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Michigan Going D1 In Lacrosse Has Bigger Implications

27 - Published April 23, 2011 by in College, NCAA

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

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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.

NOTES:

– 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.

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