well that's just, like, your opinion, man
The most recent tidbit from the Associated Press indicates that the battle over public records is just beginning to heat up. The AP noted that it received some public records in response to its requests, and as you could imagine they are fairly boring documents (performance reviews of Doug Archie, etc.). OSU also refused to turn over many other records and expressed its concern for student privacy. I have little doubt that the most problematic emails were not handed over to the AP.
The AP is one of many news organizations seeking public documents from the university. I’ve counted no less than five FOIA requests for Tressel and OSU Athletic Department emails (I say “FOIA” for simplicity’s sake, because in Ohio it’s the Open Records Act that applies to state bodies). Here’s the breakdown of the media organizations and the scope of their known FOIA requests:
- Yahoo Sports: phone and email records of Tressel and other OSU Athletic Department administrators
- Columbus Dispatch: emails between Tressel and Sarniak
- ESPN: according to Sportsbybrooks.com, these include Tressel emails
- Sports Illustrated: according to Sportsbybrooks.com, these include Tressel emails
And now we can add the Associated Press to the mix. As of now, it appears the AP is the first of these to receive any documents in response (although the rumors circulating about an impending story from Sports Illustrated might suggest that SI also received some responses to FOIA requests recently).
OSU's recent document production to the AP, although seemingly sparse, provides some insight into the battle over public documents that has quietly been brewing for months.
Takeaway #1: OSU has started producing documents
With the sort of comprehensive FOIA requests received by OSU months ago, a school does not respond immediately like it might for a simple request for a single document. Instead, it can take weeks or months for OSU to have IT personnel retrieve emails, and then have attorneys and administrators review them to see (1) if they are responsive to the request, (2) whether OSU is legally required to produce, and (3) what needs to be redacted.
What usually happens in highly charged situations like this is that the least interesting documents come out first. Then both sides (the school and the media) exchange nasty, threatening letters. If OSU doesn’t blink, then the media organization can file a lawsuit in Ohio state court if it believes it was improperly denied documents.
In the near term, I would expect more of these half-hearted document productions by the university. I would also expect more bland stories, based on documents produced by OSU, which are ultimately tangential to the heart of the unfolding controversy.
In the long term, well ... that depends on who wins the legal battle.
Takeaway #2: The battle is over student privacy
The Associated Press sought through a public records request any emails, notes or other information about the relationship between Jeannette, Pa., businessman Ted Sarniak and Pryor, who has been suspended for the first five games this fall for taking improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner.
In an email on Friday, Ohio State's Office of Legal Affairs declined to release the records because it said doing so would mean giving up information without the student's consent.
Over the last couple years, we’ve had discussions on this blog about how FOIA requests are affected by student privacy. The main law in question is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal statute that prevents schools, including universities, from revealing student information without the student’s consent. Like any statute, it contains exceptions and can be complex to apply to a given situation like the one at hand.
Ohio’s Open Records Act, like Michigan’s FOIA, states that you may not seek public records that are protected under FERPA, i.e. records that reveal personal information about an identifiable student (such as Terrelle Pryor). If you are able to redact the student’s name and release the document, and if the student is not identifiable through the context of the document, then you still must produce the document (assuming no other FOIA exception applies).
I wasn’t planning on doing an in-depth analysis of FERPA in this post, but suffice to say that one of the media’s biggest problems right now is that too much of the Tresselgate situation is already public. In many cases, an informed person would be able to determine, by looking at the context of a particular email, which student is involved.
As explained above, however, the answer on FERPA is by no means clear. The analysis would differ for each email. And after some searching, there are few, if any court opinions in Ohio to provide guidance on how the Open Records Act interacts with FERPA in the context of situations like this.
Takeaway #3: OSU is playing hardball
The general crappiness and irrelevance of the documents retrieved by the AP signals to me that OSU is handing over very little. The school is challenging the AP to keep fighting.
Takeaway #4: The fight will continue
The fact that the AP actually published a story about Doug Archie’s 2009 performance evaluation means that this topic is gold to the media. If this non-story gets major national press, imagine what the AP could expect from a story about Sarniak emails?
