Michigan Going D1 In Lacrosse Has Bigger Implications

michigan-yealy lacrosse trevor lax ASU sun devils MCLA lacrosse
It LOOKS like D1 lacrosse already.

The Michigan Lacrosse team has been in the process of making the jump from MCLA powerhouse to NCAA Division 1 Varsity Squad for at least 3 years now.  Everyone thought UMich would go D1 before 2025, but not a lot of people thought it would happen by 2012.  Well yesterday, according to IL (although we’ve heard the exact same info now for a couple of weeks) Michigan will be going D1 next year.  And yes, this is obviously big.  But it means less now than it could mean in a couple of years, when we might look back and say, “THAT was the moment Lacrosse arrived”.

Immediately the questions started flowing, and some of them made sense, while others were patently preposterous.  Will UM compete?  Will they keep their MCLA team? How long til they win it all?  When will Florida go D1? Does John Paul stay as Coach? Etc, etc.  And I enjoyed reading and thinking about all of them.  Why?  Because as crazy as it sounds, Michigan going D1 (coupled with a few other occurrences) means a lot more than just adding 1 more Division 1 Lacrosse team.  It opens doors, and has the potential to change things in college sports for years to come.

michigan-yealy lacrosse trevor lax ASU sun devils MCLA lacrosse
It LOOKS like D1 lacrosse already.

Photo courtesy Ben Haslam!  Great stuff there, Ben!

Michigan going D1 is far from the end-all be-all when it comes to the growth of the game, and they still have a lot of work to do to get ready, but the move helps.  Having schools like Bellarmine, Marquette, and Mercer all add programs in the past couple of years has also helped, but I sincerely doubt that combining all 3 of those schools’ fan bases would result in a bigger group of people than Michigan possesses.  Whether you like the Wolverines or not is immaterial; they are a powerhouse.  And that alone positively raises the profile of the sport.

Due to their stature in the college sporting world, Michigan will serve as a litmus test that other Universities will use to make future decisions on lacrosse.  So I’m glad to see that Michigan is taking this so seriously.  But there are some underlying causes for the Michigan news being as big as it is, and they haven’t been fully addressed yet.

It all starts with Notre Dame.  For years, the Irish have been good, but not great.  They certainly had some talented lacrosse teams but they were never exactly considered a perennial favorite, even if they should have been.  Then their football team began slipping a bit, and all of a sudden, sports at ND had lost just a little bit of their luster.  But the ND lacrosse team has recently started ripping it up, and last year, they made it to the NCAA Finals, only to lose to Duke in OT.  They went from “good” to being on everyone’s radar, and that makes the Michigan news bigger.

Penn State Lacrosse Notre Dame
Follow the ‘Piper…

While Notre Dame added lacrosse in 1981, and has been competitive while moving in and out of the Top 10 for over a decade, those aren’t the important facts.  There is only one important fact, and it is that they are now considered legitimate contenders for a national championship.

Michigan knows this, and they also know that a great Michigan – Notre Dame game, between two nationally ranked teams, no matter what the sport, is going to pack the house.  This means Michigan will not be content to just get the program going and make it in to the Top 20.  They’re going to want to compete immediately.

Now, I don’t know that they will be able to do so, but the drive behind a program that wants to win and a program that wants to just get off the ground is totally different.  Things will not happen at Marquette like they will Michigan, and it is not only because Michigan is Michigan.  It is also because Michigan is more motivated by competing with one of the best in the sport.  If Ohio State were contending for a National Championship in consecutive years, I’d make the same argument, but OSU has never been “good enough” to make Michigan to want to add a team.  Notre Dame presents a different challenge now.  Marquette would be smart to embrace a rivalry game with an established program, even if they end up getting smoked early on.

But all of this has already happened… Notre Dame has elevated their program and Michigan is adding a team, which seems to have designs on rapid success.  But there are also future events, that are only whispers right now, which make this news so much bigger than it appears on the surface.

