Competition, Comparisons & Cannibalism

By Tyler Kreitz

'Wesleyan has great size, depth, and some real athletes, however their lax skills are right on par with most of the top teams in the MDIA.' - Posted by bbandlax on Laxpower, 3/23/06

'Suuure...if by "on par" you mean mini golf for the MDIA and PGA for Wesleyan. Wesleyan just tore apart a great WNEC team that will easily be a top 20 D3 team at year's end. They may go to the D3 FF this year, and were a game away from it last year with pretty much the same team, just a year younger. Stop kidding yourselves. They are not in the same league whatsoever. The feature players on the Wesleyan squad had little to no role in that game.

FSU got manhandled by CW Post 20-8. Post can be mentioned in the same sentence as Wesleyan, and those two teams were playing that matchup like it were a real game' - Posted by FeauxGeaux on Laxpower, 3/23/06

'That is excellent context. Post and Wesleyan are of very comparable caliber. FSU and BYU are of similar caliber. Post/FSU was played for the win, unlike a scrimmage. Look at the guys in the Wesleyan stat line against BYU, it is nothing like their regular season games. Wesleyan is hard cat. BYU is soft cat. Please do not compare the top 5 of the MDIA to the top 5-10 of D3. You're always on here with a few other dudes going balls out to overthrow varsity lacrosse. Just tune into CSTV or ESPNU this spring if you want to see legit lax. Step out of your "virtual varsity" grandiosity and realize the difference between a good breeding ground for a sport that is hindered by Title IX and then top-notch lacrosse.' Posted by FeauxGeaux on Laxpower, 3/23/06

'two things: I must have missed all the posts where anybody tried to "overthrow varsity lacrosse" (I can't comprehend why anyone would want to). You demean MDIA ball and refer to D3 as "top notch" I would say the guys who play on ESPN on the last monday in march are top notch. ' Posted by FrankStallone on Laxpower, 3/23/06

'Overthrow...equate...same thing. I'm talking about the people who can't seem to accept that varsity lacrosse and club lacrosse are two separate cultural institutions. And I assume you mean the last Monday in May, not March. And if that is what you mean, the top 5-10 teams in D3 that I was speaking of are the teams whom typically comprise the Division III National Championship year in and year out. And that is the championship in Philly, not Dallas or Minnesota or Missouri.' Posted by FeauxGeaux on Laxpower, 3/23/06

'I have never once said that club lacrosse is in any way on a par with varsity lacrosse. Furthermore, these "overthrowers", whoever they are, exist in your mind as you seem to have some kind of superiority complex about this. It must upset your little universe that there are talented athletes that choose to play club ball for a host of reasons. I have seen a number of posters, who are informed about such matters unlike yourself, who have said that the top MDIA club teams could be competitive (not necessarily beat) with the middle to lower tier of D2 & D3. I would tend to agree with those people. Now if that seems to be a threat to your little world, I'd suggest that you build a bridge and get over it.' Posted by Laxfan04 on Laxpower, 3/25/06

This past year, encompassing the fall and spring seasons, there have been multiple games between NCAA varsity lacrosse teams and their USLMDIA club lacrosse brethren. They have ranged from the controlled scrimmages of fall ball to full fledged games in the spring. While results have varied, though most contests end in an expected victory for the varsity teams, the never ending debate between club lacrosse supporters and denigrators has not. Both sides, entrenched in a seemingly endless supply of message board angst and vitriol, points to each successive contest between the two similar but incredibly different institutions as support of their own opinions.

Those who hail the MDIA routinely site the competitive games as evidence of club lacrosse legitimacy, hopefully promoting the victorious NCAA foes as a bench mark varsity team headed straight to the final four. Any varsity team that is beaten is often given to be concrete evidence of the top MDIA programs' competitive abilities within the respective varsity opponents divisional top 20. Legitimacy is the standard tune played to a beat of supporters eager for MDIA validation in the eyes of their detractors.

Conversely, lacrosse fans on the other side of the aisle routinely find the scores of any varsity-club contest as indisputable evidence of the MDIA's resemblance to an over hyped beer league. Varsity teams that win handedly were playing clubs of the highest order, while those that fail to win convincingly or even lose were obviously resting their starters and treated the game as a hungover Monday practice.

