Nice post, do you know what UM's schedule will look like next season?
Welcome to Division I Lacrosse, Michigan Fans!
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.
No more than someone like Tim would. All I really know is the ECAC and that I'll be flabbergasted if they don't play UDM.
I've said this in other threads, but on top of the ECAC schedule - as it seems all but certain they'll play in the ECAC - I expect games against your Fightin' Irish, Penn State, Detroit and Hopkins (though there's also rumors of a Navy home-and-home). On top of that, their other 3-4 conference games will probably be filled by the Mercer-Wagner variety of bodybag game, in order to get a few wins to take into the future.
thanks, I was hoping lacrosse would go the way of football, hockey and not BB
This was very helpful for someone like me who occasionally watches some lacrosse but really has no idea how things work.
Doesn't the NCAA try to restrict the number of teams that make the tournament to about 25% of the overall number of teams in that sport? I couldn't find documentation for that online, but I remember some talk about that with respect to the size of the hockey tournament. If so, that could be an impediment to expanding the lacrosse field to 20.
Well done. Thank you! I am most immediately concerned about facilities and getting D-1 talent in, but I think UM's academic reputation and overall athletic dept. reputation will be big assets early on.
sorta lame to think about going from expected national title to expected doormat but I have no doubt that 10-15 years down the road we'll be right up there. Think about how many stinkin kids from the NY/NJ area go to UofM already. some of them have to play lacrosse, or have cool younger brothers who do
If you look at our current roster, it's predominantly East Coasters, with a handful of MI, OH, IL and CA sprinkled in. That will probably continue to be the case.
Awesome, thanks for the summary. It's great to have a foundation for following along next year and beyond.
What if, during college football recruiting dead periods, Hoke and Mattison visited Baltimore (!) and courted the elite lacrosse players?
"I can see you as the next Ray Lewis of Lacrosse if you come to MIchigan!"
household name for your average high school student from LI and MD (how many Michigan undergrads are from those areas - huge numbers!) What will further help with the Baltimore-area players, is getting scheduled by Hopkins, and playing Loyola every year. (Loyola and Hopkins are literally a mile from one another) JP has a relationship with Coach Pietramala at Hopkins, who is interested in the growth of a healthy Michigan program.
"household name for your average high school student from LI and MD (how many Michigan undergrads are from those areas - huge numbers!)"
Yeah, but I don't think the women of SDT ansd DPhiE are eligible to play men's lacrosse at Michigan.
I'm from baltimore and cracking the private school leagues around here where all the talent comes from is gonna be tough without hiring somebody with connections. Part of the lack of parity in lacrosse is all the traditional hotbeds send all the top kids to the same schools. I don't know of an elite lacrosse recruit from the baltimore area that hasn't gone to one of the 4 acc schools or hopkins. Hope Michigan can do it though, next year will certainly be humbling for the team.
Michigan landed Gilman's goalie two years ago. He ultimately transferred to Virginia, but if Michigan was landing players from Gilman (and guys who are obviously good enough to play at UVa) with its club team, I don't think it'll be as big a problem as you think.
They have two kids from Georgetown Prep coming in next year, for example.
Yes, but the not-quite-elite players from those schools often stay local and go to places like Loyola or Towson, or on Long Island, Stony Brook or Hofstra. Michigan can take a couple huge steps forward in its first couple years by snagging those guys instead. The fact that almost all of lacrosse's recruiting is done in these private schools gives Michigan a big leg up: they can pitch Ivy League/ACC quality education to the guys who thought they might not get a shot at it.
upstate New York as a recruiting hotbed as well. This hotbed is dominated by Syracuse - it is the rare blue chipper from upstate NY who gets away from the Orange. 'Cuse was also the first major program to start recruiting Canadian box players - a couple of twins you may have heard of by the name of Gait and a brilliant attacker names Tom Marachek. Recruiting Canadians is a likely source for Michigan already - the name is obviously well-known in Ontario, and Canadians have helped bring programs like Hofstra, Albany, Stony Brook, and now Denver some seriously skilled offensive players.
I have wondered about the Canadian possibility. It's obviously been a huge boon to Denver (in the Final Four this year) and Detroit (obviously they aren't nearly on a Final Four level, but several of their most productive players are Canadians), and seems to be a good source of talent for D-1 programs.
However, assuming JP is hired as coach, he hasn't tapped the well at all in his time at UM. Of course, offering scholarship money is different than saying "hey, come here and pay to play." It'll be interesting to see 1) if he will pursue any Canadians 2) if he will land any Canadians 3) how their style will mesh with his systems, assuming those systems mostly stay the same with upgraded talent and scheme diversity.
