Focus: It's not the top we should be looking at, pals and gal pals; it's the meaty middle.
Quint Kessenich takes a lot of gruff from lacrosse fans. He's the face of the college game in a lot of ways, and as such is often looked at through cross-hairs from feisty sociopaths as an incineration target with their Anger Gun(c). Whether you like, tolerate, or want-to-set-ablaze Kessenich, this can't be seriously argued: He loves the game as much as anyone and has a good feel for the pulse that underlies the issues that surround college lacrosse. Where this is best on display is when he talks and writes about the growth of the sport, especially in the context of parity.
Now, I'm not necessarily in the camp that this is a totally new era of college lacrosse where glass ceilings have been shattered and anarchy has de facto control over Division I play. Division I lacrosse, still, claims only nine different national champions and five of those schools have won the title at least four times. The national elite haven't fallen prey to the proles over time either, which makes true parity -- if thought of in its traditional sense as equality -- a falsification when staring at Division I lacrosse as things stand now. However, things are going in the right direction; as I mentioned numerous times last April and May, I thought that of the 16 schools in the NCAA Tournament, 14 -- in various degrees depending on circumstances that could have occurred -- had a decent shot at making Championship Weekend (with a somewhat smaller pool having national championship potential contingent on various things happening). That's a vast departure from a decade ago when you could name the national semifinalists the first week of March and know the two teams that would play for the title in mid-April.
The depth of the cohort is stronger than it has probably ever been, and Kessenich nails that fact right on its head:
The data that I find most compelling for the parity argument is this:
In the last two years, 24 different schools have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Considering that we utilize a 16-team, single elimination bracket...that's significant. Twenty-four teams in two years shows that it is difficult to win your league AQ in back-to-back seasons.
Even more eye-opening is this:
Since 2008, 31 different programs have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Thirty-one is a huge number. That's basically half of the schools who play Division I lacrosse.
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Parity at the top? I wouldn't characterize it that way. But we've seen tremendous parity in the mid-tier (teams ranked No. 10 - 35) with 31 schools playing in the NCAA tournament since 2008. And that's an exciting scorecard. Parity is a trend with positive momentum.
It's that last nugget from Kessenich that's especially important to me: It's the growth behind the blue bloods that matters. Now, everything that Christian Swezey and Kessenich detail in the piece feeds into the growth of those schools, but at a macro level, it's still the importance of the top third to top half of the nation becoming increasingly more competitive that makes parity interesting Division I. In other words, looking at the pool of schools that have won national championships isn't telling the story; the story is built upon the pool of schools that now have a decent chance to win a national championship.
I don't think we're on the precipice of an explosion of new champions, but we're really close to having longer arguments about potential titlists in late-April and early-May. That's something that 21 year-old Hoya Suxa -- a senior at Syracuse University, one of the elites that carries with it a fanbase that assumes championships just because a team was put on the field -- would have laughed at in 2002, turning away from the statement as if it were anathema. This is a different kind of reality that we're all living in, and it's a better situation in the overall.