NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview
So, one day Michigan will be in the field of 18 Division 1 teams in the NCAA tournament. But that day is not today. Sadly, five years into their D-1 tenure, they are nowhere near this stage. In fact, they seem to be going backwards: after winning five games last season, they only won three in 2016. In an Inside Lacrosse preview of Michigan’s tilt with archrival Ohio State earlier this year, analyst and broadcaster Quint Kessenich put it perfectly:
Michigan (3-7) lacrosse has found the Division I landscape to be tough terrain. Hail to the victors has no marquee wins. The Wolverines are (0-25) all-time against the Top 20 and (15-52) after five seasons. The sport would benefit greatly if Michigan was a Top 10 team.
I hate to agree with Quint Kessenich but he’s right. I think if Michigan was kicking ass at this point they would likely be attracting the attention of mgobloggers and casual fans alike.
Alas - one day they’ll be in it - but who knows when that will be. Until then, we can only try to enjoy a Michigan-less NCAA tournament. So, for all the mgoblog lacrosse nerds on here and all those who are curious about the sport, here’s a preview of this year’s tournament:
The Division 1 tournament is in its 46th year and there are a lot of new, or at least seldom-seen, faces in the field. Here’s the bracket. It all starts this Saturday and Sunday with the Round of 16 and all games are televised on the ESPN family of networks, including the Final 4 and National Championship Game which are played over Memorial Day weekend. The tournament’s winner’s circle is a freaking impregnable citadel of traditional powers that has proven notoriously difficult for outside programs to penetrate. The previous 45 national championships have been won by a total of ten teams. And it’s rare that teams outside of this group even make it to the Final 4. But, 2016 could be different: the game was defined by parity this year and hopefully someone new like Air Force or Albany can crash the party. I’m not crazy about the matchups, though, and it’s very possible we could end up with a Syracuse-Hopkins-Duke-ND Final 4 which would make me very sad.
The Maryland Terrapins come into the postseason as the #1 overall seed, riding an insane 13 game winning streak. They haven’t lost a game since March 5th and the closest they came to a loss was, ironically, an 8-7 win at Michigan in a snowy Big House last month. The Terps, who are Big Ten champs, frequently make the Final 4 and even the championship game but end up getting wiped out, essentially making them the Buffalo Bills of the college lacrosse world. They haven’t won it all since 1975, which is crazy when you stop and think about it. The Terps are coached by the brilliant John Tillman and as always they have a great goalie and defense. A championship would be a first for the Big Ten.
Notre Dame spent much of the season as the #1 team in the country and with good reason. They have a tremendous defense and have two offensive superstars: humongous Sergio Perkovic and pint-sized Matt Kavanagh. And they’re one of only two teams to beat Maryland this year. Despite tons of recent success, though, the Irish haven’t cracked that national championship winner’s circle yet. But this could be their year.
Defending national champs Denver are a huge threat to win it again. The Pioneers are coached by legend Bill Tierney who led Princeton to six national titles in the 1990s and early 2000s. Last year, Denver became the first team west of the Mississippi and outside of the sport’s traditional areas to take home a national championship. Denver took care of most of its schedule fairly easily this year, including a solid W over the #1 Irish in March. Unlike his Princeton teams, however, Tierney’s Denver squads are much more fun to watch thanks to a number of Canadians on offense and an unbelievable face-off man.
Brown and Yale suddenly found themselves heated rivals atop the Ivy League this year. They are both programs on the rise but with contrasting styles. Brown leads the country in scoring offense - posting more than 16 goals a game, while Yale is #6 in scoring defense. While Brown had a penchant for sprinting away from its opponents (including a 22-8 pasting of Michigan), Yale often had to claw its way back for victories. Last month, Brown edged Yale 14-12 in a highly-anticipated and exciting regular season game. Unfortunately, the two are in adjacent brackets and will likely play each other in the second round with a spot in the semis on the line. Whoever gets through could take the whole thing.
Traditional powers Syracuse, Hopkins and Duke still lurk in the background. They had relatively down seasons but are always dangerous in the tournament. Syracuse snuck up to win the ACC and finish #4 in the country but got stuck with a #8 seed. I would like to see these teams get bounced early, especially because they seem to have made it over more deserving squads and were blessed with favorable first round matchups. Thank God Virginia didn’t make it at least. And if you need a reason to root against Hopkins, Coach Dave Pietramala is close buddies with human creep Bill Belichick.
UNC has a good chance to make its long-awaited return this year. They crushed Michigan in the first game of the season and finished 8-6 with wins over Denver and Hopkins. While UNC is considered a blue-blood, I wouldn’t mind seeing them in the Final 4 for a change. They haven’t been in a while and they have a big fan base and nationwide appeal. Despite winning multiple championships in the 80s and 90s, the Heels haven’t been back to championship weekend since 1993.
Albany. When I did this preview last year, I said to root against the game’s blue bloods (i.e. Syracuse, Hopkins, etc.) and pull for fun “new” teams like Albany. Although the supremely talented Thompson Trio, two brothers and a cousin from the Iroquois Nation, graduated, the Great Danes don’t seem to have lost a step. They were downright red hot down the stretch this year, taking out top-10 teams like Yale and Stony Brook, before falling to Hartford in their conference tournament. But, for all their hard work the selection committee rewarded them with a first round matchup against big brother Syracuse, a team that beat them in the season opener. I always pull for Albany because they have Canadians, Native Americans and tons of New York State public school kids and they’re all ballers. The Great Danes are fun as hell to watch and I would LOVE to see them in the championship in Philly on Memorial Day. Same goes for any team that hasn’t won a title before - Air Force, Navy, Towson, Quinnipiac. Even Marquette.
Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a relatively new program and occupy the exact position that Michigan should be in. They beat a bunch of good teams this year and finished 11-4 and somehow got themselves a #6(!) seed and a first round matchup with UNC. I would kill for this to be Michigan instead.
Players to Watch:
M Sergio Perkovic & A Matt Kavanagh, Notre Dame. Perkovic and Kavanagh are ND’s version of thunder and lightning. Perkovic is a Detroit native and former football star at Brother Rice who can run over people and shoot. Long Islander Matt Kavanagh (from my hometown!) is a quick little dude who can run circles around defenders and is living proof you don’t have to be big to be a star in lacrosse. The duo combined for a total of 73 points this year.
G Blaze Riorden, Albany. Riorden is one of the top goalies in the country, stopping an average of 12.67 shots per game. He plays for offense for the Akwesasne Tribe’s indoor team and his skills were on display in this amazing Fat Guy Goalie goal in the NCAA tournament last year.
F/O Trevor Baptiste, Denver. Baptiste was on this list last year and he’ll be on it for the next two years. He’s a phenomenal face-off man, ranking #4 in the nation in percentage and #1 in the nation in GBs, sucking up more than 10 loose balls per game. He is an incredible advantage for the Pioneers.
A Dylan Molloy, A Kylo Bellistri, LSM, Larken Kemp, Brown. Molloy and Bellistri pace Brown’s scoring machine and this year they put in 56 and 55 goals respectively, making them #3 and #4 in the nation. Molloy also added 50 dimes, making him the country’s assist leader. Larken Kemp is among the nation’s leaders in ground balls and forced turnovers (my kind of player!) and he is key to Brown’s lightning-fast transition game.
Others: A Ryan Brown Hopkins, A Shack Stanwick, Hopkins, F/O Ben Williams, Syracuse, D Chris Keating, Yale, M Myles Jones, Duke, D Matt Rees, Navy, A Connor Cannizzaro Denver, G Kyle Bernlohr, Maryland, D Matt Landis Notre Dame, A Ben Reeves, Yale.
Should be an interesting tournament. Enjoy! One day I’ll previewing Michigan - Go Blue!
I’ve been wanting to write up a diary on the ridiculously early start dates for spring sports and how they affect the lacrosse, baseball and softball programs.
Personally, I’m excited the season is here so soon and that lacrosse already has a significant win under its belt. But, it sucks when May rolls around and their season is already over. And for a sport that is always seeking new audiences, it doesn’t make sense that they pit themselves against the still-ongoing winter sports season.
I believe the February start dates are hampering these sports’ popularity. The structure of the semester as well as the sports’ postseasons are creating a situation in which the first games creep earlier and earlier and significant portions of their schedules are played in the depths of winter. It’s miserable for the athletes to play these games and even more miserable for the fans to watch them. As a result, spectators don’t show up and this makes it difficult for these programs to get the attention and support they deserve.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and softball and lacrosse have already played multiple games. Baseball starts on Friday. But the winter sports season isn’t close to being over yet. March Madness doesn’t start for another month and the Frozen 4 won’t be played for another seven weeks. Let’s take a look at these team’s schedules to see just how ridiculous they are. **I left the golf, tennis and track & field programs out of this analysis primarily because I don’t understand their seasons. Plus, I am more familiar with lacrosse, baseball and softball which I consider to be more spectator-oriented**
Lacrosse is already 1-1, opening their season last weekend, February 6th at UNC. It was clear and cold. Despite the early February weather, 2,000 fans came out to see the game, which isn’t bad (and yesterday they had the fortune of playing in the friendly climate-controlled confines of Oosterbaan Fieldhouse). UNC is a program that usually brings in good crowds, especially in late-spring warm-weather matchups versus its hated rivals Duke and UVA. But, look at what the Michigan game was up against: that night the top 10 Tar Heels hoops team was hosting ACC foe Notre Dame. The lacrosse game wasn’t streamed either - the athletic department’s streaming service showed a gymnastics meet instead. Even if it was streamed the game was on at the same time as Michigan’s only regular season basketball game vs in-state rival Michigan State, so the small community of Michigan lacrosse fans on this board likely would’ve focused on that instead. Oh and the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl that weekend. If you were a casual observer of UNC sports who had an interest in lacrosse, you likely had much bigger things on your plate that weekend.
This year, Michigan plays five games in the month of February, and a total of seven games before the ides of March. That’s half their schedule. This was unheard of in Division 1 even just a few years ago. They also only play one game on their spring break trip and they play zero regular season games in the month of May, when it’s actually nice.
Why does the season start so early you ask? Well, the college lacrosse season is built around Memorial Day which has been the traditional date for the national championship game. The schedule is created backwards from that. But, in the last several years the NCAA tournament field expanded to 16 teams and then again to 18 with play-in games. Also, the ever-shifting conference landscape has created bigger and bigger conferences and now most of them hold end-of-the-year conference tournaments to determine their champions and AQ bids. As a result there are virtually no dates in late April/early May to host home games. Teams compensate for this by scheduling games earlier and earlier which is how we end up with pre-Super Bowl lacrosse. If we’re playing lacrosse games before the NFL is even finished, then there’s something wrong.