What does this mean moving forward?  And no, I’m not talking about recruiting players, selecting coaches, figuring out facilities, etc, etc.  UMich actually HAS players who can play D1 lacrosse there already, many more will flock there this Summer.  They can stick with John Paul (which is an idea I support) or they can open up the Head Coaching job (they technically have to do it since it’s a state job) for real and find some big name guy.  Either way, it’s Michigan, and that won’t be an issue.  They also have facilities up there in Ann Arbor.  LOTS of ’em.  I am sure UM will figure that stuff out.

I’m talking about future expansion.  What does Michigan adding lacrosse mean for other big D1 schools?  The answer stretches from Coast to Coast, with a contigent stop off in South Bend.

Assuming Michigan can bring the heat relatively quickly (within 5 years make a Final Four, perhaps), and Notre Dame can keep up their ascent, there are a couple of other schools that will really start to feel the pressure to add lax.

Michigan State used to have a team and will not like being one-upped by their in-state rival.  The fact that MSU’s MCLA team is very competitive right now doesn’t hurt, and could allow for a similar type of rapid transition.

Boston College, Jesuit rival of Notre Dame, will also begin to regret their decision (like MSU) to drop their team and could bring it back.  Honestly, BC should be embarrassed that Notre Dame, in Indiana, can field a great lacrosse team, and BC, in Massachusetts, can not.  The school never put the effort in to their lacrosse team when they were D1, so it has been great to see the BC MCLA team really take off.  Hopefully the Eagles administration can get their priorities straight and add lax back to the mix.

And while MSU and BC are big schools, they aren’t the biggest fish in the pond.  Having them add teams would be big, but nowhere near as big as is schools like USC, Oregon, and Florida State.  These are the big name schools that can make lacrosse as popular as we all know it can be.  But they need a reason to make the investment in lacrosse programs, and it seems that games against other HUGE sports schools can be that justification, especially when they are on a national stage.

The news of Michigan going D1 is big.  The fact that all reports indicate they are taking the move very seriously is even better.  Add Notre Dame’s continued success to the mix and you’ve got a huge opportunity for inspired growth at the highest levels.

For the MCLA, this isn’t really a huge blow.  If Michigan wins out and finishes as 4-time consecutive MCLA National Champs, there will be some teams left wanting a shot at revenge.  All I can say to them is, “go D1, and you’ll get your shot!”  Obviously it’s not quite that simple, but the point is that it might motivate more teams to take a look at the “next steps” for their program.  This won’t motivate every MCLA team to go D1, and some of them probably shouldn’t try (at least not yet), but schools like ASU, Colorado, CSU, and BYU are close to being ready, and being able to follow Michigan’s lead might make the path that much easier.

Michigan won’t have an MCLA team anymore.  I’d love to see them get an exemption, but I doubt it will happen.  Hopefully, the guys who are at Michigan who don’t make the D1 team will start an NCLL team.  At the top levels of the NCLL, the lacrosse is still excellent and provides a great chance for students to also be student-athletes.  If more MCLA teams do move to the NCAA in the coming decades, I could see the NCLL also making huge gains in popularity and respect.

Michigan going D1 is a step.  It’s not the first step, and it’s certainly not the last.  But it’s a big step; one made with a confident stride, and it’s certainly propelling our sport in the right direction.


– I’ve been nominated for NLL Sports Writer of the Year over on InLaxWeTrust.com.  I have no business winning this award, especially as Chris Fox covers the NLL for us here, but I do a mean 10 minute radio segment on the NLL!  Head on over and vote for me, just because it would be funny if I won.

– The ACC Semis were played yesterday and ESPNU didn’t put them on TV.  Seems cray-cray to me.  MJGialanella provided updates though via twitter.  Thanks, Mike!  Well done!

– BC lost to our very own RedHotBuffs yesterday 9-8 in 2 OTs.  The game wasn’t webcast.  The tweets from BC Men’s Lax and CU Lacrosse made me feel like I was there though!  Heck of a game!

– Este fin de semana, no lo neccesitan usar el red para mirar partidos de lacrosse.  Hay mucho lacrosse para mirar por el television.  Hofstra – Umass a las tres sobre ESPNU.  Rutgers – Syracuse a las cinco y medio sobre ESPNU.  Bucknell – Colgate a last siete sobre CBS deportes collegio.  Y finalmente, Navy – Hopkins a las ocho sobre ESPNU.  Mucho lacrosse!  Gracias al Dios!