That goalie probabliy isn't playing for uva and if he was going to michigan club he wasn't elite coming out of high school, it would be great to get under the radar guys but when it comes to the baltimore dc area you are looking at pulling third tier talent at best. Top tier goes to the acc/hopkins and the second tier go to schools like towson. Cuse has trouble pulling top talent out of the area. I know michigan has a great education too but we are recruiting against uva and unc who are both pretty close and duke and hopkins who are ranked higher. Michigans best chance is convincing the growing talent bed in california that they are the best option, I don't see them getting any real succes in the mid-atlantic recruiting,
Syracuse doesn't need Baltimore very much, they can just snap their fingers and Long Island talent shows up at their doorstep, along with every elite recruit from upstate. And look, if Michigan can't compete with Towson for recruits then we might as well tuck tail and go back to club. Give up recruiting in Baltimore because Towson is in the way? You've gotta be kidding.
Don't get me wrong but I played with these guys in summer league (went to public school in baltimore so didn't play them during the year) and these guys aren't really all that interested in going out west, most of the top guys don't even really consider notre dame and they were in the championship last year and have ties to the catholic private schools in the area. Maryland struggles to crack the top tier of recruits in the area so I'm sorry if I don't see that as the route to success for Michigan lacrosse.
OK - I agree with you that M will have a hard time stealing Baltimore kids away from the powerhouse teams, but that's the case for kids from anywhere, likely including Michigan. If Hopkins or Duke offers a kid from MI, I doubt we get him.
That said, just because some of the kids you knew didn't want to head west to play college lax, doesn't mean they all feel that way, or that they'll feel that way 3-5 years after you asked them. ND made the finals last year, Denver is in the Final Four this year, and now Michigan has a D1 team. For any kid who doesn't have the option to play at a top tier school, Michigan will be a major player for his services, I promise you that. We offer a solid conference, a great education, top notch athletic department with facilities on the way, and a major, national brand. Schools like Delaware and Hofstra and Stony Brook can't offer those things. Neither can Bucknell, Drexel and Colgate. These are all teams that field solid lax squads that won't be able to offer the things UM can, and don't have the prestige of an ACC or Syracuse/Hopkins type program.
Point is, I think we'll do just fine.
The Baltimore schools do not own the talent in the city, much to my chagrin and Wahoo's delight (exhibit 1: Steele Stanwick, who grew up equidistant between JHU and Loyola)
Baltimore talent has been looking to leave home for attractive schools for a long time, and its not just about the lax - its about a great big-time-college experience.
Oh I know we can get the not elite guys but my point was I really want lax to be bigger than hofstra and colgate and those other school and I don't think we will ever get the players of the mid-atlantic on a consistent enough basis to do that while if we establish recruting ties in california while its blowing up it could set us up to be really good in the future. I just can't see us having a sustainiable top tier program trying to pull guys from the mid-atlantic, but thats just my opinion.
....how the Canadian pipelines work. It is clearly different for kids who have significant experience playing the field game and are coming from American-style prep school programs, as opposed to dedicated box players coming from the Junior A leagues (for those new to the sport, the organizational structure of the Canadian indoor game on the youth level looks almost exactly like hockey.)
As a former New Jersey HS lax player, I'm a bit surprised that South Jersey is a bigger recruiting hotbed than North Jersey. When I played, the best teams were always in North Jersey.
Any idea on what the outlook for the girls would be? I know the women's club team wasn't the impetus for the jump to varsity, that they're timetable is one year delayed, and that there is less excitement and coverage of women's lacrosse in general, but I feel like this announcement changes everything about Michigan lacrosse - including the relative competitiveness between the men's and women's teams. And I'd love to hear that we'll have as good a shot of succes in women's lax as in men's.
One last question - if the ACC can form a conference with 4 teams, and there are currently 3 Big Ten teams (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan), how far off is a B1G Lax?
Again - an EXCELLENT post. GO BLUE!
I think the problem with this, is that the ACC's 4 teams all make the tourney as an at large, so there is not the great need for a conference the size of 6, to guarantee at least one team makes it in. The B1G would need to field at least 6 before this becomes a reality, otherwise there will be numerous years where there is no tourney team from the B1G as the teams are not really national powers
Hopefully we can at least get Penn State to join the ECAC so that we'll be able to get some lax on the BTN...
Just to answer the very last portion of your question - the ACC exists because all 4 teams are steeped in tradition, and they don't need an automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament (all four of them made the dance this year without the automatic bid available).
The Big Ten teams have no such tradition of success, and won't leave auto-bid conferences to form a Big Ten until there are the necessary 6 teams.
One follow up - do you foresee any other Big Ten schools adding lacrosse in the near future (say, within 5 years)?
Within 5 years, probably not (with the possible exception of Michigan State). The top few B10 schools in (estimated) order of likelihood to add varsity lacrosse:
- Michigan State (successful club team, no more Michigan to play).
- Northwestern (recently added women's, with huge success).
- Wisconsin (Marquette just added it - though I wonder if the only B10 school without baseball would prioritize that instead).
- Minnesota/Illinois? (The Gophers have a decent Twin Cities talent base to start from, and Illinois could pull from Chicago. Minny has the added incentive of Wisconsin adding the game in this dream scenario).