Here are some examples of how this is hurting the game. On Saturday, #11 Loyola beat #7 UVA in Charlottesville in 25 degree weather. Only 1,200 fans were in the stands - in milder weather later in the season, that game brings in another thousand fans at least. Even worse, last week Hopkins and Navy played another chapter in their historic rivalry - on a nasty cold Tuesday night. Inside Lacrosse reported that in several recent meetings of the two teams attracted more than 10,000 fans. Hopkins-Navy is basically the equivalent of the Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry, but on an awful, cold Tuesday night in February 2016, only 665 fans came out to see it. They might as well have played it on Christmas morning in a dark basement with the lights out.
Here is a great discussion on how even the coaches and players hate it. http://www.insidelacrosse.com/article/video-coaches-on-february-lacrosse/33897
Winter and early spring in North America, especially in places like Big Ten country, is not a particularly nice time to do things outside. Nor is it a nice time to do summer-time activities like play baseball. This of course is a major obstacle for the northern teams, most of whom spend the first month of the season on the road in warm places like Florida, Texas and California.
College baseball is ruled by southern schools and those in places like California and Arizona. They can play outdoors year round and can recruit talent that often times is in its own backyard. A look at the past winners of the College World Series show that a northern team has not won the title since Ohio State in 1966 (Fresno St, Oregon St, Wichita St, Vandy and UVA are all non-super warm climate teams who have won, but in that time period there are no winners from east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon).
The warm weather schools also don’t suffer road fatigue the way the northern schools do. Look at Michigan’s first month of games - they play five straight weeks of road games. That’s 19 consecutive away games including a pair of Saturday doubleheaders. Before they play their first home game on March 25th, they will have logged thousands of miles going to Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma and five different cities in California. Contrast that with the schedules of teams like Texas, LSU and UCLA who host games in February and hardly have to go anywhere when they do go on the road.
Michigan baseball has a nice long homestand in April, but they play 36 games of their 50 regular season games on the road. If they make the tournament and CWS they could be playing as late as June 29th.
Like baseball, softball spends the first several weeks of their season in far-off warmer corners of the planet because it’s simply too cold to play in the midwest in February.
This year, Michigan kicked off the season in Tampa. Then they go to Tallahassee. Then it’s on to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Fullerton and then Louisville. They finally play their first homestand on March 16. Out of 50 regular season games on the schedule, 34 of them are somewhere other than Ann Arbor. Their last home game is May 8 before finishing up the regular season on the road and then heading to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Softball is dominated by Western teams. Before Michigan won its first national championship in 2005, no team east of the Mississippi had ever won the Women’s College World Series. A look at the past winners of the WCWS shows that Michigan is the only northern team that consistently competes for the national title. Having one of the best coaches in all of sports may be the thing that helps Michigan get over its climate handicap.
If Michigan goes deep this year, as expected, they could be playing as late as June 8th.
From a markets perspective, the spring sports season is saturated. The month of March is dominated by the NCAA basketball tournament, to the point that most people stop paying attention to the NBA and NHL (I definitely do). After that we have Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Later in April, the NHL and NBA begin their marathon playoff slags that go to June. Also in the spring we have other American sports traditions like the Masters, the Triple Crown, the Indy 500 and the NFL Draft. Niche and non-revenue sports are going to have a hard time trying to compete in this media landscape.
But there is a simple solution - move the seasons back, even just a few weeks. If these sports play most of their meaningful games when people will see them, their popularity is likely to grow. While the field is crowded in spring, there is a significant drop-off in late May. By the end of May the NBA and NHL have whittled down to only a few teams and their games are often few and far between. They’re done in mid June at the latest and unless it’s an Olympic or World Cup year, there is only pro baseball for the next three months until football starts up again.
Sports-wise there is little to do on college campuses once the basketball and hockey programs finish up their regular season. But, by the time it’s actually nice enough to sit outside and take in a game, the baseball, softball and lacrosse teams are wrapping up their seasons. Summer in AA is great, but I would’ve loved to have played some home lacrosse games in early May and been able to go see some baseball and softball games in June.
For lacrosse, the answer is simple - just move the championships back a week. Memorial Day can still be a huge weekend for the sport - they can even play the first two rounds of the tournament on the Saturday and Monday - the way they do with the Final 4 now. This would essentially shorten the tournament and open up more days in early May for on-campus games. More importantly, it would eliminate the need for early February games. They could also create a hard start date of March 1st (more realistically February 21st) and require all teams to play 3 or 4 games on their spring break.
Baseball/softball should also push back a few weeks. I would love to see them start the season in March and play both the CWS and WCWS on the July 4th weekend or even later. The northern teams should lobby hard for a calendar change like this so they don’t have to spend the first six weeks of their seasons on the road.
Alternatively, they could move to a summer season. There has been talk on mgoblog that the Big Ten should consider scrapping baseball/softball as spring sports and create a summer season. Of course the downside of this would be that B1G teams wouldn’t be able to compete in the NCAA tourney/CWS. And it would make it difficult for these student-athletes to rest and get important summer jobs and internships. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by this idea. I think it would add an interesting feature to college towns in the summer and would make the sports more popular.
And while these sports are non-revenue, I wonder if they would make more money if they were played in the summer. And that’s really the only language the NCAA understands.
Of course, these sports will always have to compete with other college and pro sports for the hearts, minds and eyes of fans. But, I think the current set-up makes it difficult for these programs to succeed. The NCAA should make it easier for athletes and fans to enjoy the spring sports season.
