Lacrosse is frequently referred to as “the fastest sport on two feet” and its growth over the last two decades suggests it is the may not lose that reputation anytime soon.
For some quick context, during the 2009/10 high school year, there were 90,670 boys and 68,768 girls playing high school lacrosse in the United States. During the 2018/19 high school season, there were 113,702 boys and 99,750 girls playing. Thats a 25
The rise of lacrosse as a rapidly-growing sport across the country is due to multiple factors. Let's examine a few of those reasons below:
More Kids Are Seeing Lacrosse Than Ever Before
One factor is the increase in access to watching great lacrosse players. A search of Youtube finds lacrosse highlights making their way to SportsCenter as early as an April 10th, 2007 episode that featured a Cornell vs. Syracuse highlights package as the top play in a Top 10 countdown.
Since then, people have seen goals, saves, and even fights popping up on Twitter, Instagram, and now TikTok and GMTM. Sports fans across the country were introduced to a sport they did not know much about, but they could see jaw-dropping highlights like players running at full speed and scoring behind-the-back goals that they likely had never seen before.
Growth Of Professional Leagues Across North America
Fans also had the chance to watch professionals playing lacrosse starting in the early 2000s. Major League Lacrosse was founded in 1999 and played its inaugural season in 2001.
The MLL was the first professional field lacrosse league in the United States and gave collegiate lacrosse players an opportunity to continue playing with regularity after graduation. Greater opportunity for playing beyond college can lead to more youth playing a sport and taking that sport more seriously if they have the talent. It also meant that adults and kids alike could see people playing field lacrosse after college for the first time ever. Then in 2003, the MLL signed a contract with ESPN to have weekly games shown on ESPN2 and additional games could be streamed on ESPN3.
The presence of professional lacrosse starting in the early 2000s with the MLL and professional indoor (or "box") lacrosse with the National Lacrosse League meant more options to watch. Now, the Premier Lacrosse League, the top field lacrosse league in the US, and the NLL have contracts with ESPN for games to be shown.
An Increase In College Scholarships And Opportunities
Colleges have seen this and have worked to capitalize on the growth starting in the early 2000s. Between 2003 and 2018, colleges added lacrosse teams at an incredible rate. That increase allowed for greater participation. In 2006, 16,444 men were playing college lacrosse and 10,207 women were doing the same.
In 2018, there were 25,588 men and 17,640 women playing in college.While lacrosse teams may not balance the spreadsheets in a typical sense like a college football team, the demographic of student-athletes who play lacrosse can benefit a college. That was done with the motivation of keeping student-athletes who may not come on scholarship and instead pay full tuition in-state.
There are certainly players who would still take the chance to play for a traditional powerhouse such as John Hopkins, Maryland, or Syracuse, but smaller colleges could see the financial benefit by keeping players who may not star for a Top 25 school.
Regardless of why lacrosse has seen incredible growth in the last 20 years, it appears that lacrosse is here to stay and with greater opportunities to play at all levels as well.