– Hope you speak Spanish, Baxter.

– My 5th/6th grade game was cancelled due to rain for the second weekend in a row.  Blergh.


    • I do think that is the sort of thing that Michigan going D1 (and both UM and ND being good!) can precipitate. It’s also where a lot of the growth has happening.
      I’m not sold on the SEC on the whole, although the FLA schools do have potential. ACC schools could certainly get on the bandwagon and join the big 4.
      I personally see the sport’s expansion at the college level making a jump to the west coast next, then back east with a little vigor (like a wake forest or NC State) and then it will take off in the Midwest. Total gut feeling though… haha.

      • I think you will continue to see growth in the Big East. Now that Marquette is making the jump I think the floodgates will open. With the addition of TCU to the conference for football, how huge would it be if they were the first team to make the jump in Texas with the Dallas Fort-Worth area around them? You also have South Florida in the conference so you can cover another growing area of lacrosse. As long as it continues to grow, I’m all for it though.

        • I like the TCU suggestion. Being a private school, they would have a somewhat easier time. Nike’s recent heavy support of TCU athletics would certainly help too.
          I had not considered TCU before, but the Frogs make a lot of sense since they have been working hard to raise their national profile. Being a member of the Big East is just icing on the cake. I still think Texas has a strong shot because that school prints money, just like Michigan, and has its own network coming. Regardless, whichever Texas program jumps first will have a lot of weight on their shoulders as the flag bearer for the state. But I would say that a second Texas program wouldn’t be far behind.

  1. Notre Dame, being one of the top schools academically AND being a national contender in nearly every sport, provides an “older brother” type role-model for all of the other schools at their level and “below.” Michigan, being one of the few rivals that the University of Notre Dame competes with, has to stay up-to-par with ND. Now that Notre Dame has become a major contender for the National Championship (as well as being ranked #1) Michigan MUST feel that they are drastically behind and need to take a step back and look at their lacrosse team. D1 is a smart, and potentially beneficial, move towards becoming a greater University. I think that ND will stay on top for a few more years, D1 is hard to become accustomed to.

  2. And by the way, when you said, “Then their football team began slipping a bit, and all of a sudden, sports at ND had lost just a little bit of their luster.” I felt like I needed to inform you that they have done extremely well in every sport except football. Here is a list that I compiled off of the top of my head:

    Women’s Soccer- National Champions
    Men’s Basketball- Ranked #4 going into March Madness (unfortunately they lost in the second round)
    Men’s Hockey- Lost in the Frozen Four
    Women’s Basketball- Lost in the National Championship (they beat UConn, the best team of all-time)
    Men’s Lacrosse- You know
    Men’s Football- If you check their schedule, they actually didn’t do that badly, achieving wins against top ranked Utah, USC, Army, and Miami with a first-year Quarterback.

    I don’t think that they lost any luster, bro

    • their football team was not (in the 2000s) as good as they had been before. This is the SLIGHT loss of luster I was referring to. Like it or not, Football is King at ND. they are now “better” but still nowhere near where they used to be, and where they want to be.

      • Haha trust me, I know that football is king. As a matter of fact, I am going up their in a couple of weeks! Haha. Actually I think that it was just 2007, 2008, and 2009 that you were referring to when football was not up to par. Check back at the previous seasons if you would like!

  3. Yes that was exhaustive. Still I think a big impediment for major schools going d1 in lacrosse is Title 9. They have already added Competive Cheer. A couple of years back Oregon dropped wrestling for baseball. How is Michigan making room for lacrosse?

    Still it could be their move will open the door to western expansion.

    • Not 100% sure on how UM is doing it… adding a women’s team in 2013 won’t hurt though!

      UVM dropped baseball last year, but kept lax. It comes down to choices sometimes, but lax is waxing, and wrestling/baseball and others are waning. It will take some time, and will be slow to take down in the South, I think. But it’s coming. Tough choices are being made and for the first time, lacrosse is coming out with the longer end of the proverbial stick.