What to Expect from the Legal Battle
The major news organizations keep good counsel. They are national media who are not afraid to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees while chasing a front-page story. They will argue the ins and outs of FERPA and any other exceptions to which OSU is no doubt clinging for dear life.
There are a handful of attorneys (probably less than that) who work for big law firms, charge high fees, and specialize in getting public records from Ohio government bodies. They are very talented at their craft. They know the usual tricks, and they will employ all appropriate countermeasures if they have financial backing. I trust ESPN has enough $$$ to cover a retainer.
If it wanted to, Ohio State could probably string this FOIA deal along for several more months. If that happens, a court case will ensue, brought perhaps by a collection of media (to share the cost of legal fees), or possibly by the one or two most inclined to fight. A judge will probably view the records in his or her chambers to see if the exceptions apply. And then the court will make its ruling. Since this will most likely happen in state court in Columbus, one may wonder whether the elected judge will dare rule against OSU. But any ruling could be appealed to an higher court still within Ohio but with less localized sensitivities. Once again, more months of waiting.
In addition to the easily predictable media fallout from shady emails, here’s where it could get hairy for OSU. According to Gene Smith’s press conference when this news first broke, the university worked with the NCAA to conduct an expeditious one-month investigation into the Cicero emails. Naturally, it behooves OSU for the investigation to be quick, since it leaves more stones unturned. If OSU ever attempted to game the system, the game was to feign cooperation with the investigation but, in reality, drag its heels for one month and drain the clock.
What happens if OSU is forced to produce emails in response to the FOIA requests that its one-month investigation with the NCAA failed to discover? If you were the NCAA investigator on campus in February 2011, and you never ran across the “Sarniak forward,” wouldn’t you have been peeved when it splashed across the headlines? Wouldn’t you question whether Ohio State had really been forthcoming in its ostensibly cooperative investigation? And wouldn’t you then commence to drop the hammer?
Armageddon slowly but deliberately approaches the outskirts of Columbus. The truly juicy documents are still sitting on Gene Smith’s desk, and they may someday see the light of day. And guess what: in the wake of the auto dealership revelations, the Ray Small comments, and other details that have steadily trickled out, I have no doubt OSU’s stack of FOIA requests is growing by the week.
Edit: Follow-Up on Impending SI Article
Word on the street is that a game-changing Sports Illustrated article is coming out this Tuesday. My guess is that it doesn't include any public documents that are clear and standalone bombshells (like an email from Tressel to Gene Smith saying "Hey these kids are violating NCAA rules, but let's just cover it up"). I don't think OSU, even if it were to release such a document, would release it this soon.
My GUESS is that the article will be a mixture of traditional investigative journalism coupled with focused FOIA requests. These would have to be the type of requests that don't seem important to OSU (thus meaning that OSU had no problem turning them over), but combined with a comprehensive media investigation those documents provided important corroborating evidence and form part of a bigger mosaic.
Or maybe OSU was careless enough to turn over the bombshell email. Who knows? I'm excited though ...
Michigan now has 12 commitments in its 2012 football recruiting class, currently (by at least one measure) the top class in the Big Ten.
That #1 ranking is partly real, partly artificial. What’s real is that Brady Hoke has recruited some pretty good football players. What’s artificial is that no other Big Ten school has more than eight commits, and nine teams in the conference have four or fewer. That obviously won’t last.
When Michigan has 12 commits and Nebraska just 2, you can’t really say that Michigan is out-recruiting Nebraska. All you can say is that the Cornhuskers must not be particularly eager to get kids to commit this early. (I have no doubt that if the ’Huskers wanted them sooner, they could have them.)
The strategy of accepting so many early commitments has advantages and disadvantages. Clearly it tells the story that Hoke and his team are ace recruiters. When you haven’t coached a game yet, it’s about the only way you can show the world how good you are. It also makes positive news for a program that hasn’t had much of it lately. Nobody needs to be persuaded that great players will go to Nebraska. At Michigan, you couldn’t take that for granted anymore after three bad years.