My guess would be that, outside of Michigan State, nobody is likely to add it within your timeframe. Beyond that, it remains to be seen.
I don't know a ton about lacrosse, but I do know that it has gotten significantly more poplular in the Chicago area over the last few years. A number of my co-workers have kids who have picked up the game at the HS and club levels and it sounds like the numbers in the youth programs are increasing each year. It would seem that the addition of Michigan to the national scene will help spur futher growth of the sport in the midwest and we should be able to get a (near) first mover advantage when it comes to snagging these kids with increasing skill levels.
We thankfully landed in a fairly weak conference - Denver has been pretty good (they're awaiting their national semifinal game this weekend) lately, but everyone else is "mediocre" to "poor" - we should be able to win a few games.
We've played Bellarmine for the last 3 years, I think, and have gone 2-1 - they're a pretty lousy D-I team, but it shows that we're already somewhat on the (lower) level of the division.
I also love that the East Coast Athletic Conference has 2 teams in Colorado, a team from Kentucky, a team from Ohio, and a team from Michigan.
I grew up in Nebraska, and all the states mentioned (except, of course, CO) were considered part of the "degenerate East" in my household.
Have to disagree with "weak conference." Aside from the conferences that Michigan wasn't going to enter for blindingly obvious reasons (ACC, Big East, and Ivy), the ECAC is pprobably the strongest conference in the nation, and along with America East (the other competition for next best conference), head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
Well, i can't think of a year that they have sent more than their AQ team in the recent path. We won't be facing many big dogs in this conference - after Denver, the best clubs are middle of the pack, and Hobart and Bellarmine are among the worst.
Are there worse ones? Maybe, but we are talking small degrees.
True, but how often does any conference other than the Ivy, Big East, or ACC send multiple at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament? And we've established that the door is absolutely closed to joining those conferences.
Sure it happens that one or two at-larges might come from all the other conferences in a given year, but the ECAC is nearly on par with most of them, IME, especially since Denver is a rising power.
I think we basically agree: Lacrosse is 3 power conferences and then a mass of conferences that are largely indistinguishable from each other. The ECAC's one differentiating factor is that they DO have 1 team that is a legit national threat. It is better than the Metro Atlantic, and the NE, no question. But Patriot, ECAC, AE, Colonial? All seem about the same - mediocre.
My point, largely, is that this conference is one where we should actually be able to be competitive in fairly quickly, with the exception of 1 opponent.
....a down year this year. The ECAC always has the potential to be a two-bid league.
Eh, I think you're selling the Patriot League a little short. Top-to-bottom depth I'd take the PL over both the A-East and ECAC.
Patriot League totally just slipped my mind. I'd put them in a tier with AE and ECAC, with the remaining conferences well below them.
I'll take the Patriot League over the ECAC as well. It remains to be seen if Denver has staying power, although I would not bet against Tierney and Colorado is kind of the new hotness in recruiting right now.
Side note: on mgoblue.com men's and women's lacrosse are both listed under varsity sports as well as club varsity, although the link just sends you to today's press release.
Coach Pietramala sighting at the 6:00 mark
Wow, excellent eye. Didn't notice him at all. Of course, fat lot of good scouting Denver did him.
The Petro-Coach T rivalry is an interesting one. This year, the teacher schooled the student, unfortunately for my Jays. I have absolutely no doubt that Denver will remain a power. Princeton was absolutely nothing before Coach T. 6 Championships later....
This is all very fascinating, as one not at all familiar with lax. Color me excited!
I do have one small bone to pick..I doubt it will take Michigan 10, we should be able to attract some top talent fast..Im going with 5 years
I do have one small bone to pick..I doubt it will take Michigan 10, we should be able to attract some top talent fast..Im going with 5 years
As an alumnus of one of the "royalty" schools, a former player, & an avid follower of college lacrosse since high school, I would agree with basically everything posted. As you mentioned, I would encourage Michigan fans to have patience--as with any new program (I know it's not entirely new, but new to the D-I level), it will take time to become competitive with the top tier.
U-M does have some advantages over its new competitors, however: the already-established East Coast draw (as alluded to by previous posts), an excellent academic reputation (many of the elite lacrosse players come from private/prep schools in New England or the mid-Atlantic; also pro lacrosse isn't really the dream career for most), oustanding facilities, AND a big-time, Big Ten university atmosphere (top tier football, basketball, etc.). Not many other D-1 lacrosse programs can offer ALL of these things together. It may take a few years to gain traction in recruiting, but Michigan will likely become highly competitive in D-1 lacrosse--I would predict moreso than MSU or OSU ever have.
...your Cavs really put it together once the distraction of the Brattons was out of the way. Color me as one very impressed Blue Jay.
Thanks man. And color me almost as surprised as anyone. Losing to Duke 19-10 doesn't give you the idea that this is your year, you know?