Such banter is entertaining to read, if only for the seemingly endless back and forth that plays out on a regular basis, even if it becomes a tiresome topic for those involved. For many within the MDIA, the coaches and players need to prove themselves before the NCAA is tempered by the desire to win there own league, while the majority of NCAA affiliates have no desire to denigrate an institution that is helping spread Lacrosse like wildfire. The two institutions, the NCAA and USLMDIA, are incredibly different in scope and magnitude and focus on different aspects of the lacrosse agenda. Yet to ignore the obvious motivation of either side, whether it is proving your legitimacy against an established and recognized opponent or to put a petulant adversary in their place would be na´ve.

For some MDIA coaches it usually matters very little whether the opponent is club or varsity, rather any opportunity to play a competitive game is a welcome one. John Paul, head coach at perennial top 5 MDIA team University of Michigan, generally agrees with this assessment. His team routinely plays varsity schools in the region and this past fall took part in a 4 team round robin with Bucknell, Ohio State and Maryland. While he would love to see his team play at the highest level possible he refrains from extrapolating how well his team would do in the NCAA based on these games. "Our focus when playing these teams (whether they be Kenyon, Whittier or whomever)" he explained on a March afternoon, "is not to see if we can beat them so much as how we compete with them. We model ourselves after Varsity programs and try to emulate that as much as possible in providing the experience for the kids. But when we play these (varsity) teams whether we win or lose is relatively irrelevant when compared with how we do against a (top club like) BYU or UCSB." This is not a slight to the varsity teams in the lease bit he explained. Rather that the games against varsity teams hold little bearing on the MDIA rankings.

Though it is true that such contests are irrelevant to the rankings of the respective teams, there is an undeniable pride issue at stake when any club takes on a varsity team. Coach Paul is not foolish enough to dismiss this aspect, and correctly points out that most supporters or detractors of club lacrosse will engage in arguing over whether this club team could beat that varsity team because of the inherent pride in each league. Yet while his Wolverine club is modeled after a varsity team, he does not delude himself in regards to his team's abilities, nor does he necessarily seek out varsity teams to play in order to validate his own team's legitimacy. "Ultimately we want to play the best, most competitive, games possible, and if that includes playing a varsity squad- great. Remember, the varsity teams have a choice in scheduling us as well. They can schedule whomever they please."

For Ohio State Coach Joe Breschi, the opportunity to get a game between the silver domes of the Buckeyes and the Maize wings of the Wolverines was reason enough to play the Michigan club. It was another manifestation of one of collegiate athletics most storied rivalry, and a chance to promote the sport in the Midwest. "We (Coach Paul and I) spoke this past summer", explained Coach Breschi, "and thought wouldn't it be great to see Ohio State-Michigan on the lacrosse field." Though it looked great for alumni brochures, what about the actual validity of the game? Again, Coach Breschi was pleased with the results. "We had never played a club team before and I was very impressed with what they did. They came, competed, were extremely well coached and represented their school very well. It was a pre season scrimmage and both of us (UM and OSU) got to a chance to play hard lacrosse." Actual results of the games were unknown, though coach Breschi did remember that his team won by a healthy margin.

Still, a controlled scrimmage in the fall does not compare to an actual game in spring. Full fledged spring games between varsity and club teams have become increasingly common in recent years with the proliferation of MDIA teams around geographically isolated NCAA schools. Skepticism of the games validity is still abundant, however.

One such team who routinely schedules top club opponents is Whittier College, a Division III team in Southern California. From its inception in 1980 until 1999, the Whittier Poets competed as the lone Varsity team in the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League. Since 2000 it has competed as an independent and made a greater push for national prominence. Yet due to its location (only one other NCAA Varsity lacrosse team is in California) and prohibitive travel costs, Whittier still has a healthy portion of its schedule filled in by MDIA teams.

After watching this past February's game between the Poets and the USLMDIA Colorado State Rams, a 12-10 victory by the Poets, one would have a hard time arguing against the merits of such a contest. From the sideline the game appeared hard fought, intense, and entertaining with several lead changes before the Poets pulled out a victory.