Tactically, the strategy could push wavering players to commit sooner, fearing that if they don’t their spot in the class might at some point be no longer available. But the players you attract that way are probably not the very best ones. I never heard of a school that couldn’t find room for a five-star athlete (who was academically qualified). Obviously, every commitment takes the player away from other potential suitors, although only loosely, since other schools can still recruit the player between now and signing day.
It feels good to be cleaning Michigan State’s clock on the recruiting trail. But it also says a lot about the current state of Wolverine football that we even care. Five years ago, nobody worried about whether Michigan would have a better recruiting class than the perennial middle-tier team in East Lansing. It was simply a given—something like a sell-out at the Big House, that we hardly ever thought about, because it was expected.
The strategy could also have drawbacks. Michigan has made hundreds of offers for 2012, and it can accept no more than 20–25 (depending on the number of scholarships ultimately available). Every spot you fill early is a spot not available later on, either for players who don’t want to decide this early, or for players off the radar who might make a jump in their senior seasons. Likewise, players who look great based on junior-season film might regress as seniors.
It would be interesting to study whether there is any measurable advantage to accepting commitments early vs. waiting until the fall. A look through the Rivals database shows that there is a pretty wide variance among the elite programs. For instance, Alabama currently has 12 (same as Michigan), but Auburn has only 5. There are two widely different strategies there.
(I am assuming that no player with a chance at attending an elite program rushes to commit to Indiana or Vanderbilt, but that there are plenty who would eagerly commit at places like Auburn and Oregon, to the extent the coaches want them so soon.)
One would think, offhand, that you take the commitments of a four- and five-star kids whenever you can get them, since those players (when correctly rated) are the ones that usually go on to be multi-year starters, NFL draft picks, and so forth. That would also apply to the three-star or unrated kids whom you believe very strongly that the recruiting services got wrong. For a correctly-rated mid-level three-star, the advantages of getting an early commitment aren’t as clear. At that level, players are much more plentiful, and schools like Michigan should be more choosy.
I don’t claim to have the answer, nor am I uncomfortable with Hoke’s strategy. He’s a proven recruiter at places like Ball State and SDSU that are much harder to sell, and in the absence of more concrete data I’ll assume he’s getting it right. I do think it’s a point worthy of further research.
When Michigan fans hear Washington offensive lineman they typically think of 6-foot-9, 310-pound Zach Banner who has said he will take an official visit to Michigan. Banner, however, isn't the only highly touted lineman from Washington that has interest in Michigan.
Four star OL Joshua Garnett (6'5", 275 lbs) holds an offer from the Wolverines as well. Garnett also happens to be the 22nd overall prospect in the nation, which ranks higher than Banner at 31. Here's a look at Garnett's film and what he had to say about Michigan.
TOM: We haven't heard too much from you, is Michigan recruiting you?
JOSHUA: Yes, they are. Coach Ferrigno is recruiting me, he's a very nice guy and we talk quite often actually.
TOM: It's tough to gauge someone's interest when they live in Washington. Are you interested in Michigan?
JOSHUA: Yes, very much interested. Michigan has a great football tradition and is also one of the top academic schools in the nation.
TOM: Are you interested enough that you think you'll take a visit to Michigan?
JOSHUA: Yes definitely. It will most likely be an official visit.
TOM: From the sounds of that I assume that you'll be taking your time with your recruitment then? Do you have a plan on when you want to narrow things down?
JOSHUA: Yeah, I plan on taking my time. I'll most likely have it down to five before the season starts.
TOM: Since you said you want to take an official to Michigan does that mean that they will most likely make the top five? I understand this isn't 100%, but as of right now, most likely?
JOSHUA: Yes, that's correct.
TOM: Michigan isn't just a car ride away for you. Is distance going to factor in to this at all for you?
JOSHUA: Distance is definitely never an issue. I like to say that a plane ride is a plane ride whether it's two hours or six hours.
