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May 4, 2009

Lochary: Shall We Dance?

This "Her Space" column by Clare Lochary appears in the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to get LM in your mailbox each month.

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

I hope the boys ask us to the big dance!

Usually I'm not much for waiting around to be asked. I went to an all girls' high school, and was thus forced to get over the cultural taboo of asking guys on dates at a young age. Unless I wanted to spend the Junior Ring Dance dancing with Sr. Marian, I had to sack up and call Ricky Hearn. So I've been kicking it Sadie Hawkins style since October 1996.

But for this particular dance, the men must take the lead. NCAA Division I lacrosse should have a joint championship weekend. The record-setting attendance on the men's side could be leveraged into fans for the women's final four, and it would provide one-stop shopping for families with both girls and boys who want to see top-level play. We could all dance together as one big, lax-y family.

Co-ed NCAA championships aren't anything new - they occur in fencing, D-II and D-III men's and women's soccer, cross country, track and field, skiing and rifle. I personally like the idea of having the men's and women's Division I championships played back-to-back at the same venue on Memorial Day. Look at final four crowd photos from the past five years, and you'll see a lot of one thing: orange. Virginia, Syracuse and Princeton have all made final four appearances on both the men's and women's side (as has Duke). Even if the men in attendance don't care about women's lacrosse, they'll probably be true to their school and make for a great crowd atmosphere.

The result could be two amazing games played before tens of thousands of passionate fans. What would be better than that?

Unfortunately, there are reasons why my personal ideal scenario won't work. First of all, the women's teams might balk at the idea of being the undercard at their own championships. We ladies are sensitive about things like that, especially when "things like that" are decades of being underappreciated.

On the less philosophic and more practical end of things, it would be virtually impossible for one venue to host 12 lacrosse teams at once (that's 8 men's teams from Divisions I, II and III and four women's D-I teams). No one has that many locker rooms or enough field space to allow for practices, warm-ups and the games themselves. (Plus you'd get the visual static of a field lined for men's and women's games, and truly one of my favorite things about the men's championship weekend is seeing a field that doesn't look like it was scribbled on by a cranky toddler.)

The next best thing is for cities to launch joint bids for dual sites. Philadelphia was a terrific home for the men's championship in 2005 and 2006, and Penn did a bang-up job in 2007. What if those two events had overlapped? Besides being a boon for Philadelphia, it would have allowed for some lacrosse cross-pollination. The men's championships are currently scheduled to take place in Baltimore in 2010 and 2011 and in Foxborough, Mass. in 2012. Baltimore- and Boston-area schools would be well-advised to jump at the chance to host the women's championships in these years.

Looking at 2013 and beyond, cities should consider joint bids. For any non-East Coast upstarts, it might even be a way to pry the tournament away from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It's always a tough sell to get the NCAA to take a risk on its best-attended championship, but a double-barreled bid might catch their gimlet-colored eyes with the possibility of boosting the women's attendance via the men.

Granted, I might be overly optimistic about the crossover appeal of women's lacrosse. Regular season double-headers don't always translate into bigger crowds. For example, Syracuse hosted the Le Moyne women and the Providence men on Feb. 15. The attendance at the former game was 1,011; at the latter it was 5,405. But Penn head coach Karin Brower, a two-time final four coach, thinks that a joint venture could do great things for lacrosse.

"When you have a daughter and a son who are both little and both love it, you have to make a choice. It really doesn't help with the growth of the sport," said Brower.

"For those families who have boys and girls, to be able to see both at such a high level, it would be great for their daughters and sons to have respect for the women's game."

For the most well-informed perspective on the men's and women's final four, I turned to the man who's seen it all. Gary Gait has been to a dozen final fours - four as a Syracuse player, seven as an assistant for the University of Maryland women's team and one as a women's coach at his alma mater.

"It's hard to do, but it'd be awesome to have them in the same city," said Gait.

There. An endorsement from the Gaitor himself. What more do you need? Quit being a wallflower, and start asking questions about how we can make this happen.

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