sport were based in this region. To this day, Upstate New York and Maryland continue to be hotbeds of talent for lacrosse colleges. Syracuse and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore have combined to win 19 men's national championships since the first DI NCAA lacrosse tournament in 1971.

While most lacrosse colleges are still on the East Coast, the sport has been spreading to the South and across the Midwest. As of 2019, there were 368 men's programs and 499 women's programs across three NCAA divisions. Over 14,000 men and 12,000 women are now competing in NCAA lacrosse. That's double the number of student-athletes from both genders who were playing the sport in 2000.

Journey to the NCAA lacrosse championship

The NCAA lacrosse season begins every year at the beginning of February. Teams generally play 13 regular season games, including conference matches. The post-season conference tournaments begin at the end of April. These are followed by the NCAA tournament, which culminates in the lacrosse championship finals at the end of May. All three NCAA divisions, both for men and women, follow roughly the same season format.

To qualify for the NCAA lacrosse tournament, a team must either win its conference tournament for an automatic berth or get an at-large bid. The at-large bids are given to the highest-ranked teams that did not automatically qualify. Once the tournament is set, the teams are seeded by a committee. The men's and women's DI tournament features 17 teams (there is a play-in game between the lowest ranked automatic qualifying teams). All the lacrosse championships are usually decided on Memorial Day weekend.

Going from high school to college lacrosse

The burgeoning popularity of college lacrosse is certainly working in the favor of high school student-athletes hoping to compete at the next level. Statistics show that 12.6% of boys who play prep lacrosse will make an NCAA roster. Those odds are better than for any other NCAA-sanctioned men's sport. Girls advance at nearly the same rate - 12.1% move on from high school to NCAA lacrosse.

While there are a lot of opportunities, getting a scholarship to play at a lacrosse college is anything but a given. There are about 44 roster spots on most teams, and hundreds of athletes are in competition for every position. Scholarship hopefuls need to do their research and explore as many programs as possible.

Since the sport's growth has mostly been in the last two decades, many lacrosse colleges have only had teams for a few years. However, this could be good for a player who wants to make a mark on a developing program. These teams might be more willing to take a chance on an unknown prospect. If you want to play at an East Coast powerhouse, however, you'll need to be among the top-ranked high school players at your position. 

Learn more about what it takes to play college lacrosse from NCSA Sports

What are the differences between the NCAA lacrosse divisions?

As with other NCAA sports, college lacrosse is separated into three divisions, each of which has its own national championship. The divisions are marked by factors such as school size and different scholarship rules. While you may dream of competing at a larger university, the smaller divisions are often better for those who want more playing time. The following table breaks down the major differences between the NCAA divisions.

 

NCAA Division Scholarships
Per Team
Varsity
Programs
Competition Level
DI 12.6
Men 12 Women
72 Men
115 Women
These are the largest universities with the biggest athletic departments. Expect the highest level of competition and a big-time commitment.
DII 10.8 Men
9.9 Women
73 Men
111 Women
While the competition level is still high, DII schools are generally a notch below DI in terms of enrollment and AD funding.
DIII No Scholarships at DIII 240 Men
285 Women
Division III is for the smallest schools. Players at this level usually have more time to balance schoolwork with practice.

What are the best college lacrosse teams?

With so many new lacrosse colleges starting every season, you may think that there's a huge gap between the best and worst programs. On the contrary, the lacrosse renaissance has led to more parity at the college level. Denver's men's team made it to No. 1 in the college lacrosse rankings during its 14th season in 2013. However, the best lacrosse colleges remain east of the Mississippi River. According to the NCSA power rankings, which are based on factors such as recruiting activity, on-field play and academic standards, the top men's lacrosse programs are:

  1. Duke University
  2. University of Notre Dame
  3. Johns Hopkins University
  4. Cornell University
  5. Brown University



Girls college lacrosse, which is played with different rules, has been more successful at spreading to the West Coast. However, the biggest powerhouses are still back east. The top universities for women's college lacrosse based on NCSA's power rankings are:

  1. Duke University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Harvard University
  4. Princeton University
  5. Johns Hopkins University

Staying current on college lacrosse news

While there are professional leagues, college lacrosse is the most popular level of the sport with fans. NCAA lacrosse began developing a national following after ESPN started broadcasting the year-end tournament on its sister networks. ESPN also has an online portal for those who want to stay current on lacrosse scores, news and rankings. The site is filled with season statistics and analysis from former coaches and players.

You can also find college lacrosse scores and news on the NCAA website. This portal does a good job of organizing standings, video clips and brackets from all three NCAA lacrosse divisions. If you're hoping to play at the collegiate level, it makes sense to follow the sport and be familiar with the players and histories of the top teams.