I think there is a fair amount of interest among MgoReaders about lacrosse as a sport, but most of whom are not too familiar with it. The NCAA tournament starts today and it’s every lacrosse fan’s favorite time of year. Michigan’s program is in full effect now, but alas has yet to make the tournament. But I figured it would be good to write up a primer on the sport’s biggest event for those who are intrigued but unfamiliar.
The NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament consists of 18 teams, 10 conference auto-bids and 8 at-large teams. Here’s the field. There are only 8 auto-bids, making it difficult for independents, which is exactly why Hopkins joined the Big Ten as a lacrosse-only member (Hopkins sucked this year and managed to win the inaugural B1G tourney and made it in - they likely would not have made it as an independent). The lowest ranked 4 AQ bids face off in play-in games to determine the remaining two spots in the field of 16. Towson and Marist won the play-ins earlier this week.
Michigan played five teams who made it into the tourney this year: #1 overall seed Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Ohio State and Brown. They lost all of them, but its a good sign that Michigan is taking on a tough schedule.
It all leads up to the Final 4 or “Championship Weekend” over Memorial Day. The Saturday of semi finals has provided some amazing games in the past. The championship game is played on Memorial Day. All the games will be played on the ESPN family of networks.
Who to Root For:
College lacrosse is plagued by the dominance of a cartel of the same ol’ teams. So, you should pull for Underdogs and New Guys: This includes Denver, a fun Western team with tons of talent and plenty of Canadian dudes. A good rule of thumb for watching lacrosse is “Canadian Players = Fun Games”. Canucks have a different style based on flashy stickwork, fakes and pinpoint passing and shooting which is noticeable in the outdoor game and makes for entertaining play. Now a perennial Top-5 team and title contender, Denver is led by legendary coach Bill Tierney and they employ his trademark defensive and goaltending strategies. Plus, I always want the Pioneers to do well to help push expansion of the sport westwards.
Albany is another plucky young challenger. Last year, the Thompson Trio, two brothers and a cousin from the Iroquois Nation led the game’s most potent offensive family unit since probably the Gait brothers, or at least the Powells. They were putting the wood to ND last year in the quarterfinals before an epic collapse sent ND to the Final 4 again. The brothers graduated but Lyle has returned to lead the nation in points. Native Americans play a style similar to the Canadians due to the skills they developed playing box lacrosse, which lends itself to high octane offense in the outdoor game. As a result, the Great Danes lead the nation in total offense and hammered Stony Brook in their conference final, 22-9. They will make for a ridiculously entertaining Final 4 team.
Who to Root Against:
Ye Olde Guarde. Basically you should root against any snobby, east coast, team who has won a million championships before: the Virginias, the Hopkinses, the Dukes. And to a lesser extent Maryland- the Terps haven’t won in forever but they always seem to make the Final 4, and then play like shit. Syracuse is the only traditional power I can really stomach but I’m not going to shed a tear if they get knocked out by someone new. UNC gets a pass (for now) because they haven’t been to the Final 4 since 1993.
Michigan’s natural rivals: ND & Ohio State. Michigan lacrosse fans like me are faced with a double-edged sword when watching the Irish or Buckeyes in the tourney. I want midwestern teams to succeed and an ND or Ohio title would be great for the growth of the sport, but rooting for them goes against my natural hatred of anything blue and gold and scarlet and silver.
Players to Watch:
Lyle Thompson, Attack, Albany - Wish luck to anyone trying to stop Lyle. He’s slick and slippery and displays impeccable stick skills. He has amazing vision and is a clever and ingenious offensive mind. He is the focal point of the offense and makes everyone around him better - the mark of a truly great player. His older brother Jeremy was a star at Syracuse and his brother Miles and cousin Ty were his teammates last year so this is the last chance for the Thompson dynasty to win a championship. Lyle leads the nation in points, averaging more than 6 a game. If you manage to keep him from scoring, he will just distribute and get his teammates going. He is basically the Magic Johnson of lacrosse. Plus, he’s got sweet hair- check out the photo on his bio.
Myles Jones, Midfielder, Duke
6-5, 240 and built like a linebacker, Myles Jones is considered the prototype of the future lacrosse athlete. A big and powerful dodger with a scathing shot, he’s matchup problem for most teams. Jones is a finalist for the Tewaaraton, lacrosse’s Heisman, but he’s a only a junior and will be back terrorizing ACC defenses next year. He is a smart player and has gotten considerably better in his time at Duke and is emerging into a savvy offensive player. And it’s nice to see a black kid out there kicking ass (even if it is for Duke).
Matt Kavanaugh, Attack, Notre Dame
Kavanaugh shows the world that you don’t have to have Myles Jones’ size to be a force on the lacrosse field. Tiny, 5’8, 170, but quick as a cat, Kavanaugh led the Irish charge through the postseason last year and is now one of the best players in the country. He is an electrifying player to watch and is the motor for ND’s offense. In February, Kavanaugh lit up Michigan for 6 points (3 G,3 A) in front of a big crowd at Oosterbaan.
Wes Berg, Attack & Trevor Baptiste, Faceoff Mid, Denver
Berg has been an incredibly productive offensive player for Bill Tierney for years now. He is your classic Canadian attackman - you’re not going to take the ball away from him and he’s going to torment you with precision passing and shooting. Like a lot of Canadian dudes, he likes to keep the stick in his strong hand, his right, so defenses will try to force him left, but it won’t work (Watch this goal at 1:48). Plus, the dude can shoot - he’s among the nation’s leaders in goals and shot percentage, which is rare.