TOM: What's the main reason you're interested in Michigan? Did you grow up a fan?
JOSHUA: I have always wanted to play in that Michigan - Ohio State game. I think that is a big reason why I like Michigan. That game is probably the biggest in college football, and the rivalry is unexplainable.
TOM: That's an answer that Michigan fans will enjoy hearing. Since they probably haven't heard much on you can you explain what type of lineman you are?
JOSHUA: I'm a bullet, not a bowling ball. I'm very fast and explosive. I really use my agility to beat defensive linemen instead of just my strength.
Ohio DE Tom Strobel (6'5", 245 lbs) took a trip up to Ann Arbor this past weekend. Strobel has had his interest in MIchigan steadily rise the more and more visits he's taken. Here's a look at his film and what he had to say about the most recent trip.
TOM: Who came up to Ann Arbor with you this time, and what did you get to see?
STROBEL: I've been up there before for the spring game, but I went with both my parents this time. We got a small tour of campus and facilities. We talked to all the coaches.
TOM: I'm assuming that this visit gave you a better chance to actually get to know the coaches?
STROBEL: For sure, we got to sit down and talk with them. They talked about football and family mostly. We didn't really go over scheme or film. We really just talked about football here and there, it was honestly more about the person they want to come to Michigan. It was all about character. They said they want to get someone that fits as soon as possible. I told them I wasn't supposed to make a decision any time soon. I'm not sure exactly when I'll decide, sometime in the near future.
TOM: Since your parents were there what was the overall impression of the coaches for both you and your parents?
STROBEL: The coaches are very kind, respectful, and very personal too. They didn't really talk about football it was more about my mom and dad. They asked me about how I feel about academics, which I appreciated. It's nice not to talk football all the time. They just explained to us that they want to have that Michigan man.
TOM: Have you narrowed your list down yet, or started to?
STROBEL: I'm starting to narrow schools down now. Michigan's in the top with schools like Ohio State, Stanford, and Notre Dame. Academics are big for me.
TOM: Have you been out to see all of those schools yet?
STROBEL: The only places I haven't been are Stanford and Nebraska. I'm interested in Nebraska also.
TOM: What's the criteria to evaluate these schools? How will you narrow it down?
STROBEL: I look for the pros and cons in each school. I'll look at the facilities and the strength and conditioning coaches. I'll be spending most of my time with them so that's important. I want to get in depth with the core of the program, rather than all the bells and whistles. I want to see the food too, I want to see what kind of food I'll be eating. I also want to see what type of coaches they are at each school.
TOM: I have to ask, since you're from Ohio did you grow up an Ohio State fan?
STROBEL: I think everyone in Ohio is an Ohio State fan. I grew up a little Buckeye, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will affect my decision. I'm looking at this without the fan side in it.
TOM: Did you know anything about Michigan before your visits, other than they're the Buckeyes' rival?
STROBEL: I just knew that it was Michigan. To be honest I didn't expect much going there, but then when I got there it was just an eye opener. These visits are what got them in the top group.
TOM: What about any of the coaches? I know they're new to Michigan, but did you know anything about them?
STROBEL: I knew that Mattison had been at Baltimore, but it shows that he's going to be there and he's not going anywhere if he came from the pros. I don't want to be switching coaches constantly, so it makes a difference for a coach to be there the whole time.
TOM: How do you think your recruitment is going to play out? Do you have a timeline yet?
STROBEL: I'm not sure how it's going to pan out yet. I want to get out to Stanford and some other places. I'd like to get my official visits in, but we'll see.
Michigan got an early start on many teams in recruiting, not only in the Big Ten but around the country. But with school over or ending soon for many athletes, 7-on-7 camps and visits have begun, and that means a lot of recruiting news will be flowing in over the next few weeks.
Right now Michigan is sitting at 12 known [Ed-M: and one known unknown /Rummy] verbal commitments. The coaches are recruiting for a class of up to 25 signees, and anything is possible at this point.
Every month or so I’ll post a mock cla
ss, and though this is my best-guess list, it is far from accurate or guaranteed.
