Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Addition of men's lacrosse program at MCLA a good thing

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When I read the news last week, I started thinking about a potential Battle of the Berkshires.

Wednesday's announcement that MCLA was going to create a men's lacrosse program means that in a few years, that'll be one less long bus ride the Williams College men may have to make. That Route 2 Rumble game will be a highlight on the MCLA schedule.

In an interview with Geoff Smith, MCLA athletic director Laura Mooney said that when it came to adding a sport, men's lacrosse was the first sport on her radar.

"I think that's really special, to be able to offer more opportunities," Mooney said. "That's what D-III is about. That's what the college is about — having access to those opportunities."

She also said that there are other sports on the radar screen for possible addition. One sport she mentioned is hockey, and I say, that would be about time.

Hockey was dropped by the college in 2003 due to budget cuts. The men's hockey team had existed in North Adams since 1971.

The team had just one winning season since 1986, a 14-11-3 mark in 2001-02.

Perhaps the most famous hockey alumnus is former goalie Dave Flint. He is most famous for guiding the Northeastern women's hockey program and was an assistant Olympic hockey coach for the United States in 2010.

"I get calls from the alums all the time. We just inducted Nick Cote into our Hall of Fame, and I had 11 alums come back to the event. All of them, the biggest thing they wanted to see done is bring back hockey," former athletic director Scott Nichols told me before he left the college in 2015. "It's something to look at."

Since Nichols left, MASCAC's hockey league has flourished. It is a seven-team league with five full-time members in Fitchburg, Worcester, Westfield, Salem and Framingham. Plymouth State (N.H.) and UMass-Dartmouth play as affiliated members.

When Mooney first took the job at MCLA, she said to me that a hockey program might be worth looking at.

"There's a really, still a very large and committed alumni following" for hockey, she said. "If the college is willing to get the funding there, I'm willing to look at hockey."

Getting back to what has happened, according to a U.S. Lacrosse study, in 2016, there were 180,399 males playing high school lacrosse. There are, as of the 2016-17 school year, 368 college lacrosse teams — 236 of them in Division III where MCLA would reside. That's an awful lot of players without a potential college landing spot, and MCLA's decision gives those athletes another chance to continue playing.

This can only be good news for the college.

As far as sports go, adding men's lacrosse is not a very expensive move. The school will have to hire a coaching staff and make sure the players all have the proper gear. The men's team will share Shewcraft Field with the MCLA women's lacrosse team. Since Shewcraft Field has lights, playing potential doubleheaders would not be difficult.

The question is, where will MCLA land in the conference landscape?

Most of MCLA's conference activity is in the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference. The Trailblazers are affiliate members in other conferences for sports, like tennis and golf, that are not sponsored by MASCAC.

Salem State and Mass. Maritime are the other two MASCAC schools that play lacrosse, and a three-team MASCAC would not go over well with the poobahs at the NCAA. So Mooney has at least a year to find a landing sport for her men's team — unless Westfield and Framingham decide to join the lacrosse party.

This aggressive move to improve the athletic offerings and potentially the number of students on campus, can only be a good thing for MCLA, for MASCAC, and for Berkshire County.

Here's hoping for a successful process.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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