Road Trip Dad - NCAA Upstate Update
Dan Witmer | March 22, 2021
The call came on a Friday night just over a week ago.

It was my son Eric calling from Denver. He asked, “Hey Old Man, what are you doing on Sunday?”

I told him that, like most days this past year, I didn’t have a lot of plans.

So he asked me if I would be willing to meet him out in Albany and help out with Summit Lacrosse Ventures’ “Power 7s” boys lacrosse tournament at Afrim’s Sports Park in Colonie. SLV was flying him out to work the event with Kevin Leveille, and they were one helper short.

Feeling pretty good two weeks after my first Moderna shot and happy to see my son for the first time since last August, I told him I’d be there.

Other than writing about lacrosse, it was my first “sneakers on the ground” lacrosse experience in a long, long while, and you know what?

It felt good!

Thirty-two teams of Modified, JV, and Varsity levels each played five 26-minute games. The weather cooperated (for the most part), parents, referees, and players – when they weren’t playing – were masked and well-behaved, and everyone acted like they were just grateful to be back on playing fields again. All in all, it felt great to be part of games again.

And as I drove home last Sunday night, I felt pretty good about the state of lacrosse in 2021. College, scholastic, youth, even summer tournaments, all seem to be on safe, manageable paths leading back to – maybe? – normalcy.

Then I tuned in to the ACC Network and watched Notre Dame play on St. Patrick’s Day, and on Saturday I watched SU breeze by Holy Cross.

Wait – I thought Syracuse was supposed to play Hofstra on Saturday.

Well, they were supposed to host Hofstra, but then the Pride canceled due to COVID protocol. So SU reached out to the idle Crusaders of the Patriot League, and they picked up the win and kept their 2021 season moving forward. They’re currently 4-1 and travel down to battle ACC foe Duke on Thursday night.

In a college lacrosse season that’s unlike any other, the playing field is anything but level – and I’m not talking about the loaded rosters due to the heavy transfer traffic. I’m talking about the week-to-week uncertainty about the next game on the schedule.

Consider: The first NCAA men’s lacrosse games of the 2021 season were played back on January 31. This past Saturday marked the eighth weekend since that “opening day,” and some programs have managed to play their original schedules, and others have not. Going into Thursday night’s ACC showdown vs. SU, Duke is 8-0; so is UNC. Denver has also played eight games already; Bellarmine has played nine. Yes, we still have nine days left in March.

Meanwhile, Marist has played one game so far, as has Quinnipiac. UMass has played two; same with Binghamton. Of course, the seven Ivy League schools have opted out for this season.

When you compare D-I to D-II and D-III, the disparities are magnified. #1-ranked LeMoyne was supposed to finally open their 2021 season with Assumption on Saturday, but when that fell through, they added a third regular-season game against Adelphi. The Dolphins won, so their #1 ranking is probably safe for this week, but a look at their website shows that the Dolphins have just ten games lined up for 2021 – three games against The College of Saint Rose, two against Pace, two more with Adelphi, and then single games vs. American International and Bentley.

Scrolling (or trolling) through the rest of D-II, I see that Mars Hill leads the country with nine games played, while North Greenville, Chowan, and Montevallo have each played eight. Meanwhile, according to insidelacrosse.com, 20 D-II teams have yet to play their first games! And you can’t go by geography – teams in the South Atlantic Conference (including Wingate, Limestone, Mars Hill, and Queens) have played six to eight games, while the Florida teams in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference have combined for just two games!

D-III shows more of the same. Yes, the good news is that Southern Virginia, William Peace, and MSOE (Milwaukee School of Engineering) have each played seven games so far, but how do you explain that 31 D-III teams have played just one? And what about the 100 schools that are listed on the Inside Lacrosse website as 0-0? Are they even playing this spring?