If you have an offensive superpower like Berg, it helps to have an unstoppable face-off man to get him the ball. Baptiste is a Tewaaraton finalist and has won more than 70% of the draws he’s taken, which is rare for a freshman. The Berg-Baptiste tandem will fuel Denver’s O and wear down opposing defenses and midfields.
Kyle Bernlohr, Goalie, Maryland
Continuing in a long tradition of great Maryland goalies, Kyle Bernlohr has led Maryland to the #1 scoring defense in the nation. With Bernlohr in the cage, the Terps are yielding less than seven goals a game which is superb. He is among the top 5 goalies in save percentage and leads Maryland’s stingy defense and is a finalist for the Tewaaraton. Bernlohr only made 6 saves against Michigan, but didn’t need to do much as the Terps shut down an Ian King-less Michigan squad. Maryland typically plays a hard-nosed tough style of defense which should produce some entertaining physical play and some big hits.
Others: Nicky Galasso, Attack, Syracuse. Great player with a great name - I always think it’s “golazo”.
Ben Williams, faceoff middie and ground ball hog for Syracuse.
Jimmy Bitter, Attack, UNC, not as great a name, but still a pretty entertaining player.
Larken Kemp, Brown Long Stick Midfielder, a nationwide leader in caused turnovers. Great LSMs are disruptive in the defensive and midfield portions of the field and initiate the fast breaks.
If you’re not a big fan but are interested in learning more I hope this did the trick and gave you something to watch for. And don’t worry it won’t be long before Michigan will be in it, tearing up the NCAA bracket. Go Blue!
Last one in my 3 part series...So now that we’ve analyzed new Division 1 lacrosse programs and former Division 1 lacrosse programs, let’s throw the doors open to wild speculation about the next school to follow Michigan's lead and add a Division 1 lacrosse program. As mentioned in previous posts, there are myriad factors preventing universities from officially adding the sport, the two most important being money and Title IX. It costs a lot to field a men’s lacrosse team and these universities have to spend the same amount on women’s athletic programs as they do on men’s - a tough bar to squeeze under when most schools have a big fat hairy football program taking up space.
I believe the ideal candidates for lacrosse expansion are schools fitting one of two profiles: the small school (Marquette) and the big school (Michigan).
- FCS level football, or better yet no football
- Private school located in the northeast, southeast or midwest
- Money to spend/wealthy alums
- Reasonably strong academics
- Respectable athletic pedigree
- Proximity to recruiting hotbeds and/or other varsity programs
- A warm/mild spring climate (the least important but my favorite)
-Profitable BCS football school with $ coming out of its ears
-In a state where the sport is growing. Powerful club program preferred
-Ready-made athletic facilities to easily accommodate a new team
-Its own university or conference television network a major plus
-Already having a women’s program may also help.
So, a school like, say, the University of Richmond would be the perfect candidate to add lacrosse. Well, hey look at that - they played their first season this year, nearly beat UVA and even made the NCAA tournament! But, schools like American and GW fit this profile perfectly- good schools smack dab in the middle of lacrosse country that already have tons of east coast kids. Plus, they don’t even have football. Additionally, dozens of teams are within a few hours drive.
Let’s look at a few others (there's no indication that any of these teams are considering it, but its just an analysis of certain factors):
For some reason I keep thinking Davidson is the perfect school for a new lacrosse program. Dubbed the “Princeton of the South”, the school’s academics are excellent, so coaches could make an impressive pitch to northern recruits. Its a basketball school with a solid athletic reputation and only 63 FCS football scholarships. Located north of Charlotte, Davidson is just a few hours drive to Duke, UNC, UVA, Richmond, VMI, Mercer and Furman so the Wildcats wouldn’t have to travel far to find opponents . Plus, northern squads wouldn’t mind scheduling an opponent in a warmer climate in the spring time. There are probably a bunch of other Davidson/Furman/Mercer-type schools down South that I am not aware of that may also fit this profile.
Seton Hall Prep has a solid lacrosse program, so its a wonder why the mother school never fielded a team. It’s a hoops and baseball school, but the Pirates don’t have football so adding lacrosse could be a good way of upping its athletic profile. They could recruit in their own backyard as well. Monmouth added a team this year and I think the Hall would be able to field a stronger team and eventually compete with the likes of Rutgers. Plus the added incentive of Big East membership. Not sure how much athletic money the Hall has, though.
Xavier always strikes me as a possible candidate. Its a decent, football-less school in a growing area. Its a hoops school and has respectable athletics. Plus, like Seton Hall, the school’s prep academy has an excellent program. I would love to see the Musketeers add to the western expansion of the sport. Plus, they could join Marquette, St Johns, Providence, and G’town in the Big East. Regional opponents include Ohio, Bellarmine, ND, Michigan, Detroit.
James Madison, George Mason, VCU, Old Dominion, William & Mary
Virginia public schools with FCS football could make a good pitch to recruits - play a sport while getting a solid education for an incredibly cheap price (W&M ranks right behind U of M in national public college rankings). Opponents for these schools lie to the north,south, east and west so they won’t struggle to fill out a schedule. Fielding a team could also be a way to get applications and even some out-of-state tuition.
Columbia’s athletic program is regarded as the Ivy League’s worst. The Lions are never good at anything so its unlikely they would add a new sport, just to suck at it. But, it does have a few things going for it: money, prestige and location. Plus, its the only Ivy without lacrosse. Urban campus could make facilities/space difficult however.
