Although the Boston University men’s lacrosse team has only played three games in its franchise history, talks of introducing the team to the university began prior to the start of the decade, said Director of Athletics Mike Lynch.
“It was a discussion that was going on at the highest levels of the university, probably as early as five years ago,” Lynch said.
In February 2012 when the university announced its plan to construct New Balance Field, the eventual addition of the lacrosse team was revealed as well.
Lynch said the addition of a new athletic facility was a compulsory step toward accommodating a new team.
“Without adding a new facility on campus, we really would not have been able to add the [lacrosse] team,” Lynch said. “New Balance Field really opened up an opportunity to bring back field hockey onto campus, and it opened up a lot more space on Nickerson field for practice time for lacrosse.”
The construction of New Balance Field began May 17, 2012. By Aug. 31, 2013 the field was complete and ready for the field hockey team to play its home opener on new turf.
New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., which is headquartered in Brighton, pledged a $3 million naming grant to BU as aid in the field’s construction.
The introduction of the field has also allowed for the diffusion of sports across a greater number of facilities at the intramural, club and varsity level.
“Having our club sports who need fields not only be able to practice on campus, but be able to host home games/matches and tournaments is a major plus,” said intramural and club sports manager Scott Nalette in an email. “It is not only more convenient for them, but it is safer, more affordable and allows them to feel more a part of the campus community.”
Lynch said New Balance Field was just one of many procedural developments the athletic department had to undergo in the process of establishing the lacrosse program.
“You have to understand the type of budget you’re going to have to build, and understand the staffing requirements,” he said. “We certainly wanted to have the same type of staff for our program that you have in some of the best programs in the country.”
BU announced its decision to select Ryan Polley as the team’s first head coach June 20, 2012. A graduate of Merrimack College, Polley previously served as his alma mater’s head coach, as well as Yale University’s defensive coordinator.
Polley said he had an idea of how to formulate a lacrosse team at the time he was chosen as the head coach.
“When I first got the job I had an idea of what I wanted to establish in all facets of the program,” Polley said, “from the kind of kids we wanted to recruit and student-athletes we wanted to bring in, to how we wanted to run practice, to the type of schedule we wanted to play.”
The first step to developing a team, Polley said, was putting together a coaching staff. The process that led to his choosing assistant coach Drew Kelleher was lengthy.
“The first step was to open the [assistant coach] position to the university, and then there was quite a bit of interest,” Polley said. “Boston is not only a great place to go to school, but a great place to live.”
After the open assistant position was made public, about 50 or 60 applicants entered the running, Polley said.
“I met with maybe 10 or so, and then decided on coach Kelleher,” he said. “He had a lot of really good experience — He was a young, hungry coach … I hired him about a month after I was hired.”
Once Kelleher was on board, the duo moved on to recruiting players. Starting from scratch with a constrained timeframe, Polley and Kelleher were forced to exhaust their connections from past coaching tenures.
“A lot of Division I programs had already completed their 2013 class and had their guys selected,” Polley said, “so we had to beat every bush and find a couple diamonds in the rough.”
Polley said his priority for recruitment was ensuring that his prospective student-athletes fit BU’s academic profile before selling them the university as a whole, and then the lacrosse program individually.
Compiling funds to support a new field, coaching staff, and other aspects of a new team is done largely through fundraising, Lynch said.
“For every team that we have at BU, we fundraise,” he said. “Certainly to start a team like lacrosse, or start any program really, we’re looking to try and develop some commitments from our alumni population to help us to build it.”
Lynch said the response from the BU community and alumni population has been positive thus far, and that the program will continue to look for contributions to put toward scholarship money.
One group at BU that has been speculative of certain aspects of the lacrosse team’s inception is the wrestling community.
Art Donahoe, a wrestling team alumnus, is one of the administrators of the Facebook page “Boycott New Balance.” The page seeks to unite members of the community in investigating New Balance’s alleged involvement in the removal of the wrestling team.
Donahoe, also a graduate of the College of General Studies and School of Education, said those who wish to preserve the wrestling team do not oppose the presence of the lacrosse team, but rather wish to work toward a scenario in which all parties can thrive.
“What we are hoping to do is use New Balance’s influence with the university to get us into a sit-down situation,” Donahoe said, “which would include New Balance, the university, and alumni and parent representatives of wrestling, and we would like to work out a solution that is a win-win-win for everybody.”
Lynch said accusations of unfairness toward the wrestling team are not founded upon factual information.
“The university has been nothing but up-front with every decision we’ve made,” he said, “and a number of the stories that are floating around on social media have absolutely no basis.”
The athletic department believes it will be able to improve BU’s overall image by incorporating a sport such as lacrosse, which has a growing presence in the media and significant popularity in New England.
“We saw there was a lot of growth in lacrosse, certainly at the high school level, but at the college level as well,” Lynch said. “Television coverage was starting to expand at the time we were looking at it, and we feel like it’s an opportunity for us to improve upon the brand recognition of Boston University.”
Lynch said the athletic department is confident the lacrosse team can become nationally competitive in the future.
Although the 2014 season has had a less than ideal start, its schedule guarantees the team recognition and its players a challenge. BU plays in the competitive Patriot League and will face some difficult nonconference opponents.
“This year we’re bringing [defending NCAA champion] Duke [University] up,” Lynch said. “We play them the last game of the year here just as a way to expose our athletes to the very best in that sport.”