This must seem like an odd comparison to most. Yet at a closer look the similarities are striking, the differences even more so.
For those who don't know(everybody?) the GAA is the governing body for the Irish football and hurling championships. One can be forgiven for not knowing that after all Gaelic football and hurling are only played in Ireland(with a few international clubs, mostly in the US). Rather like box lacrosse which is really only played in southern Ontario and the southwest corner of BC. And if you haven't heard of the GAA don't feel too bad. Ask anyone in Ireland or Britain about lacrosse and they'll tell you it's a sport girls play in school.
While lacrosse was organising in the 1880s - the NLU in Montreal and OLA - the GAA began competition for the Irish championships. I'm afraid both took different paths after that. While the GAA controlled every aspect of their games, lacrosse never could get fully organised. The first GAA championship was in 1887(ironically the first year for the OALA Senior championship). A format with provincial championships was established the next year and remained unchanged until 2001, when qualifiers were introduced to give teams a second chance. Those are the only changes in over 100 years. Stability, something lacrosse has been hopeless at creating.
There are other similarities(perhaps the past tense "were" is more appropriate?). Gaelic football and hurling have always been strictly amateur. Lacrosse began that way. The eras were there was no money the game has been amateur, without the rules forbidding professionalism. Unlike major sports the GAA has strict guidelines requiring players to compete for their local counties. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's what sets lacrosse apart from other North American sports.
If we go back to the 19th century the similarities are errie. Strict amateur status, players competing for their home towns or counties, unique sports played next to no where else in the world. Back then lacrosse was the more popular of the two, a serious rival to hockey up to 1914. Yet today the differences are stark. GAA games are nationally televised, the traditional lacrosse leagues get no major tv coverage. GAA games are played in front of tens of thousands, OLA games draw in the hundreds. GAA All Ireland finals attract crowds of over 80,000. The Mann Cup might draw 3,000, the Minto is lucky to get crowds close to 1,000.
What went wrong? Why has the GAA thrived while lacrosse lagged behind, with no hope of ever having similar organisation and popularity? Clearly the blame lies on the people running lacrosse many, many years ago. I'd suggest the disunity was caused by personalities putting their own egos first and never being able to come up with the compromises and the agreements to allow lacrosse to thrive. And there's also a strong case to be made of top teams always putting their own interests first, even risking entire league collapses to do so. Pathetic really.
I'm not saying those running the modern game are equally at fault or have similar bad traits. Clearly they've been dealt a bad hand as lacrosse's legacy is a pitiful one. Still our game was as popular as any sport 100 years ago so why can't it return to that elevated status a hundred years from now? Most experts suggest copying the major sports to get there. A Minto format to mimick the Memorial Cup. Professionalism because there's loads of money in pro sports and if we want to be as popular as them we have to draw money into lacrosse at all cost. And we'll copy the pros with drafts and trading, hold outs and mega free agent signings.
I mentioned the GAA for a reason: because I believe this is the format to success. Strict amateur rules are essential for a fringe sport to survive financially. Strict rules on player movement guarantee competitiveness. At times in its history lacrosse has had these things. As the GAA shows, it is the way forward. The alternative is to put people in charge who change things whenever the idea to change something seizes them. With each generation you get different people, more changes and the endless chaos continues. Even worse, you get people who stand to gain monetarily if they can attract money to the game. Just look at the NLL cash cow and all the pigs at the trough. Or players and parents who see lacrosse as a route to get a college scholarship. Is it my imagination or are there many people just using our game for their own personal gain?
Following the GAA example might not be the correct idea. At least it is an idea, as opposed to lacrosse endlessly spinning its wheels, at the mercy of the next whim of whomever grants himself the power to change things...again.
Posted on Jun 22, 2012, 2:46 PM from IP address 184.108.40.206