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Concerns about Expansion: Why Michigan is unique in a lot of ways.


I've been doing some thinking lately since Michigan made the official jump.  And of course this is setting off a storm of reactions across Lacrosse Nation as to "who's gonna be next?"  And of course we would all like to see more programs make the jump and then compete at the top level (it makes winning the NC that much more meaningful, especially for schools like Syracuse, Hopkins, Princeton, and Virginia, who have been very dominant on the NC circuit as of late). But as much as I hate to say this, Michigan is in somewhat of a unique situation that can't be said for virtually any other big name school. There are three big tests that Michigan has passed with flying colors that I can't see any other school passing consistently.

 

The first major test (and probably the most important) is how can you fund the sport.  I remember several years ago reading an article on USAToday that focused on Villanova baseball, which was not fully funded, but partially funded, thus some people who could qualify for scholarships could not get one.  As a result, the team suffers.  The same is true for lacrosse; in order to compete at the highest level you have to fully fund the sport, something only a handful of schools do.  From what I understand Michigan's policy (which I'm sure a lot of the other big football schools have) is to only fund a sport if it can be fully funded, and most schools just don't have that kind of budget due to national name branding AND a VERY active alumni booster program.  In fact, of the schools that don't have lacrosse, I would think only Texas, Florida, and MAYBE USC or UCLA have that ability.   While the other schools certainly have active alumni bases, they are only familiar to those who follow college sports regularly (example: Kansas; if you don't know college basketball you probably aren't even aware Kansas exists, thus lack of marketability).

 

The second is the dreaded Title IX test.  We can all agree that Title IX is hindering progress, and I've heard a lot of clamor for its elimination.  I'm not going to call for that, but I certainly will call for its reform (after all, we all do want to keep supporting women's sports even if we don't watch them (we really ought to)).  The problem is schools are adding the womens' side without the mens' side (and I probably would enjoy the womens' game more if they had an out-of-bounds rule) and that makes it that much more difficult to add men's lacrosse.  Examples include Florida, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Louisville, and Stanford.  All of these schools ought to have men's teams now except maybe for Louisville.  Title IX should focus more on what women want to study or play (remember, something like Title IX was needed for its time because it was actually made to focus on academics, not athletics).  Again, Michigan passes this test easily, especially since its football program is actually not as well funded as one would think.

 

The third is success at the lower levels.  Michigan has had that success.  Not many other teams have this.  Only Colorado State, BYU (which, I repeat, is too stupid to field a D1 team and they admit this), and more recently Arizona State could be candidates for this.  All three could also pass the Title IX test but I doubt they have the branding to  fully fund the sport.  And Michigan isn't just going to field a team.  They're moving an entire program from a club level sport, playing other school's club teams, to a place where they now have to compete with Syracuse, Hopkins, Virginia, Cornell, Princeton, and Duke year in and year out.  Michigan probably would at least be able to get to the level of Delaware or Hofstra or possibly Navy within a few years.  Not many other schools would be able to because their tradition isn't as firmly established.


(Cross-posted on In Lax We Trust by request).

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