Here is the 1st edition. Feel free to comment or question!
Edit: I know the rivals ratings haven’t come out, but if these players under 4-stars are less than 3’s I’ll eat my shoe.
|QB||Tyler O’Connor||Lima, Ohio||6'3||200 lbs||4.7||3*||BC, BGSU, UC, Illinois, MSU, Toledo, Vanderbilt||Solid prospect. Michigan coaches watched him throw, may jump on an offer|
|WR||Durron Neal||St. Louis, Missouri||6'1||195 lbs||4.57||4*||Alabama, Ark, UC, GT, Kansas, K-St, MSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, ND, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC||Michigan was a very late offer, but piqued his interest. Need to get him on campus.|
|TE||A.J. Williams||Cincinnati, Ohio||6'6||260 lbs||4.9||3*||Ark, BC, Illinois, Louisville, MSU, NC St, WVU||Committed 4/22. Blocking TE, possible tackle?|
|TE||Devin Funchess||Farmington Hills, MI||6'5||205 lbs||n/a||3*||BGSU, UC, Illinois, MSU, Mizzou, Nebraska, UVA||Committed 4/22. Receiving TE/U-back.|
|OL||Jordan Diamond||Chicago, IL||6'6||289||n/a||4*||AZ, Ark, FSU, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, MSU, Ole Miss, ND, OSU, UT, WVU, Wiscy.||Teammate of ‘11 commit Chris Bryant. Great LT prospect. Michigan leads, decision soon?|
|OL||Chris Muller||Boyertown, PA||6'6||287||n/a||4*||BC, Uconn, Florida, MSU, ND, PSU, Pitt, Rutgers, WVU, UVA||Penn State had an early lead, but planning a summer visit to Michigan. Likes Mallory and Funk.|
|OL||Caleb Stacey||Cincinnati, Ohio||6'4||275 lbs||n/a||3*||BGSU, BC, UC, Illinois, Indiana, NC St, Toledo, Wake||3/26 commit. Plays tackle for a great program, mauler. Will be solid guard at UM.|
|OL||Erik Magnuson||Carlsbad, CA||6'6||275 lbs||n/a||4*||AZ, BC, Cal, Miami (YTM), ND, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC||Huge recruit. National prospect. Really likes Funk and Hoke is recruiting him. Official to Michigan in fall.|
|OL||Ben Braden||Rockford, MI||6'6||285 lbs||n/a||3*||MSU, Wiscy||3/24 commit. One of the top programs in state, first year at RT. Great potential.|
|DE||Pharaoh Brown||Lyndhurst, OH||6'6||220 lbs||n/a||4*||ASU, BC, CU, MSU, Neb, UNC, NC St, Oregon, Pitt, WVU, many.||Committed 5/7. QB and DE on HS team, raw but great athlete.|
|DE||Mario Ojemudia||Farmington Hills, MI||6'3||215 lbs||4.7||3*||CMU, Illinois, MSU, Iowa, Mizzou, Stanford||5/07 commit. Looks like an LB, freakish speed off the edge.|
|DE/DT||Matt Godin||Detroit, MI||6'5||250 lbs||5.0||3*||BC, Buffalo, Duke, Illinois, MSU, Mizzou, Syracuse, Wisconsin||5/12 commit. Big bodied athlete, may be a DT (think RVB if not).|
|DE||Chris Wormley||Toled, OH||6'4||255 lbs||n/a||3* (LOL)||
||Michigan leads. Top 10 player in Ohio. Needs to be a force on defense. May be an OT?|
|DT||Ondre Pipkins||Kansas City, Mizzou||6'3||325 lbs||n/a||4*||Bama, Iowa, Kansas, MSU, Mizzou, Nebraska, UT, OSU||Top flight DT. Hails from Saginaw. Close friend is grad asst at UM. Blowing up nationally.|
|DT||Danny O’Brien||Flint, MI||6'1||295 lbs||5.1||4*||Bama, UC, Iowa, MSU, Pitt, UT, Vandy||Vols have an early lead. Best Friends with Matt Godin. Michigan is making up ground, loves coaches.|
|DT||Jaleel Johnson||Westchester, Illinois||6'2||277 lbs||n/a||4*||AZ, BC, Iowa, Minnesota, Iowa, MSU, UT, Toledo, Vandy||MSU, Wiscy, and Iowa lead. But very excited about Mich offer. Need to get him on campus.|