Locally, RIT is 3-0 and ranked #1, according to the USILA Coaches’ Poll. The Tigers have wins over Nazareth, St. John Fisher, and Cortland. Their website shows a ten-game schedule, with six Liberty League games. Continuing down the USILA rankings for last week, St. John Fisher was #12 and sports an optimistic 14-game schedule – five Empire Eight games and nine non-conference tilts. Union was #13 and has a six-game schedule – with all Liberty League opponents. #16 St. Lawrence features a nine-game schedule, with six LL games and three out-of-conference contests (including Saturday’s 14-10 win over St. John Fisher). Looking at the “Also receiving votes” teams, Ithaca would be #21 – the Bombers show six LL games and four non-leaguers. Cortland is right behind them, at #22, and the Red Dragons have 12 games on their website – six home-and-away games against three SUNYAC West opponents (Geneseo, Brockport, and Oswego) and four non-conference games. Then there’s RPI – #26 – who have no 2021 schedule posted on their website – and they’re not included on any of the other Liberty League teams’ schedules, either. Not sure what’s going on there. Same with the Liberty League’s Bard College, who also have no 2021 schedule posted and do not seem to appear on anyone else’s schedule.

Elsewhere, randomly checking around Upstate NY, I found that Hamilton shows a four-game schedule for this spring, with their first game on April 10 and their final game on May 1. Oswego State had eight games scheduled – their six SUNYAC West contests and two non-league – but both non-conference games got scrapped due to COVID protocol; according to their website, they now have just six games on their schedule (six consecutive Fridays, starting this week).

Disclaimer: maybe some of my W-L records, schedules, and other 2021 information is incorrect or inaccurate. LeMoyne was listed as 0-0 yesterday after beating Adelphi on Saturday. Delhi is listed as 0-0 after playing Morrisville last week, and the two canceled Oswego State games were not listed as postponed or canceled. I’m relying on a pretty reputable website for my data – but please don’t pick me apart over a game here or there…

You see, I’ve waited until now to start writing about the Upstate scene, because I thought we were on our way. But “upon further review,” as they say, college lacrosse is struggling.

Again, according to the Inside Lacrosse website, there were 23 D-I games played this past Saturday – and five games postponed or canceled. In D-II, 20 games were played, with four games postponed or canceled. In D-III – get this – I counted 44 games completed on Saturday, with 21 games postponed or canceled.

Carc, Quint, and Anish won’t talk about those numbers, and neither will the rest of the NCAA men’s scene. Yes, we can all look forward to the upcoming ACC shootouts and Big Ten battles that are looming on the horizon, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions awaiting. What happens if something goes awry during conference championships? Or worse, the NCAA tournament?

“Out of an abundance of caution,” “social distancing,” and “due diligence” seem to have pretty wide ranges of interpretation. Obviously, the bigger, wealthier schools can provide a safer and more frequently-tested environment for their student-athletes, and the problem seems under control or at least manageable at the D-I and D-II levels. But those divisions have roughly 74 and 75 members, respectively, while D-III bulges at approximately 248 members. That means that 323 out of the 397 men’s lacrosse program – 81% – are not D-I… and they’re putting up one heck of a fight to make this season happen.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to get political or even philosophical. I don’t claim to have any answers – but I wish somebody did!

I hope everyone gets their games in, and I hope we crown league and national champions in Connecticut come May. If all that happens, then the odds get better and better for scholastic lacrosse, and if that goes smoothly, then we can all start booking our slots in summer and fall tournaments. Then, if we’re lucky, the 2020 and 2021 World Championships that have all been postponed for 2022 can happen.

We’re getting there, but it’s pretty clear that we’re not there yet.

A couple more million vaccinations, a little more patience, compassion, and common sense, and more compliance like I saw last week in Albany, and we’ll get to where we all want to be.

Thanks for reading. Please, drive carefully, stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of three books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – The Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  … and piles to go before I sleep – The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore. His third book, The Best of RTD – A Lacrosse Coach’s Handbook, has just been released at Amazon.com. It contains more than 55 weekly Road Trip Dad blogs spanning 2012-2020, featuring Xs and Os, highs and lows, and even some Dos and Don'ts, and plenty of advice for coaches of all levels.