Getting you ready for the 2012 college lacrosse season. What, the season already started? Drats.
I don't think there's a bigger storyline in Division I men's lacrosse this year than what Michigan is doing in the Midwest. Granted, the race for the national title, as always, is a monster story, as are the players performing at the top of the game. Conference races are a close second behind those two items, but yet, the Wolverines' 2012 season -- which will likely end with double-digit losses -- has so many implications to the game that it looms large above all else.
The breadth of the Michigan storyline lies in its cacophony of underlying storylines:
- As a powerhouse on the club circuit, what is the learning curve with an immediate jump to Division I? Early returns show that there is a significant talent gap, but how will it progress throughout the season?
- With various programs readying themselves for a move to Division I in the near future -- High Point, Marquette, Boston University, and Furman -- Michigan is providing a bit of blueprint for these nascent programs. What kind of resources do you need to compete at the Division I level? What is the impact of conference affiliation? Are there specific types of players a program needs to target to get the ball rolling and, most importantly, how do you sell a fresh Division I program to recruits? It also sets an expectation level for the institutions based on these underlying factors with respect to success rate.
- Can Michigan lead the way for club programs to seriously consider elevation to the varsity ranks (like Boston College)? Connectedly, can Michigan lead the way for big schools with name recognition and resources -- like Texas, Brigham Young, Florida State, and others -- to join the Division I party? This, inherently, is one of the biggest things keeping the game out of the national spotlight: regional restriction and small-school participation. Nobody in Alabama knows or cares about Johns Hopkins or its lacrosse program; everyone in Alabama at least knows who Florida State is, even if they wonder (1) why lacrosse goals aren't worth six points; and (2) if the Crimson Tide can lay claim to a share of any historic lacrosse national championships despite not participating.
- To dovetail the last underlying storyline: Michigan's successes or failures this year (and into the future) are going to really define Midwest and Western lacrosse. What is the ability to build and maintain programs in these areas? The youth movement is strong in both places, but what are the possibilities of building college programs based on this talent? How much will a Division I program in these areas push the game forward at the youth level in these regions of the country?
- How quickly can you turn an alumni, student, and general fan base on to a game that is somewhat foreign to them? Michigan has one of the biggest athletic followings in the country; will this translate into an interest for the lacrosse team? If so, how will Michigan accomplish this and how can other schools pattern their efforts after the Wolverines' model (if there is one)?
- Finally, how long is it going to take Michigan to compete at a conference and, if ever, national level? I don't think that anybody -- or, at least anybody that hasn't received head trauma that ruined their reasonableness -- believes that Michigan won't, eventually, have some pretty significant success at the Division I level. It's Michigan, after all; there isn't a high failure rate with the Wolverines from an athletic standpoint. However, as this season is showing, there is a pronounced learning curve. What is the time line on this?
What do you knuckleheads think? Is there a bigger storyline this season than Michigan? Are there any other substorylines that I missed? The comments, they are yours.