|LB||Joe Bolden||Colerain, OH||6'2||225 lbs||n/a||4*||AZ, BC, UC, UK, UNC, PSU, USF, Stan, UT, Vandy, many.||4/29 commit. True middle linebacker. Hates ND and OSU? Check.|
|LB||James Ross||Orchard Lake, MI||6'0||210 lbs||n/a||4*||AZ, UC, Illinois, MSU, Nebraska, ND, OSU, PSU, Pitt, USC.||5/2 commit. Great playmaker. Needs size. Top 3 in state.|
|LB||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Detroit, MI||6'2||215 lbs||n/a||4*||MSU, Florida, USC, Alabama, Mizzou, Oklahoma, want any more?||4/16 commit. Great athlete, needs to get coached up. Cass Tech product. Top 3 in state.|
|LB||Kaleb Ringer||Claymont, OH||6'0||220 lbs||n/a||3*||UC, Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Toledo||4/12 commit. 2nd best LB in Ohio. Nephew of Javon Ringer. Great athlete, not great sized.|
|CB/S||Wayne Morgan||Brooklyn, NY||5'11||188||4.4||4*||Alabama, BC, Maryland, Miami (YTM), PSU, Rutgers||Michigan in top 2 or lead? Announcing June 1st. Great prospect at S or CB.|
|CB/S||Anthony Standifer||Crete, Illinois||6'1||175 lbs||n/a||3*||Akron, BGSU, UC, CSU, Iowa, Minnesota, ND, Cuse, Toledo, WMU||Terrific CB/S combo. Great speed + hips. Michigan first BCS school to offer, 20+ offers.|
|CB||Terry Richardson||Detroit, MI||5'9||165 lbs||4.45||4*||Alabama,||5/19 commit. Cass Tech CB lineage, one of the top corners in country. Top 5 player in state.|
|S||Allen Gant||Sylvania, OH||6'2||205||n/a||3*||Ball State, BC, UC, Stanford, Toledo, WVU||Son of Tony Gant. Michigan leads. Strong safety type, solid player.|
Total Commitments: 24
At this point I have not included an RB in this class. Until something actually happens to OSU, I believe Brionte Dunn will remain a Buckeye. Michigan has fallen out of Greg Garmon’s top group, and Keith Marshall needs to get on campus for him to even be a possibility. Still, a lot could change.
I’ve only included one receiver as well. I do believe Michigan leads for Aaron Burbidge, but until he is more qualified I don’t want to list him just yet. At this point Michigan’s receiving recruiting is just heating up. I expect them to land a very good player, and maybe another receiver or two with the recent departures and graduation.
As for Ron Thompson, I believe he will be a part of the class. I’ll probably include him in the next edition.
Greetings, fellow Michigan fans, and now that it’s official, or will be in short order: As a dual fan whose other school is a lacrosse powerhouse, on behalf of fans of other lax programs, welcome to the world of D-I lacrosse. Michigan is joining an NCAA sport that is growing at a pace that doesn’t satisfy a lot of its fans, but is actually one of the fastest of any that the NCAA sponsors. For some, Michigan lacrosse is a symbol of a new and potentially very exciting frontier of expansion: the Midwest. We are not the only fans wondering about a potential Big Ten lacrosse conference. This is intended not to be an introduction to the game itself, but a primer on the NCAA “scene”, if you will. Hopefully this will get you smart (or smarter) on how the world of Division I lacrosse is arrayed. (Men’s lax only – I’m not qualified to speak on the women’s game.)
Like hockey, lacrosse is a very regional sport; in fact, even more so than hockey, at least for now. Hockey is big in the Northeast and upper Midwest; lacrosse is largely limited to the mid-Atlantic. This year was the first in which an NCAA tournament game was held west of the Mississippi; west of Lake Michigan, in fact. Last year was the first in which a championship game was held with a participant (Notre Dame) from a state that didn’t border on the Atlantic Ocean. Roughly 80% of the 61 teams that played D-I men’s lax this year are clustered in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.
Not only that, but lacrosse is still more insular than hockey with respect to national championships and the “top tier” of the sport. The line between hockey royalty and hockey hoi polloi is much more blurred than in lacrosse; ask a lacrosse fan who the top teams are and he’ll probably rattle off eight teams: the four ACC squads (that’s Virginia, UNC, Maryland, and Duke) plus Cornell, Hopkins, Syracuse, and Princeton. Denver and Notre Dame are working on breaking this octumvirate, but it’s tough. And guess who are the eight teams in the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament? Only Carolina and Princeton are missing, and the former got stuck with Maryland in the first round. The rest have proven largely interchangeable.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll want to know about in case you feel like sounding smart about national men’s lax sometime in the future:
The polar opposite of hockey, this is an ever-shifting landscape as the sport grows. Conferences are much smaller, too, as teams vie for a spot in an auto-qualifying conference of six teams – but not too many more. Things are beginning to match up with the ordinary D-I conferences. The Big East has begun sponsoring lacrosse, as has the Northeast Conference; the ACC and Ivy League always have. Some conferences (such as the CAA) have wildly different membership than their nominal grouping; others (Big East, for example) are just smaller versions of their regular bunch.
Michigan will be playing in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) which has little to do with the hockey ECAC and has been a very fluid conference in recent times, serving as a stopping-off point for many teams on the way to a more permanent home such as the Big East. With Michigan onboard, it is also lacrosse’s biggest conference at eight teams and may get larger if High Point joins; it may also get smaller if Fairfield and Loyola decide to join the MAAC, where they exist in the rest of the world. The current membership should not be expected to be the long-term membership.
The ECAC is also wildly divergent in the quality of its teams. A quick rundown:
Denver – Burgeoning powerhouse and a team to be reckoned with going forward. The biggest obstacle to dominance Michigan will have for some time. They are coached by Bill Tierney, a Hall of Fame legend who won six NCAA championships at Princeton, and are in this year’s Final Four.
Loyola and Fairfield – Loyola is a respectable team that has some history getting into the NCAA tournament and flirted with it again this year; they are located in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore. Fairfield is a less-accomplished team, but they can be tough. Both are MAAC teams in real life, and there has been speculation (and nothing more than speculation) that now that the MAAC allows the full allotment of scholarships, they may want to join up.
Ohio State – Slowly gaining respectability in the lacrosse world, games against the Buckeyes will probably be tough pills to swallow in the first couple of years. OSU knocked off North Carolina earlier this year and gave Virginia and Notre Dame a difficult time, but also won by just a goal against Detroit and lost to Fairfield and Albany.
Air Force – Perhaps a good litmus test of where Michigan stands in its first couple of years. Air Force is the only service academy that hasn’t tasted much success in lacrosse. They were 6-7 this year but largely on the backs of the NCAA’s crap teams like Mercer and Presbyterian; and some of those crap teams beat them.
Hobart and Bellarmine – Non D-I schools that play lacrosse as their specialty D-I sport (similar to, say, Ferris State in hockey.) Michigan should be very competitive with these teams and hopefully beat them in their first year.
This isn't even necessarily the guaranteed lineup. Conference membership has been so fluid in this sport that a change between now and next season wouldn't surprise anyone.
The conference tournament, like all other lacrosse conference tournaments, invites just four teams; this is for RPI purposes and ease of scheduling.
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Like hockey, the lacrosse tourney is a 16-team, single-elimination affair; it is much less of a plinko game, however. Chalk advances with great frequency. It does not fuss about with regionals; first-round games are hosted by the seeded team. The NCAA determines these matchups mainly by seeding the teams 1-16 and then fudging the bottom half a little bit for travel purposes. The quarterfinals are hosted at two neutral sites, which are usually somewhere between Long Island and Baltimore. The NCAA is fanatical about giving teams as short a ride as possible to their quarterfinal site, even to the extent of allowing a lower-seeded team to play on their home field against a higher-seeded team if they happen to be a host. (This happened when #8 Stony Brook hosted #1 Virginia last year.) As with every NCAA tourney, the Final Four is hosted at another neutral site. The NCAA uses NFL stadiums for this purpose and often fills them, especially if the game is in Baltimore or Philadelphia. The men’s lax championship is usually the third or fourth best-attended NCAA championship each year, depending on how you account for the College World Series; the championship game, at times, outdraws the basketball championship.
Currently, six conferences have autobids to the tournament, but that will change in 2012; there will be eight next year. Because of this, and because of the NCAA’s usual desire to see its marquee teams on the marquee, I expect the tournament to expand to 20 in the near future. Interestingly, the ACC has no autobid because it has only four teams, but its teams nearly always qualify anyway.
Only eight teams – the abovementioned eight “royalty” teams – have ever won the NCAA tournament. Five additional teams have made it to the championship game and lost: Notre Dame, UMass, Towson, Navy, and Loyola. Unseeded teams – those that don’t host first-round games, almost never even make it to the Final Four – it’s happened just
four five times, the fifth this year with Maryland.
Lacrosse has three recruiting hotbeds, in order of importance: Long Island, Baltimore, and Philadelphia/South Jersey. This isn’t to say that talent can’t be found elsewhere, but Michigan will want to establish a presence in at least one of these three areas to start with. Fortunately, the school has a very good name on the East Coast. U-M will also draw players from Chicago, Ontario, perhaps New England, and of course, its home state. Long term, it’s my opinion that having two D-I lacrosse teams in the state, playing each other, will help create a critical mass of interest in the state that just wasn’t there when MSU was the lone D-I team here, and that will be a bonus for Michigan’s recruiting. That’s a factor for ten years and beyond.
One important source of players is the Ivy League. Teams like Virginia and Syracuse typically try to attract an Ivy transfer most years. Ivy schools don’t allow their athletes to play intercollegiate athletics while in grad school, so redshirted players look elsewhere for grad school to finish up their fifth year of eligibility. Because of the NCAA rules about grad school transfers, these players are available right away without skipping a year. Michigan should work very hard to attract these players, especially in the first few years of D-I play; they’ll help bridge the gap between the club years and the beginning of Michigan’s true contending years.
One of the best things about recruiting and fanhood in general in the lacrosse realm is the total lack of concern about the lure of professional sports. In the distant future that may change, but for now, lacrosse has none of the accompanying worry about competing interests. There’s no junior hockey in Ontario, no MLS or overseas club system, no slimy agents whispering NBA dreams in your players’ ears, no minor league farm system. Players play four years and occasionally five. Nobody leaves early for the pros and nobody drafts your committed recruits. It’s the only college sport that enjoys a big-time feel and a four-year guarantee.
I’ll leave the full-scale predictions to the experts. Suffice it for now that there’s a wide range of expectations out there in the wide world for Michigan lacrosse. Most don’t really expect Michigan to contend right away; neither do I. Some go so far as to suggest Michigan will be winless or nearly so, entering the league at a level below even Bellarmine. I don’t think so. But it’s a brave new world of sorts; Michigan will go from the top rung to near the bottom. The first goal: win the ECAC. That will be a few years down the road, especially with Denver in the way in the immediate future. In three years UDM, in the MAAC, came within one game of making the tourney and that was considered an eye-opening feat. My hope is that within ten years, Michigan has established itself as a team firmly established as a contender to earn at-large berths to the tournament; fewer, if the tourney expands.
Good luck to the teams as they take a big new step to the future! It’s a big deal for Michigan to be joining the world of D-I lacrosse, but it’s just as big a deal for the world of D-I lacrosse to welcome Michigan.