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"> Division I Men's Lacrosse Coaches React to NCAA D-I Council Vote | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Division I Men's Lacrosse Coaches React to NCAA D-I Council Vote


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s college lacrosse players and fans celebrated the NCAA Division I Council’s decision to issue a widespread waiver of eligibility and financial latitude for student-athletes whose season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coaches prepared for a longer period of uncertainty. 

It’s out of the NCAA’s hands now. How conferences, universities, athletic departments and teams accommodate the rule remains to be seen. 

“It was the first domino,” Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said. “The NCAA did the right thing, in my opinion. They gave every spring athlete a year back. Now it’s on the conference commissioners to keep things on a level playing field with each university within their conferences, the universities to do what they can do and then athletic directors to have conversations with their coaches.” 

Appearing on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” with Scott Van Pelt, Maryland coach John Tillman said there would be significant financial ramifications at the university level as a result of the council’s decision, but that the council had little choice but to rubber stamp the recommendation of eligibility relief that the NCAA issued the day after canceling all spring sports championships. 

“They came out with a narrative three weeks ago, and I think that was probably going to be difficult to walk back,” Tillman said. “But there are a whole lot of things to factor in if we were going down this road, and I think that’s really what the next few weeks are going to be like. We’re going to have to go through all these scenarios that we’ve never been through before.” 

While still in a holding pattern pending direction from their conferences and universities, coaches now must balance accommodating seniors who want to return with reassuring incoming recruits about their status and monitoring the NCAA transfer portal for players looking to use their bonus eligibility elsewhere. 

“The transfer portal will be in more business today than it’s been in a long time,” said Tierney, who anticipated that it won’t just be graduate transfers, but also rising juniors and seniors looking to leverage their added value with the extra year. 


“We’re going to have to go through all these scenarios that we’ve never been through before.” 


Even before the NCAA Division I Council vote, the portal was humming. According to Inside Lacrosse’s Ty Xanders, the A-listers at the end of last week included Colgate’s Griffin Brown and Nicky Petkevich, Bucknell’s Will Yorke, Saint Joseph’s Mike Adler and, from the Division III ranks, Amherst’s Jimmy McAfee and Williams’ Brendan Hoffman.

Jacksonville has become a popular destination for transfers in recent seasons. Ten players on the Dolphins’ 2020 roster started their college careers elsewhere. 

“That’s something we take a lot of pride in. I check [the portal] every hour by the hour,” Jacksonville coach John Galloway said. “There’s a handful of guys out there that would be an impact.” 

Being in the transfer portal, of course, does not guarantee that a student-athlete will leave his current school. Just as a high school prospect might reopen his recruitment after verbally committing to a program only to reaffirm his original choice, a potential transfer could withdraw his name from consideration at any time. 

“That’s been a consistent response, that a lot of these kids are just going in to feel the waters,” Galloway said. “A lot of them already have jobs. It’s a personal decision.” 

Not all conferences will implement the eligibility relief equally, if at all. 

Michael Sowers’ decision to withdraw from Princeton so he could put off graduating until next year would imply that he and other Ivy League athletes don’t have tremendous faith in the conference relaxing its rules to allow graduate students to compete in sports. 

The Patriot League would also have to consider the competitive disadvantage service academies Army and Navy would encounter if other schools in the conference, like Loyola, are allowed to leverage the NCAA rule in ways they can’t. 

And while it might seem like the big-budget ACC and Big Ten schools are best positioned to retain their stars and even expand their rosters, those institutions were the ones hit hardest by the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament and loss of TV money. That’s not to mention what would happen if the public health crisis continues into the fall and compromises the college football season. 

“Being an equivalency sport and realizing there are some other sports that generate a whole lot more revenue, we certainly had enough time to look at the financial implications and the  expenses involved every student-athlete came back,” Tillman said. “We’ve gotten some of those numbers, and they’re significant.” 








Though the NCAA will allow teams to surpass the scholarship threshold to accommodate returning seniors in 2021, it’s hard for coaches to imagine currently cash-strapped universities allotting additional funding for their programs. Even in trying to build a schedule for next year, Galloway said, opposing coaches have become reluctant to commit to a trip to Jacksonville because their travel budgets have been slashed. 

There’s also the question of roster size. 

“I don’t think I would carry more than 48 players. I know that I can provide a very good experience for 48 players,” Tierney said. “One person for every locker, travel, equipment —  once we start to getting into the 50s, now we’re not traveling everybody. Guys may be sharing lockers. I don’t think that’s a Division I lacrosse experience.” 

College coaches now find themselves using terms more commonly associated with professional sports, like cap space and free agents, as some are calling players in the transfer portal. Tierney cautioned against adding talent for the sake of stockpiling. 

“I don’t want to add a roster cap problem. If this guy is not going to move the needle on game day and is not a good fit in what we call our living room, the locker room, I don’t want to discuss him,” Tierney said. “If someone moves the needle and can come into the program without upsetting the apple cart chemistry-wise, that’s when we’ll go forward.” 




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


Galloway anticipated Jacksonville would retain about half of its eight seniors (other coaches have estimated to be in the 20- to 30-percent range) while having room to grow with potential transfers and the incoming freshman class. Looking to avoid a logjam, however, he said he likely would put a pause on recruiting next year’s high school seniors. The Dolphins currently have five verbal commitments from the class of 2021, according to Inside Lacrosse’s database. 

“Next year is going to be the bigger issue, when you have a true five-class run,” Galloway said. “You’ve got to figure out your books on those guys.” 

In addition to roster spots and playing time, student-athletes will have to consider their academic paths and the financial viability of a fifth year. 

“You’re talking about having potentially two freshman classes,” Tillman said. “That’s something we would have to work through. I’m not sure that every family has budgeted for five years of  lacrosse. We only have 12.6 scholarships that we divide up among our players. It’s very rare that someone is going to school for free. There are families that are going to have to make some decisions.”

“These are all visionary things,” St. Bonaventure coach Randy Mearns said. “We’re just at the infancy of it.” 

Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni described the last 36 hours as a whirlwind of emails, phone calls and video chats. The Nittany Lions are prioritizing this year’s seniors, who are looking into graduate programs or a second major and calculating the financial burden. While Grant Ament has decided to move on, All-Americans Mac O’Keefe and Nick Cardile are among those who have expressed interest in coming back for fifth years.

From there, the conversation turns to the underclassmen and then the incoming recruits, allaying their concerns about playing opportunities while also trying to get them excited about Penn State’s potential with some of those headliners back. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 in the preseason coming off of their first-ever trip to the final four.

But the calculus also suggests there will be more difficult discussions ahead.

“We’re trying to gain understanding form their side that to try to fit five classes in a 12.6-scholarship, fully-funded Olympic program is not going to be easy,” Tambroni said. “Travel sizes did not increase and roster sizes are not unlimited, so there’s perspective and reality to the situation.”

Despite the logistical challenges the NCAA has created for athletic departments and individual programs, Tambroni still supports the decision reached by the Division I Council.

“I applaud this particular group for allowing the student-athletes to make a decision about whether or not they want to come back,” he said. “They’re being provided autonomy to choose whether or not they want to exercise the year that they lost.”