A record 504 college coaches gathered last weekend at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., to watch more than 4,000 high school players in a lacrosse tournament.
Behind the scenes, Corrigan Sports Enterprises, the Elkridge firm that also puts on the Baltimore Running Festival, managed the event in partnership with the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association.
Expanding its foothold in the competitive business of hosting such events, Corrigan Sports recently announced a partnership with the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association to manage multiple club and high school lacrosse tournaments.
"What we're doing is replicating what we do for the IWLCA," said Lee Corrigan, the company's president. "The magic is simple."
The sports management company has carved out a niche for itself by organizing lacrosse events such as the Under Armour All-America Classic and the Rumble in Richmond in Virginia, in addition to the IWLCA series with four tournaments a year. Corrigan Sports also manages a number of annual running events and the Baltimore Bike Jam each May in Patterson Park.
It faces a glut of competition from lacrosse events that have proliferated as rapidly as the sport itself, which is the fastest-growing team sport over the last decade, according to a 2012 Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association report.
"In lacrosse, we're kind of in a P.T. Barnum world that every week there is a new tournament coming out with a new great vendor," said Ryan McClernan, the founder of the Baltimore Lacrosse Club, which hosts its own annual clinic. "There certainly are players who feel compelled to attend way too many events, chasing the elusive collegiate scholarship."
McClernan estimated there are eight to 12 events every weekend during the peak recruiting circuit from mid-June until the end of July.
"The IMLCA is just another tournament vendor," McClernan said. "Nothing more. It's purely a financial play."
The events are lucrative. The women's coaches association, a nonprofit based in Grand Lake, Colo., has seen its revenue surge 61 percent since partnering with Corrigan Sports in 2010. It went from barely breaking even annually to netting more than $130,000 in 2013.
This past weekend's President's Cup drew 204 teams, with each 20-person group registering for $1,800, or about $90 per person. That fee covers four games and the chance to be seen by coaches who could fulfill players' dreams of earning a scholarship to play in college.
Gothard Lane, the IWLCA executive director, said the women's coaches organized the tournaments to streamline recruiting.
"The IWLCA wanted to make the evaluation process the most efficient and cost-effective for the student athlete, their parents and the coaches," Lane said. "These kids are playing all the time, and this makes it possible for the student-athlete to be able to not have to do a tournament every weekend."
Since starting these tournaments, Lane has seen his salary increase from $16,667 to $68,740, while continuing to work about 10 hours a week, according to the IWLCA's tax reports.
IMLCA spokesman Bruce Borcz said the nonprofit, which represents virtually every NCAA college lacrosse coach, is able to pay its executive director and host a convention, but would like to add scholarships and emergency funds for members. Under the deal, Corrigan Sports will organize two IMLCA tournaments in 2014 before expanding to four a year in 2015.
"The IMLCA decided to partner with Corrigan Sports this year, with the hope of accruing revenue in the same way the women's coaches did," Borcz said. "They are looking to use Corrigan as that marketing arm that will get their name and logo out there."
Corrigan said he expects the events to be "the biggest and best" in the country within two years.
He plans to hire three new staffers to assist with the new men's tournaments, in addition to two others for an unrelated project. The company will see its staff grow to 21 employees.
"We are attacking both the chicken and the egg," Corrigan said. "We have this relationship with the IMLCA, so they're going to make sure their coaches come to our events. The coaches follow the good teams, and the good teams follow the coaches."
Such tournaments feed off the tremendous demand for scholarships, which are in short supply. There are 123 men's college lacrosse teams and 183 women's teams between NCAA Divisions I and II, leaving about 1,516 men's scholarships and 2,028 for women.
NCAA Division I college lacrosse teams can offer 12.6 scholarships for men and 12 for women, while Division II schools can offer 12 and 9.9, respectively. With rosters that range from 30 to 35 players, teams often divide up those scholarships, so players rarely get a full ride.
High school-age players scramble to be seen by the top coaches, hoping to earn whatever piece of the pie that they can.
When talking with players and parents, McClernan said he stresses the importance of not getting caught up in the recruiting whirlwind caused by so many tournaments, each claiming to offer better facilities and unprecedented exposure.
"The origin of the summer club tournament had zero to do with college recruiting and everything with extending the original, short, heart-attack season, so the boys could play more in the summer," McClernan said. "It's a very neat camaraderie and extensive fraternity within the sport."
Corrigan, drawing from his experience as the father of a former lacrosse standout as well as an organizer, said the events will be better-run than comparable tournaments.
"We've brought an air of professionalism to these events, and I think people really appreciate it," Corrigan said.
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