  4. This is a great article and I agree with everything. This is just the first step of a big movement. I am confident that you will see more teams moving from the MCLA to NCAA D1 in the next 10 years; the amount of teams I think may depend on the success of Michigan in its first couple of years. Luckily like it was mentioned, Michigan has the coaching and the facilities already. They also have a solid base of players. Maybe not as big and as fast as the top D1 teams, but they know and love the sport, and will work hard to prove a point. Recruiting can just build upon that in the next couple of years. I do not think it will take them as long to reach a high level of success as it did for Notre Dame.

    It would be great if we started seeing the west coast teams start making the switch, but at this point any new D1 teams would be great. ACC is a powerhouse conference, but with just 4 teams, the ACC tournament is not quite as exciting. It would be nice to see FSU and/or BC to make the switch to grow the conference. I am not sure what BC is working with, but FSU does have the facilities for lacrosse already.

    Overall, completely agree, Michigan making the switch to D1 is great for the sport on all levels. I hope to see other MCLA teams make the jump soon. I feel that Oregon, CSU, CU, ASU, BC, FSU, and BYU are not far from making the jump.

  5. A few questions…

    1) Does Michigan take Cottle over keeping Paul? Or would you rather have Gerry Byrne as the head coach?

    2) Is the addition of Division 1 programs with quality academics the end of the NESCAC? or does it primarily hurt schools like Stevenson, Cortland and Salisbury?

    3) Can Michigan really push for a final four in 5 years? OSU isn’t close. ND has taken 30 years. (I know Michigan has a foundation that ND didn’t have)

    • To answer #2:

      Quality academics like the Ivy League? Or the ACC schools? What about the Patriot League schools?

      There are plenty of strong academic programs at the DI level already and adding some more will have no bearing on the NESCAC

    • 1) I would not want Cottle to run my program. I know he’s done a LOT in the sport, but I’d stick with JP over Cottle. Byrne is another story I think… but I still like JP to get 2 seasons there.

      2) see Swank’s answer.

      3) Yes. OSU isn’t struggling for any reason other than the school has not committed to the team enough. Michigan will be a different story, I believe. If a school like UMich makes the sport a priority, they can succeed quickly (with the right coach). If Michigan CAN do this is another question, but right now, I like their chances and starting point.

  6. “Having them add teams would be big, but nowhere near as big as is schools like USC, Oregon, and Florida State.”
    USC is at least looking into it. I’m fairly certain that they will be the NEXT BCS school to announce after Michigan.
    USC President C.L. Max Nikias: “..in the next three to five years I think we are going to be in a position to also introduce a men’s lacrosse team.”

  7. This isn’t the first place I’ve seen it, but… why is there such a movement to allow Michigan to maintain an MCLA team? It seems a ton of people support this, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Is it just because you like the concept of a Michigan team in the MCLA? Or is there some angle I’m not seeing here?

    (btw, that paragraph sounds really accusatory, but I don’t intend for that to be the case. I’m just honestly asking).

    • There isn’t. If Michigan goes D1, and therefore has an NCAA program, they cannot have an MCLA team. If they still want a club team they would have to join the NCLL. The MCLA is for school that DO NOT have a varsity program. Varsity meaning that it is school backed, supported, and funded. (So any NCAA level, NAIA, junior college, etc) The NCLL is for club teams for schools that do have varsity programs or can’t join the MCLA for field, financial, etc. issues. That’s why if you look at the list of NCLL club teams, most of them are in the east coast b/c those teams already have a D1,D2, D3 team. Most of the MCLA teams are in the Midwest, South, or West part of the country. Simply where lacrosse is not picked up as a varsity sport.


  8. SO will Michigan still compete in the MCLA tournamnet? I don’t see why they should. I was always under the impression that they had to play a certain number of D1 teams before they made the official move.

  9. More pseudo confirmations about Michigan going D1:
    “Two programs likely to be in the mix for ECAC expansion are Michigan and High Point, and officials within both programs have confirmed that they’ve expressed interest to the league. The NCAA confirmed Wednesday that first-year programs are eligible to join conferences and participate in postseason play.”
    Just formally announce it already!