For many reasons, lacrosse should be a great sport for television. It's relentlessly fast, fairly high-scoring and, for fans of regulated violence, it's a sport in which hitting someone with an aluminum stick is not only tolerated but seemingly encouraged in certain situations. What more could you want?
Well, it could be easier to find on TV. Even in this lax-crazy area, it can be hard to find.
Comcast SportsNet sometimes broadcasts games to fill the spring/summer doldrums and did so over the weekend with four NCAA Division I quarterfinal games. The same can be said for some of the Baltimore network stations, if your cable carrier picks them up. And there's also the mythical College Sports Television, which I've heard much about but have yet to see, since Comcast doesn't carry the network on its lineup in the District. It carried the Princeton-Virginia Division I women's championship game yesterday, or at least it claimed to on the CSTV Web site.
After watching the men's action this weekend, it became fairly obvious why lacrosse hasn't broken big out of the usual hotbeds (specifically, the D.C.-Baltimore megalopolis, central New York and Long Island) to sit at the sports-TV grownups' table: Like soccer and hockey, it is a sport that is hard to televise.
Like hockey and soccer, the game is better digested live, where the whole playing surface can be viewed. When the cameras focus solely on the player with the ball, the rest of the players are out of view. Hockey gets something of a break because its playing surface is comparatively small, but lacrosse is played on fields that are nearly the same size as for football, and a lot of the action is missed.
And also like hockey, there's so much velocity on shots that they are hard to follow. And even in non-shooting situations, that little rubber ball on such a big expanse of grass can be hard to pick up. Pity the cameraman who has to keep up with everything.
To top it all off, lacrosse is like soccer in that there are few breaks in the action, meaning there are few chances for advertising. This is great for the viewer, but bad for any profit-conscious program director. Given a choice between airing baseball with its programmed commercial breaks and a lacrosse game with breaks mostly limited to between quarters, baseball will win out every time.
Perhaps the sport needs more Michael Powells. Earlier this year, the Syracuse attackman, who is the all-time leading scorer at that lacrosse powerhouse, told anyone who would listen that he would do something memorable in the final regular season home game of his career May 1 against Massachusetts. And he did, performing a full-on flip without losing the ball before winging a shot at the goaltender. That the shot didn't find the net was of little importance.
"In the old days, had he done that, it would not have been looked upon kindly," said Quint Kessenich, the color commentator for yesterday's Syracuse-Georgetown game, after a clip of the flip was shown. "Is it good for the game? Maybe. It got on 'SportsCenter.' The kids loved it. How often do lacrosse highlights get on 'SportsCenter'?"
Not very often, for numerous reasons. But if the kids are loving it, the adults are sure to follow.