Speaking with Whittier coach Evan Lippenna revealed a similar approach to Coach Paul's when asked about this and other club games on the schedule. Pressed about the reasoning behind playing club teams with whom there is relatively much to lose and little to gain, Coach Lippenna was eager to point out the competitiveness and hard fight of the previous game. "Those guys (CSU) play their butts off and compete just as hard as anybody else", said Lippenna while speaking after the game, "and I told my guys (at half) that they don't have half the resources you do, and are beating you. That in itself was a wakeup call." Asked whether or not this argument or other motivating factors would fall on deaf ears prior to a contest against BYU as opposed to Lynchberg or Denison, Lippenna said it was a moot point. As far as he was concerned the club games were still games, and were enablers for preparing for the NCAA hunk of their schedule.

Several Whittier players standing by were not as impressed by the game however. "If we played like we did today against Salisbury or Gettysburg we'd be killed", said one who chose to remain anonymous. "We got away with things today that would certainly hurt us in the future."

On the other side of the field longtime CSU Coach Flip Naumberg echoed the sentiments of many other coaches who have taken part in interdivisional games. As with everyone else he wants to find the best possible match ups and play the best opponents he can. Obviously any opportunity to play a varsity opponent is welcomed for primarily that reason, and the chance to prove the quality of lacrosse the MDIA is legitimately good. Of course, after assessing his teams close loss to a varsity opponent, Naumberg didn't back down from the obvious, "this would have been nice to win for the club guys."

However, as great and satisfying as wins against varsity teams may have been for the standing of the MDIA, the overall effect on Lacrosse is unnerving to some. The idea of scheduling and playing official games against club opponents, the thinking goes, is detrimental to the spread of Varsity lacrosse. In this era of Title IX regulation, athletic directors at major universities rarely need excuses to axe costly men's programs that generate little to no revenue. Thus, when a club team can compete with a varsity team it surely perks the ears of over stretched athletic departments with no connection to lacrosse. Seen through this prism, the NCAA teams that are scheduling club teams to play official games are legitimizing an institution that is a major threat to the vitality of varsity programs. And as great as the MDIA has been in spreading and promoting the game in non traditional areas it has not generated new varsity programs, nor does it intend to.

Towson State Head Coach Tony Seaman is among those who are complimentary of the club programs developing the game out west, but concerned on the effect it will have on the growth of Varsity lacrosse. With two starters from Utah, bred on the fields of the MDIA Utah State club before transferring to the Tigers, Seaman understands the benefits of having a competitive lacrosse league in areas where varsity lacrosse is as common as a unicorn riding leprechauns. However, he remains dismayed at a league that "has stopped the growth of Varsity Lacrosse".

"Why would an A.D. want to add an expensive, non revenue generating sport", asked coach Seaman, "if he sees a supposedly viable alternative for limited to no cost. I look at schools like Michigan or BYU and wonder why they would want to have Varsity? They (the programs) already have the structure going." Stating this with a mix of admiration and dismay, Coach Seaman recognizes a touchy Catch 22 inherent in the success and increasing competitiveness of the MDIA. "I think it (MDIA) is wonderful that they're giving an opportunity for kids to play lacrosse, but I can't see it promoting the increase of varsity programs. If anything I see schools going in the opposite direction."

In this light lacrosse is committing a feat of self cannibalism, where the progress of one is inadvertently causing the downfall of the other. However, such alarmist thought would ignore the fact that in this era of Title IX regulation the only real chance for lacrosse to increase its varsity presence is through a massive influx of participation, increased exposure to the general public, and thus revenue generation. With the explosion of the lacrosse playing populace in the past ten years, perhaps this day will be coming sooner than later. Yet in order to achieve this exposure to the game through a viable and organized club league is the best alternative. It is certainly better than no lacrosse at all.

In the meantime supporters and denigrators will continue to argue valid points year after year as more teams schedule cross divisional games. The hope that the point becomes moot will rest in the development of lacrosse in MDIA heavy regions, hopefully to the point that MDIA becomes NCAA.



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