Smith: Dividing Lines
by Alex Smith | MCLA.us
I don’t follow the MCLA Division II. I guess that makes me an elitist. Maybe the same kind of elitist that looks down on the MCLA from the golden pedestal of NCAA lacrosse.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that our programs have an opportunity to play and that we, as an association, have grown lacrosse at the college level by leaps and bounds over our NCAA counterparts. I love that we have brought lacrosse to the west coast in a major way and have established rivalries and conferences that would not have otherwise existed.
But I’ve always had a problem with our Division II. I’ve been fairly outspoken about it, so this shouldn’t be a bombshell.
Let me be clear that I do not believe quality Division II programs are in any way inferior to Division I teams. Look at Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs were a great Division I program for a lot of years, but becoming a member of Division II has been less than overwhelming to this point on the field. I personally would have loved to see all those UMLC schools move up, but putting the Bulldogs on the field with the surfeit of successful regional programs appears to be the right move.
The main reason the MCLA started the second division was to give a forum for the smaller schools who felt like they weren’t being represented on the national stage. After all, we had well over 100 teams at the time and only 16 were competing for the national championship.
From the beginning, the MCLA struggled with how to differentiate the two divisions. All ideas were in play – school size, athletic department classification, competitive advantages, etc. No matter the choice, it seemed there was a faction of the association that ended up being negatively affected.
So, in lieu of a better solution, the MCLA chose to use whether or not your school had a Division I football team.
This was clumsy in a lot of ways. Even though the MCLA was trying to do the right thing by engaging more programs, there were teams that didn’t make sense in this kind of a split. Chapman doesn’t have a Division I football team. Neither do UCSB, Sonoma State or Chico. But they didn’t want to be forced to “play down”.
From that point on, the MCLA was in a difficult spot. By not forcing the small-school teams to play in Division II, they implicitly condoned the concept that one division was “better” than the other. Meanwhile, teams like Wyoming, New Mexico, and Alabama just did not have programs that could compete with anyone in either division. They would lose games in similar fashion to the Washington State-Simon Fraser debacle and it would serve only to set their programs back even further and dissuade future members from joining the team.
As of 2015, the league changed course by allowing teams to choose their division and then stay there for at least three years. It’s a decent solution, but it goes in the face of the MCLA’s long-held contention that Division II is not for developing teams.
It is true that there are inherent advantages to being at a large school where you have more potential athletes to pull from. At the same time, a lot of the smaller schools (especially NAIA-sponsored programs, which is a completely different can of worms and worthy of its own discussion) give far more support to their programs than a large university that wants to keep things a little more “clubby.”
The schools that advocated for and benefitted the most from the second division have generally resided in the Midwest. These are quality schools with exemplary lacrosse programs like St. Thomas, St. Johns, Dayton and more. It makes sense on its face to separate these schools from larger public and private universities with over 25,000 students. They are completely different experiences.
We’ve had schools like Montana, University of San Diego, Davenport and Westminster make the jump from Division II into Division I after having success or winning championships. Those teams bid adieu to their D-II counterparts for greener pastures and none of them have had consistent success at the D-I level. I’m not sure I have the answer that works for everyone, but letting programs choose their division puts us on a slippery slope.
The solution is not to cast aside the teams that aren’t as competitive. There is a place for developing teams within the MCLA, but with our current structure, that place appears to be Division II. And I’m not sure that’s the outcome the rest of the Division II teams wanted.
On to the games...
Last Week: 5-3 | Overall: 13-3
Teams are squarely in the heart of conference play as we draw nearer to the end of the MCLA’s 20th season. With the out of conference shuffling (mostly) behind us, it’s a slate of conference and rivalry games when many teams are in desperation mode to get a quality win and/or make their conference tournament.
As I feared, I missed two of the “ACC” games in Baltimore, but otherwise had solid picks last week. Florida State had an impressive weekend and Colorado State got their quality win over Brigham Young. Grand Canyon’s victory over Arizona puts special importance on this week’s Arizona State/Arizona game.
