Thursday, January 22, 2015

Philadelphia, College Lacrosse's New Home?

It can be rough being a Philly sports fan as no city gets as much grief/hate as the City of Brotherly Love.   From dated jokes about rowdy fans throwing snowballs to middle child jabs from the NY and DC crowd, it's no wonder Philly fans have an "US v. EVERYBODY" attitude when it comes to sports and life in general.  I mean just look our neighbors .....    

Such class, such elegance.

But one thing that Philly does have better than anyone else is College Lacrosse.  In fact, in my opinion, Philly is the perfect city if you're a College Lacrosse fan.  [SORRY Baltimore!!!  You know I love you.]  This is especially good news for anyone living in Philly and new to College Lacrosse/looking for something to follow this Spring, as Lord knows Phillies baseball isn't going to cut it. 
Phillies 2015 Season.  Catch the fever!


1.  Proximity and public transportation.
One of the biggest things Philly has going for it is that it is densely populated with Division 1 teams; Drexel, Penn, St. Joe's & Villanova (hereinafter "Philly Four") are all either several blocks or within 5-10 miles of each other.  Baltimore is the only city that has as many Division 1 teams that bunched up.  

With four teams in the City, getting to a Philly Four game is a breeze.  If we use 30th St. Station as our reference point, one can get to any of the Philly Four campuses via walking or public transportation.  Drexel and Penn are mere blocks away from 30th St. and the Paoli/Thorndale Line gets you to either Overbrook station (St. Joe's stop) or Villanova Station.  One line ... that's all you need.  If only my dating life was that easy.

2.  High quality teams.
"Sure, Philly may have a lot of teams, but are any of them good?" ... says the internet straw man detractor that I just made up.  Rest assured, the Philly Four are good.  Like real good.  Both Drexel and Penn made the tournament last year and through the front door no less!  Penn was a four seed and hosted its first home playoff game in over 15 years.  Drexel, while unseeded, was one of the top 14 teams in the tournament last year, thereby not having to duke it out in the Play-in game. 

Unfortunately Drexel and Penn had to play each other in the first round last year, with Drexel beating Penn before losing out in the Elite 8 to Denver.  It would have been great if they were in different brackets as it would have doubled the chances that a Philly team made it to the Elite 8 and beyond.  Look for both teams to go even further in the tournament this year. 

St. Joe's didn't make the tournament last year, but they had one of their best season in years, going 11-3 in the regular season and hosted the Northeast Conference Championship as its top seed.  St. Joe's ended up losing to Hobart in the first round of the conf. tournament but that doesn't diminish the fact that St. Joe's had a very good season last year.  Look for St. Joe's to make another strong run for the Northeast AQ this year. 

Villanova had a disappointing 6-10 record last season, however 5 of those losses were in OT.  The Cats were one of the toughest teams to play last year and despite their record, they still made it to the Big East Tournament.  Villanova's 2015 schedule has multiple home games against top 15 opponents which will provide good opportunities to get a quality win.  They are my sleeper team in the Big East.

Baltimore may have the prestige, but if we're looking at 2015 only, Philly has just as good, if not better odds at placing 3+ teams in the tournament this year. 

3.  Great home games.
The Philly Four teams have tough schedules this year and they'll all host at least one preseason top 20 team this season.  Moreover, Big Ten alums living in the city have multiple opportunities to see a Big Ten team live as 2/3rds of the conference is traveling to Philly to play at least one of the Philly Four schools.  Villanova hosts JHU, Penn State and Maryland on Feb. 14, Feb. 21 and March, 14, respectively.  The Cats also host the Big East Tournament this year starting on April 30.  Penn has home games against Yale on March 14 and Princeton on March 28 and then play the 5th seeded ACC team in the ACC "Tournament" on April 25.  [Ed. Note:  Not sure how you have a tournament with only 5 teams, but I digress.]  St. Joe's hosts Penn on Feb. 14 and Michigan on March 14.   Drexel has high quality home games against Albany and Bryant on Feb. 21 and March 7, respectively.

4.  Bubbling inter-city rivalries. 
For the uninitiated, Philly takes college sports and its inter-city rivalries very seriously, there's no better example of this than Big 5 basketball.  The Big 5 is a the unofficial, official conference for the city's Division one schools.  The Big 5 consists of the University of Pennsylvania, La Salle University, Saint Joseph's University, Temple University, and Villanova.  While Drexel is not technically a member of the Big 5, it does play some Big 5 schools and there are talks to enlarge the Big 5 and include Drexel.  There's not enough time to properly go into the Big 5 and do it justice, but let's just say that the Holy War between Villanova and St. Joe's is nearing 100 years and there are no signs of it slowing down.

College Lacrosse scheduling is tougher than College Basketball.  There are half as many games and almost every team in Division 1 has conference game requirements that take up a chunk of their season.

[Cough .. I see you Hopkins ... cough]

Given these limitations it is actually pretty remarkable that the every member of the Philly Four was able to find enough room to schedule two Philly Four opponents for 2015.  Given the fact that each team has a decent to good shot at making the tournament this year, beating a Philly Four team takes on an added significance in 2015, as it provides not only bragging rights but also a chance to add a quality win to the resume.  These schools, students and their alums already don't like each other.  If you add in the fact that beating a hated rival also ups one's chances at making the tournament, suddenly 2015 looks like a very combustible season for College Lacrosse in Philly. 

Moreover, the big gorilla in the room is that the 2015 Division 1 Lacrosse Final Four is in Philly.  Penn is the only member of the Philly Four to ever made it to the Final Four.  With few tournament appearances and even fewer tournament wins amongst them, a Philly Four team could make a huge statement and grab the belt as the best team in the city by making it to the Final Four this year. 

I'd venture to say that the Philly Four rivalries eclipse even Baltimore's lacrosse rivalries as the Baltimore schools dislike for each other stops at the lacrosse field.  If you don't follow College Lacrosse you wouldn't even know that Hopkins/UMBC/Loyola/Towson are even rivals.  Baltimore's inter-city rivalries just aren't as heated as the Philly's inter-city rivalries.  From Fencing to College Basketball, Philly schools relish beating and one upping each other.  With so much on the line (a chance to play in the Final Four in front of your home crowd) and so many quality teams, 2015 could be the year that College Lacrosse in Philly really makes its mark and captures the city's attention.  Philly loves a winner & loves it even more when it is a hometown team. 

For the average lacrosse fan, you can't do better than Philly with its geographic location, good public transportation, multiple ranked teams and bubbling inter-city rivalries.  Baltimore's still the G.O.A.T.  but Philly has quickly ascended as the natural rival to Baltimore's claim as the home of College Lacrosse.