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Robison: Lacrosse fever spreads through South Bend (April 27)

Matthew Robison | Friday, April 27, 2012

As No. 3 Notre Dame prepares to take on Big East rival No. 17 Syracuse on Saturday in Arlotta Stadium, I can’t help but think that this is exactly the direction in which the game of lacrosse should be heading. Tickets have already sold out for the 5 p.m. start time, and students must go to the ticket office two days in advance to secure a seat in the stadium. Two of the country’s premier programs will square off in front of a national television audience on ESPNU.

As No. 3 Notre Dame prepares to take on Big East rival No. 17 Syracuse on Saturday in Arlotta Stadium, I can’t help but think that this is exactly the direction in which the game of lacrosse should be heading. Tickets have already sold out for the 5 p.m. start time, and students must go to the ticket office two days in advance to secure a seat in the stadium. Two of the country’s premier programs will square off in front of a national television audience on ESPNU.

This is exactly how lacrosse should be. It should be played in front of sold-out stadiums, broadcast nationally and be the highlight of a spring weekend in sports. But across the country, that is not necessarily the case.

As a Baltimore native, I grew up surrounded by lacrosse. The league in which my high school played was consistently one of the best in the country, and I had the luxury of being able to watch great college lacrosse on TV every Saturday.

While I knew the game was primarily an East Coast phenomenon with pockets of presence in places like Colorado, Ohio and California, I never realized the lack of awareness for the game until I came to Notre Dame. Some people had never seen it played, and still others had never even heard of it.

But I am happy to see how quickly the game is spreading. I
am always hearing from friends that their high schools just started programs, that students have decided to start playing interhall lacrosse even though they have no experience and that people are coming to the games because they are interested in learning about the sport.

It has fast-paced, hard-hitting precision and brute force style. It should appeal to anyone who likes hockey, football or basketball.

Saturday evening will be a perfect opportunity to watch two of the nation’s best go head to head. The Irish (10-1, 5-0 Big East) stand atop the Big East standings and have a chance to finish the conference schedule undefeated. Their only loss came to a solid Penn State team in overtime back in February.

Syracuse (7-6, 3-2), on the other hand, has had a relatively rough season. I say “relatively” because many programs would love to be ranked, playing on ESPN and in the running for an NCAA tournament bid. But as it is, the Orange have 11 NCAA national championships, four pre-NCAA national championships and 25 Final Four appearances in their history. They simply are not accustomed to entering their final regular season game with six losses and as a severe underdog.

The Native Americans invented lacrosse as a ritualistic war game with teams of up to 1,000 men on fields up to three kilometers long. While the Irish and the Orange will be limited to the 110-yard by 60-yard parameters and 10 members on the field, we can still expect an absolute battle in Arlotta on Saturday.

And that is just the way it should be.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu