Terry Foy, the Managing Editor for Inside Lacrosse Magazine, was kind enough to answer a few questions about Michigan's entry into the world of Division-1, based on conversations he's had with people in Michigan's program, and in others around the country.
1. The main question on everyone's mind: exactly how good can this Michigan team be in their first year on the field? Do they have a chance to make any national noise within 3-5 years?
I haven't seen their completed schedule, so how Coach Paul rounds out their ECAC slate and their known out-of-conference opponents will go a long way toward determining Michigan's record.
Heading into their inaugural season, I see Michigan fairly falling in the mid-50s (out of 61 varsity programs). That ranking might seem exceptionally low to Wolverine fans, but it's higher than any other new program has been ranked heading into its maiden season. By year's end, I could see Michigan climbing into the mid-30s if they play somewhere near .500-ball, and about 10-15 spots lower if they're around the .333 mark.
I think their success can be largely depend on the type of early season success they see. I think Jacksonville's 6-7 record in 2010 (the Dolphins' first season) can largely be attributed to the momentum gained from their big early season win over Denver, a Bill Tierney-coached team that went on to make the NCAA Tournament.
I think within five years, Michigan should challenge for an ECAC title. The Pioneers have asserted control over the league the last two seasons, but I think it's reasonable that along with Loyola, the Wolverines can emerge as the primary challengers. Ohio State, Fairfield and Hobart are the stiffest competition for the remaining spots, but each have their own stumbling blocks to consistently being able to compete to win the league.
2. Among the guys who will play for Michigan this spring (i.e. the club roster, plus 2011 recruits and transfers), who are some standouts? Did some the club guys slip through the cracks as recruits, even though they could have played at a high D-1 level?
The Wolverines' starting point is a good one — talent at attack. Trevor Yealy and Thomas Paras were MCLA All-American/Player of the Year types. However, most NCAA coaches I've spoken to about those two guys in particular have said they didn't project to being DI stars, and without much dispute they're two of the best players on the team.
Michigan didn't make any major splashes in the transfer market (picking up a guy like Jack McBride, who went from Princeton to North Carolina; though there's still some chance that opportunity could present itself) or any surprising de-commits (the most notable being defenseman Ryan Breen from the Taft School, who was originally committed to Lafayette).
In short, while I think Michigan will win games, I don't think it'll be because of their starpower.
3. How long will it take for Michigan to start pulling in elite recruits (if they can at all)? Is it possible for them to have an elite recruiting class in the near future?
Two coaches I spoke with said their 2012s are on par with a top 15-35 class, and the player each liked the most is Evan Glaser from McDonogh, a two-handed polished attackman, and Will Perkins from St. Mark's. However, neither of those guys is someone that other coaches are saying “I can't believe they got him,” the way Florida did when Mandee O'Leary started the women's program and picked up no less than five recruits in the top 25 for the Gators' first season.
That could happen in the class of 2013, but it hasn't yet, and with the number of commits off the board already, it doesn't appear they're going to land a top five class. To me, that means their future recruiting fortunes (2014 and beyond) are tied to their on-field performance, starting this spring.
As one coach put it, “they can dip (academically) for the guys that aren't great students, and they can make the academic sell to the best kids.” [Many of the other schools in D-1, aside from say, Virginia and North Carolina, are great academic schools that can still make admissions exceptions for athletics].
4. On the same note, does Michigan have the potential to become a power in the sport down the road? Teams from non-hotbed areas (Denver) have done it, but there's still the small issue of "winning the whole thing" that nobody's done outside of the traditional powers.
Winning a national championship is a very difficult thing — Cornell fans can tell you very easily the slim margin of victory as they try to forget the ’09 title. Duke fans can tell you how long you have to knock on the door before anyone answers. In some ways, maybe that's a semblance of fairness in lacrosse — only Princeton broke through to the ranks of champion without toiling for a number of years with quarterfinal and final four losses.
Can Michigan win a national championship? Yes, but that's nowhere near a guarantee that they will. I think a much better use of time is define the word “power” in this sport. Eight programs have won titles in the tournament that's been played since 1971. Navy, Georgetown, UMass, Notre Dame, Hofstra and Loyola are some of the teams that haven't won a title, but have experienced extended league or NCAA Tournament success that could allow them to approach being called a “power.”
In the burgeoning NCAA lacrosse scene, I think consistently making the tournament (six times in a decade) and avoiding a sub-.500 season should be enough to be called a "power" ... I think between years 5-15, [barring major changes in the NCAA lacrosse scene] it's not unreasonable to imagine Michigan attaining that standard.
5. There's been a bit of debate over the head coaching hire. Of course John Paul was going to get first crack at it, because he's brought the program to a point where varsity lacrosse was possible, but is he a long-term solution? What's his overall reputation in the lacrosse world?
As a John Paul proponent, I think he's a viable long-term solution because he's shown himself to be smart and adaptable to this point in his career as a college lacrosse coach. Without having faced the challenge of coaching against a DI schedule with a DI team, it's impossible to say with any certainty how he and his staff will fare record-wise, and there's an argument that their MCLA success isn't the best predictor. However, it's my opinion that winning lacrosse games is easier than taking an MCLA team at an FBS school to the varsity level in this fiscal and political climate, so if the skillset that allowed him to do that translates even halfway to on-field motivation and strategy, he's more than capable of producing the type of results I laid out above.
As for his reputation in the DI coaching community, my sense is he's viewed as a very respectable, meticulous and organized leader with the backing of a formidable athletic department that has shown a strong willingness to learn and get to know people around the coaching ranks. I think his tactics [have overshadowed] his capacity to prepare his teams. That said, most coaches haven't had to concern themselves with Michigan, so I think there's a lot of mystery to the team they're going to put on the field.
6. Is it possible that Michigan is just the first domino to tip in a wave of D-1 growth? Do you think it's possible we see a Big Ten Lacrosse Conference 5 or 10 years down the road?
It's possible that Michigan is the tip of the DI expansion iceberg, however, there's a danger in getting caught up in the size of Michigan's profile. [There has been] 12.5% growth over seven years — Michigan is a huge part of that, but don't overlook how significant the inclusion of Bryant, Detroit, Jacksonville, Mercer, High Point and Marquette are, particularly because those are the types of schools that'll be adding men's lacrosse in greater numbers than Big 10 schools over the next decade.
As for the prospects of a Big 10 conference that has at least six teams — that's the question that's most outside my purview. I don't have any ins at athletic departments that don't have lacrosse, so while I'd love to say Northwestern is going to add a men's team and Michigan State's going to reinstate their program, you know as well as I do.
Thanks to Terry for taking the time to answer my questions. If you care waaay more about lacrosse than you probably should, you can follow along at GreatLaxstate.com.
I, for one, welcome our Nike overlords. After two straight years of using The Game to prove even Ohio State can look more ridiculous, Nike will strike again this fall, outfitting Michigan State in their Pro Combat line of jerseys for the October 15th tilt against the Wolverines. (Yeah yeah, those in glass houses and whatnot).
In fairness, going to Pro Combat might be an improvement from the OMG MODERN FONT look straight out of Any Given Sunday that Michigan State switched to last year:
...as opposed to going away from the classic look of Ohio State's traditional jerseys (/immediately feels dirty, showers).
We live in an age where the apparel companies are going to do what they do in search of the almighty dollar. Methinks it's best to just to just accept it and move along. It certainly doesn't hurt that I'm not nearly as "get off my lawn" about Michigan's night game jerseys as is Brian. We'll see if Adidas plans to make frequent use of cash-grab alternates, like Nike is doing.
[Ed-M: As Michigan fans, however many headaches we've had to suffer thanks to Adidas's neon-ish idea of "maize" is made worth it when we see our rivals come to school looking like their colorblind mothers got lost in the kids section at Target.
For those wondering why they don't just go with the classic 1960s thing, MSU's official site rules out the obvious Duffy-era look because they rocked that for ND in 2006 -- not that anyone noticed. You can't really do too much damage with MSU since they've had 9 significant uniform changes since 1993, but they already have a home alternate, so either they're scrapping that, or State will play just three games all year in their "home" jerseys. Oregon indeed.
Futzing with Ohio State's
classic helmet disco ball covered in bird poop for Michigan week is the kind of thing that can make the football gods remove their favors.]
Speaking of ill-advised Spartan doings. Justin Abdelkader jokes that he wishes to bomb Michigan Stadium:
This is INCONTROVERTIBLE PROOF that all Spartans are terrorists. Look it up.
Barbecue snobs are certain to clarify this is merely a "cookout." As you've likely noticed, Wednesday Recruitin' has been a little calm over the past two weeks, after a whirlwind late spring/early summer parade of commitments to Ann Arbor. A slow period should transition immediately into another action-packed (though not necessarily commitment-packed) period coming up soon, with next weekend's "Barbecue at the Big House" recruiting event.
Much more about it in next week's Recruitin' post, but if you need your fix now, Tom has an ever-evolving list of visitors up in the Diary section. Those not already committed to Michigan are of the greatest interest to us because, you know, they could commit. All this and MUCH MORE next Wednesday (they call that a tease, kids).
Why would anyone want to leave that state? Also regarding the barbecue, Eleven Warriors calls Kyle Kalis and Tom Strobel "Ann Arbor's new favorite couple," but it is not supposed to be a gay joke - except there's no other way for it to realistically be intended. They could be Purdue commits for all I care, but what century are we living in where "hurr hurr u r gay" is still an OK insult?
If you Google "Kyle Kalis ACL," the first infinity results are of Ohio State message boarders wishing injury on a 16-17 year-old kid. Kalis has gone into (mostly) radio silence since his commitment, for fear of backlash. Ohio State fans bashing him for "poor morals" because he decommitted from a school that's about to get hammered for lying to the NCAA? Irony reading: high.
I'm not trying to pick a fight with Eleven Warriors here, but come on dudes, hold yourselves to a higher standard - which, to be fair, they usually do.
Godzillatron will be ours. Updates on the scoreboards? Updates on the scoreboards. Pictures can be seen at Michigan Stadium Aerials (also with updated photos of the hoops Player Development Center), and if you're into the "paint drying" thing, you can watch the assembly live on the internet at MGoBlue.
OK, so it's not quite as impressive as the mega-boards at places like Texas and... Minnesota... but it's certainly an upgrade over the recent past.
The QB my friends, is blowin' in the wind. Tate Forcier was told "thanks but no thanks" by Hawaii, of all schools, because his transcript is really that bad. The official mgoblog position is "hope he gets his life in order," but uh, is anyone still second-guessing David Brandon's alleged refusal to schedule a meeting with QB5?:
"I needed a certain amount of credits. The incompletes, I took care of those. Dave Brandon still wouldn't let me stay. He refused to even meet with us."
If Hawaii isn't even going to meet with you, Dave Brandon proooooobably wasn't in the wrong here. It sounds like you have more than "a few incompletes" to take care of.
Etc. The Big Ten goes in the wrong direction by going from 3 to zero teams on its preseason media ballot. Men's lacrosse picks up a top offensive coordinator - and tons of solid 2012 commits - including a football teammate of Erik Magnuson. Big Ten schools gettin' that paper, yo. Rest in peace, Jimmy Maddock.
Michigan announced the formation of men's and women's varsity lacrosse programs this morning, A few interesting tidbits from the press conference:
- Athletic Director David Brandon said his "team" has identified lacrosse as the fastest-growing sport in America, and in Michigan. HS programs in the state have gone from 50 to 180 in the past 10 years. "It's also a great television sport," which likely means some TV down the road.
- "On the men's side, we've applied for admission to the ECAC." [ed: for a rundown on Michigan's future conference opponents check out MaizeAndBlueWahoo's excellent diary.] The application has been received, and Brandon is confident the Wolverines' bid will be accepted, saying "we have high expectations that process will happen quickly, and we are very encouraged in terms of initial feedback we have received."
- On the women's side, they will apply for admission to the ALC. Florida, Hopkins, Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, and Vanderbilt are the current members of that league. The Athletic Department and Michigan's coach are going to work together to set up the non-conference portion of the schedule.
- David Brandon stated that a national search will begin immediately for a women's coach, but as far as men's goes "I have a primary candidate in mind for that position." That candidate is longtime club coach John Paul. As soon as Michigan has the position publicly listed for a week (in accordance with the law), JP will be introduced as men's coach. For women's coaching candidates, Brandon said he wanted somebody with a track record of building a program from the bottom up.
- JP stated that 25 members from this season's club lacrosse roster will return to the team for next year's inaugural varsity year, including 4-time MCLA All-American Trevor Yealy, who will be a 5th-year senior. Filling out the first varsity roster for Michigan are 10 incoming recruits and several potential transfers.
- Brandon gave some love to the "Project Lacrosse Founder's Club," which was formed over the past few months. They have worked hard to ensure the necessary fundraising could be completed. Over 70 people contributed monetarily, including several "major gifts."
- "We are in the process of putting facility plans together. And what we're trying to do at Michigan Athletics, as opposed to creating one-off plans, we've really spent a lot of time of late in a master planning mode." Lacrosse has been included in the AD's "master planning process." It's still a work in progress, and Schembechler's practice fields, the Big House, the UM Soccer Stadium, and other facilities will be used in the meantime. Building their own home is in the long-term plans, though Brandon said that's at least 3 years off.
- Lacrosse is gaining momentum as a sport, and Brandon is hopeful that Michigan's programs can be a revenue-generating opportunity down the road - though that has nothing to do with why they're adding the sport. "I've seen around the country, crowds that show up in double-digit thousands for their competitions." Operating costs for both programs combined will be $3 million. That will be a big investment, but donor support is expected to be a major help.
- Brandon is most excited that 84 more athletes at the University of Michigan will have varsity athletics opportunities, and 25 new scholarships will be available for student-athletes. "What a great opportunity. At a time when a lot of Athletic Departments are shrinking and contemplating cutting sports, for us to be here adding two major sports like the ones we're adding today is something we're blessed to be able to do."
- There are no plans to add any other sports in the near future. Taking on two more is a big deal, and the Athletic Department will take some time to "digest" that before making any other moves.
- Brandon expects the men's and women's teams to both be competitive right away. "The only thing I'll tell you is: We're Michigan. We're not gonna add these sports, and we're not gonna make the financial commitment and put the time and energy that we have and will put into these if we're not prepared to go out and compete for championships." He doesn't want arbitrary timelines, but they'll evaluate the programs going forward. Competitive reasons explain why men are going in 2012, while women will start playing games in 2013.
- "The idea of featuring the sport in conjunction with the spring [football] game - because the seasons overlap from a timing perspective - I know Ohio State has done that with great success." That's something Michigan will consider going forward. Having the largest stadium available to the program will be a great opportunity. If Michigan is fortunate enough to host a first-round NCAA Tournament game down the road, they'd submit a bid for Michigan Stadium to host.
- There are a lot of rivalries available to Michigan - Ohio State, Notre Dame, and others. Lacrosse started as an Eastern regional sport, but it's spreading to the West. Colleges as far as California are considering adding the sport. "We think this is going to take us some really interesting places, and they're not all in the East." Brandon believes that forward-thinking Big Ten ADs will look at lacrosse as a new varsity sport in the future.
I'll have some more specific stuff (i.e. "stuff that's completely uninteresting to people who don't already care about lacrosse") up on GreatLaxState this afternoon. And, to close it out, the final video blog in Michigan's MCLA history, courtesy of graduating senior Pat Stansik:
After months (even years) of speculation, the University of Michigan will announce that the Athletic Department will add Men's and Women's Lacrosse as varsity sports. Sources tell mgoblog that tomorrow's noon press conference is to make the official announcement regarding lacrosse.
They are the first newcomers since men's soccer was promoted in 2000. The men will begin competition in the Spring of 2012 (that's next year!), whereas the women will have a year or two to get going. Michigan's strong men's club program (a "virtual varsity") will help that team get off the ground a little more quickly. The timeframe for the men's program comes as something of a surprise, as it gives the coaching staff hardly any time to assemble a varsity roster - or rather, it would be a surprise, if not for an InsideLacrosse report a month or so ago.
According to University of Denver coach Bill Tierney, the Wolverines will join the ECAC, which would mean games against Denver, Loyola-Maryland, Fairfield, Ohio State, Air Force, Hobart, and Bellarmine, assuming no other changes to the composition of the conference (which is not guaranteed). I would hazard a guess that Michigan would also make an effort to schedule traditional rivals like Notre Dame and Penn State in the non-conference portion of their schedule, along with geographic fit Detroit. Other possibilities include past scrimmage opponents Johns Hopkins and Army, along with a few weaker opponents (Mercer/Wagner/VMI) to hopefully pad the win column at least a little bit.
The biggest immediate question is one of venue. The club team currently competes in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse on a smaller-than-regulation field in cramped quarters. With a move to varsity status, that will no longer be sufficient, so either an existing field will need to be made available for lacrosse or a new facility in necessary. The UM Soccer Stadium is little-used in the spring, but I've heard that it's more likely that a new stadium will be built for lacrosse, either at that location or on the Southwest corner of Elbel Field (per previous plans that apparently fell through). Of course Ohio State plays in their football team's stadium, so The Big House is not out of the question, especially as a temporary or occasional venue.
Much more on lacrosse in the coming days (though to not overwhelm mgobloggers who don't care, I'll post most of it over at Great Lax State).