October 24, 2008

Oct. 24, 2008

by Jac Coyne, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

What is the NCLL?

I did a little research on it as I was trying to wrap my head around the collegiate club scene in preparation for covering the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) last spring. From what I was able to glean, the National Collegiate Lacrosse League - "Nickel," to those in the know - was an unaffiliated club entity whose member programs are typically found at schools that already have established NCAA teams.

Whereas the MCLA features schools without varsity programs - institutions like Florida State, UCLA and Minnesota, for instance - you'll find NCLL teams at Maryland, Ohio State and Ithaca. It's not a rule, as Columbia, NYU and Bowling Green, among others, have NCLL programs, but for the most part, the generalization holds.

This is one way to differentiate the NCLL from the rest of the club ranks, but to understand what the league is all about, it would be more appropriate to ask the question, `Who is the NCLL?'

That's because the NCLL has taken on the attitude of its founder and current commissioner, Scott Frederick.

Frederick, 72, is a lacrosse iconoclast.

While many coaches court, or at least tolerate, the lacrosse media, he calls those who cover the sport today (yours truly included) "schmucks." He's not afraid to say NCAA coaches - in general terms and by name - have "ruined the game." The new rules implemented in the last 15 years have been interpreted by Frederick, who officiated NCAA games for 30 years, as "stupid."

"We don't even worry about the rest of lacrosse," said Frederick, from his home in Baltimore. "We play our games, we play our championship, and we have our meetings. To hell with the rest of lacrosse."

While, presumably, not all the players in the NCLL hold the same strident views of the NCAA and/or the MCLA (which Frederick doesn't think can compete with his teams), the juxtaposition of the NCLL and its commish is clear.

For starters, NCLL programs apparently have little use for lacrosse media. In the five or so years I've been at USL covering small colleges and clubs, I have received a grand total of one email from an NCLL member, and it wasn't even to get pub for his team, but rather boost the case for a former coach in a state hall of fame. No complaints about coverage, errors or omissions. To massively understate it, this is a rarity.

As his aforementioned take on NCAA coaches attests, Frederick is not a fan. A longtime official, he tired of the coaches who spent most of their time working the refs instead of teaching their team. And Frederick's done something about it. While there are a handful of coaches in the NCLL, the focus is keeping this a league run by student-athletes. When the various conferences have their organizational meetings, coaches are not invited.

"In the NCAA games, you get cussed out, screamed and hollered at. We don't permit that in the NCLL," said Frederick. "In fact, we don't want any coaches, because the players do the game better than the coaches. There are a few good coaches that we know personally, but they're told that if they don't coach the team, they will be run out of the league."

Frederick's distaste for overbearing coaches is matched by his contempt for the rules now governing the NCAA and, by extension, the MCLA. NCLL games are played with four quarters of 20-minute running clocks and modified for tournaments to keep the players fresh for multiple contests. Many of the tweaks to the men's game that have become commonly accepted have been evaluated by the NCLL - and ignored.

"Now you have a 20-second thing to get out and a 10-second thing to get in," said Frederick. "That's so damn stupid; they should have never changed the rules. We play the rules the way lacrosse was played in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s before they changed all the rules. We have our own rules."

As his quotes illustrate, Frederick is a gruff customer, but he is still endearing in his own way. After I navigated my way past his opening verbal salvo and harsh opinions, I had an enlightening conversation with the man. It was fascinating to hear the story of what mobilized him to start the NCLL.

Receiving a plaintive call from the captain of the Loyola club team in 1989, who couldn't coax commissioners to send officials to the games going through the usual channels, Frederick, then the club assigner, grabbed a couple of his buddies and officiated the Greyhound match-up with the Maryland club concern on a Friday night.

"The game was 9-8, Loyola beat Maryland," said Frederick. "I said, `You know what, that was a helluva game.' They played lacrosse. They didn't fart around like you get on Saturday."

From there he has grown the NCLL to its current 100-team form. Along the way, he even convinced LMO's Matt DaSilva that the league was worthy. DaSilva was a standout for the Delaware club team that advanced to the NCLL championship game in 2002.

Oddly, Frederick is also quite proud of the fact that, by his estimate, 20 NCLL teams have moved on to earn NCAA varsity status - an ironic twist that is not lost on him.

For all his bluster, however, at the end of the day, Scott Frederick loves lacrosse and wants to see it grow, if only through his own prism.

So I am putting out the call to those involved in the NCLL to email me notes and feature story ideas about the teams and players who participate under Frederick's flag.

Will I be able to crack the silent wall surrounding this enigmatic league? I'm certainly going to try. I feel good about the prospect because, before ringing off with me, Frederick said I could call him anytime with questions.

I must be his kind of schmuck.

Email Jac Coyne
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