The Ideal MCLA Tournament Location

As anyone who reads this website knows, the 2018 MCLA National Championships Powered by Under Armour takes place next month in Salt Lake City. This will be the fifth venue for the postseason tournament in the last 10 seasons. The previous locations were Irving, TX (2008); Denver, CO (2009-2011); Greenville, SC (2012-2013); and Irvine, CA (2014-2017).

A fair question to ask is “where is the ideal location for the MCLA National Championships?” As evidenced by the many venue changes, this is also a question that the league is trying to answer.

Whenever geography is discussed within MCLA circles, there is always an elephant in the room that conferences not named the PNCLL, SLC, RMLC, or WCLL love to point out. That elephant is named “West Coast Bias.”

The point of this is not to fully dispute or address this issue, but it is something to take into account when considering where to hold a national tournament. Convenience, cost, travel time, and facilities are just a few of the important factors that go into such a decision. Suitable facilities are located across the country and do not pose a significant limitation, but often times availability and cost might.

Since distance traveled is easily measured and can be used to estimate the other factors because longer flights/drives often equate to more expensive travel and less convenience, statute miles traveled is an easy element to showcase.

Let’s look at the total statute distance traveled by DI teams to the National Championship site since 2008. For comparison, the same distance was calculated to the other four venues used (or will be used in the case of Salt Lake City) during that same time period.

Just as a reminder, lower mileage is better. It means less traveling and, in theory, less cost and more convenience. From a mileage standpoint, Denver was the superior location with the lowest travel distance for all years except 2013 where Salt Lake City was the best location. Salt Lake also came close to Denver’s totals in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Here’s where some of that #WestCoastBias comes into play.

The strength (or unfairly perceived strength) of the RMLC, SLC, PNCLL, and WCLL relative to the other conferences, gave them more at-large bids than other conferences (a topic we can dive into another time). Irvine had the worst (highest) distance traveled in 2008 and 2010 with Greenville taking the bottom spot for the remaining years.

DII shows a different story:

DII has a lesser presence on the West Coast. Irvine had the highest travel mileage every year amongst DII teams. Greenville was actually the best option for the DII teams in both 2013 and 2014 (thinking back to the strong SELC DII teams of those years like Liberty, Kennesaw State, SCAD, and others). Similar to DI, Denver seemed to be the strongest candidate to host with the lowest mileage in the years not claimed by Greenville. The strength of the SELC, as well as the upper midwestern conferences of the UMLC and CCLA in DII, moved the strength of teams represented at Nationals away from the west.

Once we combine both DI and DII, we see somewhat of a balancing of the two divisions:

Denver was the location that minimized the travel distance every year once the distance traveled by DI and DII teams were combined. Irvine had the highest total mileage in each year. This goes to show that with teams coming from both the east and the west, it makes logistical sense to meet somewhere closer to the middle of the country, like Denver.

So, what does this distribution of teams qualifying for Nationals look like? Below, we put together a map of the 2017 DI tournament teams in relation to the five previous tournament host sites. In addition to that, the centroid, or geometric center, was calculated to minimize the total distance traveled by the teams and is represented in yellow.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. The Colorado/Kansas border is a terrible location for the tournament (sorry St. Francis). But, this centroid gives us an idea of what a relatively fair location would look like if distance were the only factor. This shows what we already knew from the previous tables; Denver was the location that minimized the total miles traveled in 2017 by DI tournament teams.

The next map shows the distances, average distances, and centroid for hypothetical 2018 DI tournament using VV’s Week 2 Bracketology projections. Here’s what it looks like:

We now move to the other side of the border thanks to Simon Fraser (the only team on the other side of the other border) despite the eastern pressure from the four projected SELC teams (the most teams from any one conference) in addition to the AQs from the PCLL and CCLA in the east and Midwest respectively. The new centroid lands in Colorado in Arapahoe County. This makes Denver look even better being just a little closer to the centroid and still the location that minimizes the total travel mileage.

Everyone who has traveled to nationals has seen both the pros (Southern California weather) and cons (looking at you, Sirrine Stadium grass) associated with each of the mentioned venues. Although the approach taken is not perfect and ignores some significant issues (actual travel costs, hotel prices, weather), it’s a reasonable metric to consider when choosing an ideal venue. It also speaks to the merits of Denver, or even Salt Lake City, as the host of the MCLA National Championships. (and it appeases the #WestCoastBias).


Zac Ipson

Zac Ipson


Zac Ipson grew up playing lacrosse in Las Vegas, NV, and continued playing while attending BYU. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from BYU and an MBA with an emphasis in sports business from San Diego State. He loves spending his free time with his wife and dog.