By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — One of the most eagerly awaited games of this lacrosse season — the April 17 showdown between ACC rivals UVa and Duke at Klöckner Stadium — will begin at 8:30 p.m.
The starting time is likely to keep many out-of-town fans away, as well as some local families with young children, and it’s later than Dom Starsia might prefer. Still, UVa’s longtime coach recognizes that the landscape of his sport is changing.
More and more regular-season men’s lacrosse games are being televised, and when a network, particularly one that’s part of the ESPN family, asks teams to play at a certain time, such requests are usually met.
ESPNU wanted the UVa-Duke game to start at 8:30 — the network will carry the Maryland-Johns Hopkins clash two hours earlier — and so 8:30 it is.
“It’s always a little bit of a delicate balance between the demands of the media and the convenience [of fans and teams],” Starsia said. “As long as we’re not doing the Sunday night basketball game kind of thing, and those weekday night games, it seems like we can put up with it in general. It certainly hasn’t seemed like it’s been too much to ask.”
By the end of the regular season, Starsia’s team will have appeared five times on ESPNU, and ESPN2 carried UVa’s rout of Hopkins last weekend. Virginia made five regular-season appearances on TV in 2008 and four last year.
“The sport’s been growing at a pretty great pace, and I think the TV coverage absolutely helps it,” said midfielder Max Pomper, a fifth-year senior.
“Virginia lacrosse is pretty lucky to get a lot of TV time as well.”
Each of the Wahoos’ next three games will be shown on ESPNU, starting with their visit to Maryland on Saturday. The top-ranked ‘Hoos meet the No. 4 Terrapins in an ACC game that also will start after nightfall: at 8 p.m.
“If they want to make the game [late] so we can play on TV, that’s absolutely fine,” senior defenseman Ken Clausen said. “I think no one has a problem with that.”
Starsia said: “The one nice thing is that these things haven’t happened to us on weekdays, at the very least. Certainly my first choice would not be to be playing in College Park at 8 o’clock at night, but we’re all big boys here at the same time, and TV has contributed to the growth of the game.
“For friends of mine and fans of this program and of the sport in general, certainly it’s a huge bonus that they get to watch so much lacrosse on television. TV has to move us around a little bit to accommodate their schedule and stuff.”
ESPNU is televising more than 35 regular-season men’s games this year, and the network will carry all of the NCAA tournament’s first- and second-round games next month.
Back in Starsia’s day, when he was an All-America defenseman at Brown, there was TV. But ESPN didn’t exist, and there was no lax to be found on the tube.
“You can find lacrosse if you want to watch it no matter where you are now,” Starsia said. “That’s a real treat for everybody and, I think, has contributed to the growth of the game and is good for the sport. There’s just a lot of positives there.”
ESPN2 will broadcast the NCAA semifinals May 29, and ESPN will show the championship game two days later. Those networks have carried the final four for years, but not so long ago it was rare to find a regular-season lacrosse game on TV.
“When I first came here, as a freshman, I think maybe we had a few games [on TV], but it was mainly like the final four that ended up being televised,” Clausen said.
“It’s absolutely grown a lot. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of our games televised this year. I think it does add a different element. You know people are watching, and it’s always fun going back to your phone and seeing someone say, ‘Hey, I saw you play on TV.’ “
When Pomper was growing up on Long Island, N.Y., he and his father would often travel to see the NCAA final four in person.
“But if we couldn’t make it,” Pomper said, “I remember sitting on my couch as a little kid watching it with my dad, eating pizza, just having a good time and watching the great players.”
These days, Pomper and his teammates are often the ones on the screen.
“It’s great,” he said, “and I relish the opportunity to play now and have young kids watch us.
“We’re definitely aware of it. Our mentality doesn’t change, though. We still play hard whether we’re on TV or not. But it’s definitely exciting to play and have your friends at home watch, have your family at home watch.”
Clausen said: “I think it’s great for the sport of lacrosse.”