March 16, 2016

Straight Up: The Missing Media 

by Brian Schneider and Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.comTwitter

In a new series, Brown assistant Brian Schneider and CBS College Sports analyst Sheehan Stanwick Burch join forces to share their opinions on hot topics in women's lacrosse.

Schneider was a four-year member of the men's lacrosse team at Hofstra, where he graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He also has a master's in journalism from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Schneider had previous coaching stops at Columbia (women) and Yale (men).

Burch is in her 15th year as a TV analyst. She has also served as a CBS Sports sideline reporter for men's lacrosse and football. Burch was a four-time All-American at Georgetown and the 2001 IWLCA Division I Attacker of the Year. She was one of the five finalists for the inaugural Tewaaraton Award in 2001. Burch remains' the Hoyas' all-time leading scorer with 330 points.

Where is the Media?

Where has the media gone? Or has the media ever truly been there?

As a fan of the sport of lacrosse, but particularly, women's lacrosse, I am constantly devouring the various media outlets that cover our sport looking for original content, columns and opinion pieces, as well as the standard game articles and highlights and the games themselves. You know, a little "SportsCenter" mixed with Grantland. Typical mixed with original. Easy to devour, mixed with hard-hitting, thoughtful and original content.

Unfortunately, there is far too little of the latter in women's lacrosse.

After a quick survey of the two major lacrosse media outlets' Division I coverage from March 7 to March 14, I found only six original content pieces or columns — with this website having the lion's share of those six.

In total, those same two media outlets featured 41 Division I posts, again with this website having the majority.

As great as game articles, highlights and photos are, I  along with most fans, I'm sure  yearn for more. With 111 Division I women's programs, the amount of story ideas and features about our great athletes, coaches and schools are endless.

In an attempt to see if more content was being circulated by the schools themselves, I counted all posts over the last week from the individual schools in one conference. Sadly, just 34 articles were written in total, with just one of those falling under the umbrella of original content, and the rest being game previews, recaps and weekly awards.

If anyone would have the pulse of these student-athletes, I assumed it would be the schools themselves. Unfortunately, I seem to be wrong.

With all of this in mind, I figured, at least I can watch more games than ever each week. While the rise of individual conference networks has given more access to our sport, the disparity among the women's and men's lacrosse coverage is astounding. And the pay-to-watch model is just another barrier in our way.

Using Lacrosse Magazine's TV list, from March 12 to March 19, there will be 42 men's games shown on either a school's individual conference website or WatchESPN. Conversely, there will be just 22 women's games shown. There are 111 Division I women's teams, and only 70 Division I men's teams.

While I am grateful for this amount of coverage, I am still perplexed at how our sport is constantly being under-covered. In 2015 alone, softball had more than 400 games broadcast on the various ESPN outlets. By contrast, there will be approximately 35 women's lacrosse games shown in 2016 on the various ESPN outlets. And all you need to watch softball is a cable subscription, no extra conference TV fees necessary.

One step in the right direction is the latest news that Lax Sports Network will host a weekly show about the sport we all love, and the players who make it great. While this is a great step, it is just one minor step in the right direction.

While I touched on this in my last piece, it is worth mentioning again that if cultivating the growth of women's lacrosse is the main objective, everything the sport does must stem from that mission. If we want our sport to continue to echo nationally with media outlets, we must do everything in our power to make our game media- and television-friendly.

We also must do everything in our power to have lacrosse covered like a mainstream sport, say college football or basketball. Hard-hitting journalism is a must. Controversial topics are a must. Transparency, from the top down, is a must. Media should be allowed, and encouraged, to attend and cover everything the sport has to offer, from games to coaches' meetings. Everything cannot, and absolutely should not, be rainbows and unicorns.

I went to college to obtain a journalism degree, and ultimately even got my master's from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, arguably the best journalism school in the world. And while I graduated more than six years ago and have been coaching ever since, a line from "Almost Famous" always resonated with me about what I learned at Medill: "You have to make your reputation on being honest and unmerciful."

This sport needs its media and its media's coverage to be honest and unmerciful. And if we embrace that mantra as a sport, the sky is the limit for where we will go.

— Brian Schneider

Following the 2015 NCAA title game, Sheehan Stanwick Burch chats with the star of two-time reigning champion Maryland for the ESPNU broadcast, then-junior midfielder Taylor Cummings. (John Strohsacker)

Make Lacrosse TV-Friendly

This is, by far, one of the craziest seasons I have witnessed in women's lacrosse. Just when I thought teams had settled into their groove, the upsets keep coming, and it is hard to sort out the contenders from the pretenders.

Here's my attempt to try and make sense of it all.

Duke is probably the most frenetic team of 2016. Despite losses to Northwestern, USC, Elon and Georgetown, the Blue Devils notched a huge win over Louisville, one of the hottest teams in the country. Even with all of its talent, it's hard to tell which way Duke's season will go. The Blue Devils might not even be able to finish better than .500, and with a preseason ranking of No. 4 by the IWLCA, that is a shock. But there still are a lot of games to play.

While I would love to see more games on TV or being streamed online, I am pleased with the progress that has been made. I remember a time not so long ago where you were lucky to follow a game on GameTracker Live, which was basically like watching a virtual ping-pong game with possession and score updates.

Today's offerings are a far cry from what they used to be, and I am grateful. From the coverage of major television networks to individual conference and school broadcasts, there are a lot of ways to take in the action. Even though it doesn't compare to the men's coverage, I love the ability to watch some of the best games on TV or via the web. I love the fact that there is a lot of lacrosse available, as well as great articles and stories profiling both the best players and the hidden gems.

There is nothing better than seeing a game live or on TV. There's no way a box score can convey the double-teaming of Maryland's defense or the wicked backhanded goal of Syracuse's Halle Majorana. In recent years, Syracuse has fallen victim to the Terps, with Maryland sending the Orange home the last three seasons.

This past weekend featured the much-anticipated showdown between Maryland and Syracuse. The Terps continued their winning streak, as they won this year's first battle 14-9. The game was much closer than the final score indicated. Though Maryland was the better team that day, Syracuse is close and just made too many mistakes to beat a deep Terp team. While I was not able to see every game I would have liked to this weekend, I was able to tune into quite a few.

With a few tweaks, I think the game could be a much more fan-friendly experience for TV audiences.

First, this year's change to sudden-victory overtime was much needed and appreciated.

Second, the amount of whistles, stoppages in play, need to be cut down. This is a shared obligation for the coaches, players, officials and the NCAA rules committee. Coaches and players need to adjust to the calls and follow the rules. Officials need to keep making the right calls to keep the game safe. The rules committee needs to find an effective deterrent for rough play, and in particular the cross-check — a mandatory yellow card has to be issued to make a noticeable change.

Third, the 90-second possession clock will be implemented next season to prevent teams from stalling. This will be a game-changer. A great example of the impact can be seen in Loyola's 7-6 win over Virginia last week. To fend off a comeback bid from the Cavaliers, Loyola opted to essentially hold possession for the last few minutes of the game.

I did not find the Greyhounds' possession of the ball painful to watch at all. I thought it was the right decision at that point in the game and I still was on the edge of my seat.

However, next year, the 90-second clock will prevent them from utilizing that strategy, which will no doubt make the game more exciting or nerve-wracking, depending which side of the fence you land.

— Sheehan Stanwick Burch

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