Weighing the Costs of Lacrosse
The 2017 men’s lacrosse team. PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER ATHLETICS.
BY CONNOR MUENKS
Last March, Westminster President Dr. Benjamin Akande announced that the college would sponsor a lacrosse program this spring. The announcement quickly attracted attention from several students interested in playing. But are the benefits of this fledgling sport worth the costs being taken on by Westminster?
Westminster was one of 27 colleges across the country to add lacrosse to their athletic departments this year. According to The Growth Blog, 25 more colleges are expected to add the sport in 2018. Locally, Columbia College has added a men’s lacrosse team, which will begin competing in the fall of 2017.
“The past 10 to 15 years have seen tremendous growth [in lacrosse] at the college level, and it seems to not be slowing down; it’s not stopping,” Fontbonne University Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Mark Prey said.
“The past 10 to 15 years have seen tremendous growth [in lacrosse] at the college level…” -Mark Prey, head men’s lacrosse coach at Fontbonne University
With this type of growth and the ability to recruit 15 to 20 players for each team, Westminster could use lacrosse to increase enrollment.
Westminster Trustee Brock Ayers, ‘82, said that he supports projects such the launching of the lacrosse program.
“I support efforts to explore new ways to engage and recruit new students for our campus, and look forward to the results of these efforts,” Ayers said.
Lacrosse player Grant Peterson, ‘17, said that lacrosse could bring a new demographic of students to Westminster.
“Lacrosse is more of an alternative sport in the United States,” he said. “Because the sport is more popular [on] the East Coast, it may aid the school in drawing enrollment from new regions.”
“Because the sport is more popular [on] the East Coast, it may aid the school in drawing enrollment from new regions.” -Westminster lacrosse player Grant Peterson.
Despite this recruiting potential, Westminster’s lacrosse program was unable to attract any recruits for the 2017 season.
The costs of the program are adding up as well. According to Peterson, Westminster has paid for each player’s helmet, protective gear and travel expenses.
“I’ve been told by other club teams that it is highly unusual, because club team [members] normally have to pay for everything on their own,” he said.
New helmets can retail for as much as $300, and a set of pads and gloves can cost $250 per player. Westminster must also pay for field rental, officials and administrative fees.
According to Prey, these costs “add up substantially.”
New helmets can retail for as much as $300, and a set of pads and gloves cost $250 per player.
Additionally, the lacrosse teams must travel farther than most of Westminster’s athletic teams to find competition. The men’s and women’s teams will combine to play just three teams from Missouri in the 2017 season and will have only one Missouri opponent, Fontbonne, after they become an NCAA Division III-member next spring. The teams will travel nearly 3,000 round-trip miles for six away games this season. Comparatively, Westminster’s track and field team will travel to 11 locations and travel about 2,350 miles.
Those extra miles cost the college more in fuel and driving expenses. As the teams transition from club sports to NCAA-sponsored programs, travel expenses could increase. If Westminster chooses to enter the same lacrosse conference as Fontbonne, one of its conference opponents in other sports, the team will face four conference opponents from Illinois, one from Iowa, three from Wisconsin and just Fontbonne from Missouri.
The lacrosse teams must travel farther than most of Westminster’s athletic teams to find competition. Those extra miles cost the college more in fuel and driving expenses.
One other primary expenditure of each of Westminster’s lacrosse teams is its coach. Both teams were afforded a full-time coach. Meanwhile, the men’s and women’s tennis teams share a single coach, and track and field shares one head coach and one assistant coach. The golf team does not currently have a single full-time coach.
Despite all these costs, Westminster will soon be able to recuperate this money if it is able to add several lacrosse recruits to the student population.
According to Prey, about 80 percent of his team is made up of recruited players. If Westminster’s lacrosse programs reached such a ratio for two 20-player teams, the college could yield an extra $800,000 or more in tuition, room and board every year. The direct cost of attendance, $35,750, multiplied by 32 lacrosse recruits comes out to about $1.1 million and even after scholarships may exceed $800,000.
If Westminster reaches the 80 percent mark for lacrosse recruits, the college could yield an extra $80,000 or more in tuition, room and board every year.
However, some students would have preferred that the money used to start the lacrosse program had gone to academics.
Ben Holterman, a senior majoring in accounting, said that the money should have gone toward increasing faculty salaries.
“We have good teachers leaving for better-paying jobs,” he said. “As a result, the business department in particular is understaffed.”
The college’s business department currently consists of six professors who specialize in accounting, business or economics. However, it will shrink to a five-member department following the end of the semester, due to the departure of Elise Bartley, assistant professor of accounting. Last month, Senior Vice President of the College and Dean of Faculty Dr. Carolyn Perry announced that Bartley had recently accepted a teaching position at the University of Missouri.
Other students, like baseball player Russell Wohldmann, ‘17, would have preferred to see the money and effort put into the new lacrosse program go to other aspects of the athletic department.
“The two biggest needs [of the athletic department] are the training room and the weight rooms,” Wohldmann said. “Those are two facilities that all of the sports teams on campus use, and they are nowhere near the level that we see in our conference.”
Wohldmann said that he sees the value of lacrosse but that the decision to start the program now looks questionable.
“The sport is obviously growing like crazy, but it’s still a niche sport,” he said. Considering that the money spent on the program thus far compared to its current progress, he added, “the risk does not seem to be worth the reward so far.”
“The risk [of lacrosse] does not seem to be worth the reward so far.” -Westminster senior Russell Wohldmann
As of March 13, the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are each 0-4 on the season. The men play this Saturday at 1 p.m. against Missouri Valley College. The women will not play again until Friday, April 7, when they take on the University of Northwes