So there’s been lots of talk on the board about the Longhorns, fueled primarily by the fact UT put a ton of money into the lacrosse program’s facilities just a few years ago. Texas’s athletic program, aided by the Longhorn Network, has a higher GDP than a handful of small Asian countries. Plus, their new AD seems interested in trying new (even sometimes stupid) things. Word on the street is that if they’re gonna do it, theyre gonna do it Texas-style: big. The only drawback is geography. None of their regional rivals play lacrosse and Austin is far from the sport’s isolated pockets in the east and midwest. But, damn, Texas would be a huge domino to fall in the game’s manifest destiny.
Florida State/Georgia Tech
So, as a high school recruit over a decade ago I constantly heard coaches say Florida State and Georgia Tech were always on the verge of “going D-1”. Well that was 14 years ago now and the same rumors still persist. I dont know where they come from, but they were never true. And its always the same two - FSU and G-Tech. Maybe one day they will. They have the resources - they’re big ACC state schools with plenty of BCS football money.
While far from the sport’s traditional home, the state of Colorado has lacrosse fever these days. The sport is incredibly popular there and high schools are pumping out D-1 caliber talent. While a lot of the rumors these days are about the ACC and Texas, I think the next team will come from the Centennial State. The incredibly athletic Rams used to torment Michigan back in the club days. The Buffs were always tough and are still a top club team. Their cross-state rivalry is intense and always brings out tons of fans (holy shit they played at Mile High Stadium this year!). I would love for these guys to make the jump and the state will have its own lacrosse Beanpot: Denver, Air Force, Colorado and Colorado State. Keep in mind, CU is in the PAC-12 now so that could spur some of their conference foes to at least think about it...
Pac 12 Schools:
So, speaking of the Pac-12. A lot of the talk on the board was that a coalition of west coast schools may decide to go through with it. Supposedly, PAC-12 schools have been contemplating a lacrosse league. I think the biggest problem here is that the UC system has been in such horrible financial disarray the past several years. New sports are not on the agenda when tuition is skyrocketing. That precludes Cal and UCLA for now. A fledgling league of Arizona, Arizona St., Stanford, USC and Colorado would be great for the sport though.
NW could be the next B1G team into the mix. A prestigious school with nationwide pull, NW shouldn’t have trouble recruiting and building a program. The Wildcats are sort of the effete nerds of the B1G managing to make a surprise Rose Bowl every decade or so but also never ever making the NCAA tournament, so their athletic program isn’t amazing. It would be interesting to see if they could pull off what Princeton did in the 90s and corner the market on a niche sport. NW added a women’s team a few years ago and they have transformed into a powerhouse. I wonder if the men could follow suit. The only problem is that if they had the money and intent to go D-1, I think they probably would have done it by now.
So that concludes my three part series on the growth of the sport (which, as you can tell, I’m obsessed with). But, I think its also an interesting lens with which to examine athletic department budgets and money in collegiate sports as a whole.
Enjoy the Final 4 this weekend. Go Terps! Go Pioneers!
Lacrosse: An Analysis of Growth (and Contraction) - Former Div. 1 Programs
For the lacrosse nerds on the board…Many in the lacrosse world believe Michigan’s decision to field a varsity team will be monumental for the future growth of the game. With Michigan in its 3rd season of varsity play and other new programs coming on strong, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the sport’s former geographic footprint.
Lacrosse fans like to speculate on the next big athletic program to add the sport. Interestingly enough, lacrosse has been an NCAA-sanctioned varsity sport at a number of big-time athletic schools that no longer field a varsity team. I have a theory that schools that formerly fielded varsity teams may be in the best position to bring it back. In some cases, the sport died when the coaches who brought it there retired. In others, football-focused ADs were reluctant to continue the sport in the 70s and 80s, largely due to budgetary constraints. Title IX also leveled serious blows to programs. So lets look at a few of those schools and examine the pros and cons of re-instituting their programs. (***Keep in mind, money and Title IX compliance are the primary factors holding back lacrosse. Last year, Inside Lacrosse sent a survey to dozens of athletic departments about possibly adding the sport at the men’s level. Only a handful responded and none of them said they were considering it.***)
FBS Schools with a history of lacrosse
The obvious choice for the next big shoe to drop in D-1 expansion is Michigan State. State had a varsity program for a long time with decent success, making the tournament a few times as the designated ‘western team’ only to be stomped by the likes of Syracuse. In ‘95, officials from the athletic department informed the team to pack uptheir shit and get out - they were all cut. They couldn’t even keep their jerseys. The decision was a shame; Sparty was good and today would probably be on par with ND, Ohio and PSU.
Bring it Back:
- Past success and decent success at the club level.
- Growing talent base in its own backyard.
- Rivals ND, Ohio, and Big Brother will be powers soon so why not Sparty?
Why It Won’t happen:
- They dropped it for a reason - $ and Title IX.
- Michigan’s rough transition so far.
VT had a program back in the day with a serious schedule and a certain degree of success. VT was granted “associate status” by the NCAA in the early 1970s which was meant to foster the growth of the sport. While fellow associates Duke and UNC moved forward, VT abruptly dropped lacrosse in the 1970s and it has successfully continued as a club squad. VT is a big public university with lots of resources. Plus, there is probably a ton of talent on campus already, which could make for a smooth transition if they ever decide to make the move.