Check out what it takes to play college lacrosse from NCSA Sports

How do the college lacrosse rankings work?

As you're following the sport, you'll notice that there's constant chatter about college lacrosse rankings. These provide a way for fans and players to recognize the best teams from week to week during the season. There are three services that provide college lacrosse rankings — the Inside Lacrosse poll, USILA Coaches poll and NCAA RPI.

The two polls are both ranking systems determined by votes. Every week, the voters consider factors like lacrosse scores as they pick the top 25 teams in the nation. The RPI (rating percentage index) is a mathematical system that decides the top teams based on winning percentage and strength of schedule. While the college lacrosse rankings do not determine the national champion, they serve as bragging rights and come into play during the NCAA tournament seeding.

How does the lacrosse recruiting process work?

Lacrosse college recruiting can be a tough nut to crack. Essentially, the whole process is about college lacrosse prospects getting noticed by coaches. If coaches like what they see, they'll establish a relationship with the player. That relationship could eventually turn into a scholarship offer and commitment to play at the university.

Since every program wants to secure the best college lacrosse commits, coaches and scouts will try to reach out to athletes. However, scholarship hopefuls need to be proactive and find ways to stand out. This starts with building your skills and excelling on your club or prep team. But since scouts won't be able to attend many of these games, you need to find other ways to get on a coach's radar.

Attending lacrosse college camps

The best way to get seen by coaches is to attend a camp for a lacrosse college. At these events, which may be invite-only, coaches will work directly with players and evaluate their skills. Attendees can expect plenty of chances to impress coaches, learn about playing at the collegiate level and connect with other players.

It's important to remember that not all camps are the same. That's why prospects should be strategic about which events to attend. The different types of college lacrosse camps can be broken down into the following categories:

  • College-hosted camp: If a camp is hosted on an NCAA campus, it must be open to everyone regardless of skill level. However, these multi-day camps are often very competitive, and they offer a glimpse into the student-athlete lifestyle.
  • Skills clinic: These are condensed, skills-focused versions of the extended camps. One-day clinics are great for players who are seeking one-on-one instruction for specific position skills.
  • Prospect camp: In most cases, prospect camps are invite-only and restricted to the top club players. If you get an invitation, chances are you're on the program's radar.
  • Showcase camp: These are essentially tournaments with coaches and scouts in attendance. They are "showcases" because you'll get to show off your skills as you compete against the best lacrosse recruits.

Tips for men's and women's college lacrosse hopefuls

The recruiting process can be pretty intense for both men and women hoping to play college lacrosse. That's why the NCAA places regulations on when and how often programs can communicate with recruits. Coaches are not allowed to contact a prospective student-athlete until Sept. 1 of his or her junior year. Nevertheless, a college lacrosse hopeful should start thinking about the recruiting process as soon as freshman year.

If you're aiming for college lacrosse scholarships, try to follow a recruiting timeline throughout high school. Set goals and strive to reach out to a certain number of coaches each month. Even if you don't plan on attending a certain college, respond to every inquiry and don't burn any bridges. If you're having trouble getting camp invites from your favorite colleges, talk to your club coach and ask how you could improve your exposure. For example, you may need to organize all your statistics/achievements and make a highlight video with several clips.

Read what it takes to play college lacrosse from NCSA Sports

Earning a scholarship to a lacrosse college

More than 1,350 American colleges offer athletic scholarships to lacrosse athletes. This adds up to a lot of opportunities for talented high school players who want to compete at the next level. Still, only a fraction of the roughly 28,000 players on college lacrosse rosters actually get a scholarship. If you want to get noticed by recruiters, it's important to act.

Next College Student Athlete was created to help scholarship hopefuls get connected with collegiate coaches. In 2000, NCSA became the first company to bring digital technology to the traditional recruiting world. There are now more than 35,000 coaches who use the platform to find student-athletes. NCSA has also formed partnerships with associations such as US Lacrosse and USA Today High School Sports.

Get discovered by college lacrosse coaches

NCSA is an online network that helps student-athletes get exposure. By creating a profile on the platform, you'll be able to share important information with coaches who are looking to fill their rosters. You can upload your physical specs, verified statistics, highlight videos and more. NCSA even has recruiting experts who can evaluate your profile and make helpful recommendations.

In the last year, 24,000 NCSA athletes committed to a college for sports. Coaches love the network because it helps them streamline the recruiting process. More than 90 percent of U.S. collegiate athletic programs have at least one NCSA athlete on their rosters. To learn more about the platform, set up a free profile today or call (866) 495-5172 with any questions.

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