Building The Future Through the Pro Game

By Michael Spinner, Head Coach, Pace University @PaceWLax

When you live in my world, the lacrosse summer has become even busier than the lacrosse season. Between being a college head coach/recruiter, working as director of a club program, and directing several camps during the summer, I feel like I wear enough hats to open shop somewhere. Let’s put it this way… August cannot come soon enough.

                  Photo by John Strohsacker.

Which is why making the decision to wear a new and unfamiliar hat on July 21 a spectacularly curious one. While in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, where I began the first of three straight days of recruiting in blistering heat, and after a particularly long first day during which I had the pleasure to coach at an event, I rushed back to my hotel, cleaned up, and headed back out to the field to latch on to yet another piece of headwear:

On that night, I became a spectator.

The United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX) was in town. As part of the league’s brilliant strategy to bring the game and its most enthusiastic fans closer together, day one of the recruiting event culminated with a match-up between Philadelphia and Baltimore as the league’s second season neared the finish line. At first, I had no intention to head out to the game as nearly 12 hours of lacrosse seemed like enough. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it had been years since I went to a women’s lacrosse game just for the fun of it. Like most other coaches, of the hundreds of games I watch a year, they are all for coaching, scouting, recruiting, or professional development. On this night, I decided to watch a game for the joy of being a spectator, and love of the game.

And, boy, was I glad I did! Philadelphia won the game by four – as a New Yorker, one of the rare times I have ever viewed a Philadelphia team winning a sporting event as a good thing – but the final score did not matter. The thrill for me was not because I was attending a Professional Women’s Lacrosse game. The thrill was the product itself. It was outstanding.

In short: I made a 10-minute trek from my hotel to the United Sports Complex to become a UWLX spectator… and I returned back to my hotel a fan.

I really enjoyed myself at the game. The level of play was fantastic, the atmosphere electric, and the foundation was set: young women in attendance to have something big to aim for one day. I left the game thinking that women’s lacrosse is on to something big here… if only professional women’s lacrosse survives.

Before July 21, a part of me did wonder if women’s lacrosse really needed a professional league. After leaving the UWLX game, I could say that we do. We need women’s professional lacrosse to survive and to thrive, and to expand, and find its way on to television. We need a place for the best lacrosse in the world to be played on an annual basis, where younger players can not only see our sport at its pinnacle, but also take a picture with their favorite player after the game, grab an autograph, and see the best players in our sport as real people. We need this, and we need it now.

Why here? Why now? The answer is simple: We’ve earned it. Our sport has grown and grown up to the point where there is a purpose here. I consider myself a fan of all sports, and I’ve been coaching women’s lacrosse for nearly 18 years. During the nearly two decades I have coached our sport, I cannot name another sport that has developed and advanced the way women’s lacrosse has in such a short period. Everything from the speed of the game, flow of the game, skills and athleticism, and even the rules have evolved in a way that have made the sport in every way fan-friendly.

What we need now is a way for younger fans to see our product at its very best to give them something to aim for, and a way for the casual lacrosse fan to see this game at its best to increase the love of our game. This is where professional women’s lacrosse comes in. Not to diminish the college game, because the college game is outstanding at all levels, but there is something different and special about putting the best – and most experienced – players in the world on the field at the same time. This was very clearly the case on July 21 in Downingtown, PA.

I compare the need for professional women’s lacrosse to make it to the growth of the National Hockey League in my lifetime. Anybody who knows me knows that the NHL is every bit a part of my sports DNA as the sport of lacrosse. I love hockey. I listen to the NHL Sirius Station, and watch the NHL Network as much as I can, and when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are on, I forego sleep to watch every game possible. I love the sport of hockey in a way that few outside of Canada do, and I do not think there is a more entertaining way to spend an evening than at an NHL arena.

I feel this way because when I was a kid, I went to an NHL game. The rest is history. As a child of the 1980’s in New York City, I dealt with the stigma of hockey being a glamorous form of boxing on ice. Nobody around me respected the game. That is until the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. Suddenly, everybody and their cousin paid attention to hockey. Many purchased hockey tickets who never would have done so in the past. Those who went became real hockey fans. Ice hockey, when played at the highest level (the NHL), is an incredible display. The speed, the skill, and the physicality come together in a way that is almost artistic when you are sitting in your seat. I double-dare you to purchase a ticket to an NHL game, and not become hooked. It is that addictive. There is absolutely nothing like it.

The NHL has successfully expanded out of Canada and the Northern part of the United States, and into unconventional areas such as Nashville, Tampa Bay, and the West Coast because legions of fans went to games, and became addicted the same way as I did. The same thing can happen with the women’s lacrosse fan-base if professional women’s lacrosse makes it, albeit on a smaller scale.

I have the same feelings about a fantastic women’s lacrosse game as I do about hockey to an extent, particularly with the rules under which women’s lacrosse is played at the professional level, many of which will soon be NCAA rules. Like hockey, television does not do women’s lacrosse any justice. But if you simply put people in the seats, I do think they’ll like what they see enough to watch again. This is why we need to stand behind professional women’s lacrosse. This is a rare and amazing opportunity to bring the present and future together in a way that is convenient, affordable, and awesome to watch.

After all, women’s lacrosse has grown up. With the addition of a possession clock at all college levels, and the new rules adopted for the college game in 2018, women’s lacrosse is going to truly be the fastest game on two feet. It’s going to be possibly the most fan-friendly of college women’s sports. I am equally as excited to coach the “new” college women’s game within the new rules as I am to watch it. Just imagine what it will be like with the best players in the world playing? No need to imagine this, we have it now with professional women’s lacrosse.

So let’s do this. Let’s stand up, and stand behind professional women’s lacrosse. Let’s give our present elite players a place to play after college, and maybe make a few bucks as pioneers of our sport at the professional level, while at the same time give future players something for them to really look forward to.

Of course, there is now a second professional women’s lacrosse league on the horizon. As I write this, I have neither an iron in the fire as to which league will be the better product, nor do I have any insight as to whether or not two fledgling leagues are a healthy thing. For all I know, these two leagues will work together to create one amazing product… or maybe they will engage in healthy competition to push each other to reach the biggest possible heights. What I do know is that the founders of professional women’s lacrosse have provided us all with an opportunity to make professional women’s lacrosse happen. It is our responsibility to do our part to see this product flourish regardless of which league we follow. I know I will buy a ticket whenever I can – now who’s going to join me?


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