Bring it Back:
- The state is an incredibly fertile recruiting ground.
- Can offer in-state tuition to non-scholarship kids from Northern Va.
- ACC lacrosse would love to have them, giving the conference an AQ (like it matters).
- $ & Title IX.
- UVA’s problems with lacrosse image could make the Hokies reluctant. - Its in the middle of butt-f***ing nowhere, making traveling a pain.
- After Syracuse joined the ACC in 2011, VTs AD Jim Weaver said the school had no plans to add the sport. “We have a club program, that’s fine”.
The Wolfpack only had a squad for 10 years but in that short timeframe they went to the then-8-team NCAA tournament, had a few top-15 finishes and boasted one of the most prolific scorers of all time (Stan Cockerton who is still up there in NCAA record books). Not only did they have Cockerton, but Tim Nelson transferred to ‘Cuse and became one of their all time greats after NC State dropped the program. The university hit some budget troubles in the early 80s and shuttered the team, citing travel costs, expenses and lack of interest. Here’s a great history of the program.
Bring it Back:
- Not only were they good back in the day, they were legit.
- They’re the missing piece in the Duke-UNC-NC State Triangle of Hatred.
- Another addition to the ACC.
- Relatively warm weather climate. Night spring games vs Duke, UNC, UVA.
-With more teams down South now, travel should be cheaper than it was in the 80s.
- $. While travel is cheaper it still costs a lot to transport 40+ dudes around the east coast and midwest.
- Is there sufficient interest today?
- Rivals Duke & UVA’s lacrosse scandals.
I understand why BC dropped its program in 2002 but for the life of me, could never figure out why they weren’t good. New England is full of solid public school programs and powerful prep academies and BC attracts tons of kids from New Jersey and Long Island so finding talent shouldn’t have been a problem. UMass is good and Harvard is no slouch - so why couldn’t BC get its shit together? For whatever reason, they couldn’t recruit and they sucked. BC lacrosse was a casualty of Title IX and an easy decision for the athletic department.
Bring it Back:
- Academic reputation should attract recruits.
-Private school with lots of $ and rich alums.
- Archrival BU has a team now. ACC membership.
- With dozens of teams within a 6 hour bus ride, travel costs should be minimal.
-Only cut it 12 years ago for Title IX. Is there enough money and interest to bring it back now?
-Frigid. February & March lacrosse in Boston sounds miserable.
LIke NC State, BGSU had a team for only a few years but it was badass. In the 60s and 70s, Bowling Green won over 75% of its games (including an undefeated season), produced several All-Americans and had a bunch of top-20 finishes. Mickey Cochrane, the program’s legendary coach ranks among the winningest coaches in NCAA history in any division. The program was unceremoniously dropped in the 70s and I haven’t been able to find out why.
Bring it Back:
- Lacrosse is growing in Ohio and the Buckeye State is producing good talent.
- Can possibly check Ohio State’s lacrosse hegemony in the state.
- The usual: $ & Title IX. BG is your quintessential mid-major so most of its limited athletic resources will go to football and women’s sports.
- While interest is growing, is there enough to field a team?
Arizona. Yes, Arizona had a varsity Division 1 lacrosse team in the 1960s and 70s, largely due to a strong Long Island influence. The LaxCats (yuck), still with a distinctive LI flavor, were one of Michigan’s big club rivals.
Georgia Tech. The Ramblin’ Wreck’s varsity program was sidelined by...the Great Depression.
Butler. The Bulldogs were a pleasant surprise when they added lacrosse in the 90s, a time when more schools were dropping the sport than adding it. But, it was an unpleasant surprise when they dropped it in 2007.
Morgan State. Morgan State, the historically black college in Baltimore has an awesome lacrosse history. College lacrosse needs a Morgan State pretty bad. Plus, its literally down the block from Hopkins and Loyola. But, the hurdles to NCAA status are the same that shut it down in the first place - department support and resources.
Personally, I think the NCAA should reform its competition structure to help expand regional, non-revenue sports, like lacrosse, volleyball, wrestling, etc. I would love to see them revive “associate” status and offer it to club teams like Michigan State, Virginia Tech and Colorado. But, as far as we can tell, none of the above teams are planning to add lacrosse and the NCAA will not be changing anything soon. In my lifetime I hope to witness the spread of the game so one day Michigan will be in the Final 4 with Oklahoma State, Gonzaga and Miami, but for now I’ll just have to dream...
In the future, lacrosse nerds and scholars will measure the history of the game in B.M., Before Michigan and A.M. After Michigan eras. So, in Year 3 A.M., I thought it would be interesting to check on the young programs out there. I often find myself pulling for these teams to have successful seasons. I think that if they succeed it should bode well for the further expansion of the men's game in Division 1. While lacrosse is growing like wildfire in Divisions II & III and on the women’s level, there has been a mini-wave of new Division 1 teams. Here’s a look at a few of the new(ish) programs, many of which have Michigan on their schedule.
UDM’s program is still newish - only 6 years old. It had the perfect recipe for adding lacrosse - a small school from outside traditional lacrosse areas that wanted to up its athletic department profile. And best of all - no football. After a winless first season, UDM put up a 3 win season, two 6-win seasons and a 5 win season, advancing to their conference championship game the last three years (it helps to play in an outrageously weak conference). Last year the Titans found themselves matched up in the first round of the NCAAs against Notre Dame and lost 9-7(!) after actually blowing a sizable lead.
Poor Furman. They’re having a rough go of it in their first year. Winless in all games so far and they’ve really only been competitive against Michigan. After a game vs Duke on the 18th, their schedule eases up and they may be able to get their first ever victory. Down the road, however, Furman should be set up for success. They’re helmed by longtime Navy coaching legend Richie Meade, which shows commitment to the sport on the part of the athletic department. They’re also the only D-1 team in South Carolina and one of few in the Deep South so that should count for something.
The Macon, GA school has been taking its lumps so far but is getting better. In 2012, Mercer had a chance to notch the program’s first historical win vs Michigan but our boys came away with their first D-1 win instead. Combine a warm spring climate with being the only game in town in a region where the sport is growing and that should put some butts in the seats and attract recruits. The Bears managed 4 wins last year and they opened 2014 with a 17-6 win over newbie BU. They also lost a close one to Detroit before dispatching Richmond. For some reason, I find myself really pulling for Mercer to do well to keep its program alive. There are no heavyweights on the schedule so maybe they can make some strides this year.
The Spiders almost pulled off the upset of the century in the program’s inaugural game against Virginia. UVA had to sweat out a tight 2nd half against Richmond to avoid their own lacrosse version of The Horror. If there is such a thing as a good loss, this is probably the greatest loss of all time. Richmond could end up being very good in the future. It has what I consider to be the recipe for success - strong academics, lots of east coast appeal, relatively warm spring weather and an athletic department that doesn’t have an insane focus on football. It’s also in lacrosse country. Sadly, after taking UVA the distance, its possible they don’t win a game all year.
Oh boy to have Monmouth’s schedule. If JP could go back in time to play Monmouth’s first season schedule, he would kick Doc Brown right in the balls and hijack the Delorean. The Hawks’ inaugural season schedule features only two teams (Marist and Lehigh) who had winning records in 2013. The rest of the schedule is made up of your typical new teams and perpetual cellar dwellers. But they’re 0-5 thus far on the breezy schedule so we’ll see how it turns out. Monmouth is in lacrosse-heavy NJ which should help with recruiting.
So when my father, who seemingly knows every college in the U.S. heard Bellarmine was adding lacrosse he asked “where the hell is Bellarmine?”. He never heard of it - but has anyone? Well, Bellarmine is a small (football-less) Catholic liberal arts school in Louisville, KY founded in 1950 which added lacrosse in 2005. I was sure Teams 1 & 2 would tally victories against them, but Bellarmine is actually proving pretty legit. They went 7-7 last year with impressive, close losses to Ohio State (7-9), Loyola (6-8), and (Denver 10-11 in Double OT!). Bellarmine is already dangerous and this could be the year they finally pull an upset for that program-defining win. They could be 5-1 by the time they play Ohio State which could be that win ( hopefully Michigan will take them down this Saturday and they’ll be 4-2 instead).
Marquette’s 5-win inaugural season vs a fairly serious schedule will be the gold standard for new programs going forward. The Golden Eagles’ seamless leap to the NCAA ranks is especially surprising because Michigan used to mop the floor with them at the club level. In their first season they even upset Bellarmine and Air Force. So far in 2014, they’ve lost to Lehigh and Ohio State but shocked Hofstra. Its interesting to see where they’ll go this year.
HP surprised Michigan last year in its first season, taking what Michigan thought was going to be a sure victory. The Panthers also stunned Towson in its second game ever. HP had the optimal conditions for adding lacrosse - a small east coast private school looking for increased exposure and applications and to beef up its athletic prowess, in a warm weather climate and no football. Hopefully it’ll catch on down there and they’ll make some waves. They’re 5-2 so far and beat our Michigan boys again this year.
The only Division 1 program in the state of Florida, Jacksonville, a smallish, private institution added lacrosse in 2010. The Dolphins haven’t been bad. They won 6 games in their inaugural campaign, including a W over a Denver squad who would end up in the tournament that year. Jax followed with a 5-win season in 2011, a 6 win season in 2012 (including one over Michigan) and an 8 win season in 2013. They’re 0-4 so far this year though, but the schedule is going to ease up to what they’re used to.
Like Furman, BU is winless in its first year so far. Unfortunately, unlike Furman, the schedule gets tougher down the stretch with games against Harvard, Loyola and Duke in 3 of their last 4. They had their chance earlier in the season against perennial scrubs like Mercer, Vermont and Canisius but came away with a few close losses. BU is a hockey school with no football so the choice to go D-1 was probably easier than it was for most schools.
Well, you know all about them. M had a much slower start than anticipated (I fully expected them to storm into Division 1 and rack up 6 or so wins in their first season). Sadly, my prognostications have been more on the mark for other teams. Nevertheless, they are starting to turn it on now with 3 wins in 2014, tripling their 2013 total. After getting run off the field by Penn State in the opener, Michigan responded with a blowout win over Mercer and a tight victory over Detroit before a sloppy but admirable effort against Hopkins. M almost landed their signature win against Cornell in OT, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. They then followed it up with a clunker vs High Point and a close win over Furman. So, in conclusion this team is still a total mystery. The good news is the conference looks pretty weak and AF, Fairfield, Bellarmine and Ohio could all be winnable games. Go Get ‘Em Blue!
Of course, I wish the new D-1 programs out there were Stanford, Texas, Florida and UCLA but that’s another story. I also have a diary about former big-time DI lacrosse programs which I’ll put up soon, but I figured the lacrosse nerds would enjoy this in the mean time.