Boston College 14, Florida State 13 (FSU 11, BC 9)
Virginia Tech 9, Boston College 8 (BC 11, VT 9)
Florida State 15, Virginia Tech 10 (FSU 13, VT 10)
BYU 14, CU 12 (CU 15, BYU 10)
CSU 9, BYU 6 (CSU 10, BYU 6)
Cal Poly 10, Stanford 9 (Poly 14, Stanford 5)
Georgia Tech 11, Georgia 6 (GT 18, UGA 8)
Grand Canyon 15, Arizona 8 (GCU 11, UofA 10)
This week’s games:
Liberty at Virginia Tech
Neither the Flames nor the Hokies have the resumes to get into the MCLA tournament as an at-large, at least as things stand now. Both teams defeated Michigan State, but don’t have another quality win on the schedule. You could argue one of these teams moves up into the top 10-12 if they were to win this game and then make a run to the SELC championship game. The teams have nearly identical schedules and results to this point – and have split the last two games between them – so we’ll see how Virginia Tech responds after a disappointing weekend in Baltimore. The Hokies will need to play with desperation to get this one.
Liberty 12, Virginia Tech 11New Hampshire at Boston College
Boston College faces a tough test this weekend, hosting two PCLL opponents on consecutive days. Unfortunately for them, they get the New Hampshire Wildcats on the back-end of the home swing while UNH has no opponent the day before. It’s been a relatively quiet month for UNH after they opened some eyes in Utah back in March. The victory over Utah Valley, and to some extent the loss to BYU, don’t look as impressive as they once did, so UNH needs this one to prove they are in the conversation for an MCLA tournament bid.
BC’s 1-1 weekend against Florida State and Virginia Tech kept them solidly in the top 15. They can’t afford to drop any conference games prior to the PCLL tourney. The only common opponent to this point is Rhode Island, which both teams handled easily. I’m sticking with chalk here and will pick the Eagles to squeak one out.
Boston College 14, New Hampshire 12
Arizona State at Arizona
Okay, LaxCats. You didn’t get the win over Grand Canyon that you needed, and you dropped a bad one to UNLV. It’s win or go home for the team whose bandwagon has gotten a little smaller every week this season. Arizona has not won against Arizona State since 2007 when their head coach was Kenny Broschart. A loss on Saturday will make it a clean decade of dominance for the Devils, but U of A holds all the intangible advantages in this game. ASU had to reschedule the trip to Colorado this week, so it will be the fourth game in eight days for the Devils. Plus, it will be held in Tucson. Both teams need the game to boost resumes. I think the Devils just have more on offense to get past the Cats.
Arizona State 11, Arizona 8
Colorado State at Colorado
The Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Showdown is this weekend (barring a snowstorm that is looming over the mountains) and this game has the markings of a classic. The Buffs and Rams are a contrast in styles and, simply put, the team that is able to impose their will on the opponent will take this one. I think the CSU defense and CU offense will be a good battle (CU’s offense has put up 10 goals or more in each game this season while CSU’s defense has become the hottest unit in the MCLA), but the real story will be on the other end of the field.
The Buffalo defense, not helped by the team’s 10-man ride, has given up 10 goals in seven games so far this season. Meanwhile, the Rams haven’t been a dynamic offense – scoring more than 10 only five times. Whoever is able to get the most out of their weakness will come out on top of this game. And my gut (and heart) tell me it’s going to be the Rams.
Colorado State 11, Colorado 10
Chapman at UC-Santa Barbara
This is Chapman’s last test before the conference tournament and the Gauchos are not slouches by any stretch. UCSB lacks a dynamic scoring threat, but they play solid team defense and keep scores low with their pace and tempo. Both teams have breezed through conference play in a down year for the SLC North. Neither team has been seriously tested since late March, so it’s hard to say which team that will benefit more. I have a hard time seeing how the Gauchos are going to score enough goals to keep up with Chapman’s balanced offense. The Panthers have four 40-point players so far this season and they should win this one fairly comfortably.
Chapman 12, UCSB 6
Oregon at Simon Fraser
Speaking of desperation, Simon Fraser is one loss away from likely not qualifying for the PNCLL tournament. For those who have followed the MCLA for a long time, that’s a real testament to the other teams in the conference and how far they have come. Even if Washington drops one to Oregon State, they still have the head-to-head win over the Clan to get them the No. 4 seed in the PNCLL tourney. So this one is imperative for SFU to move things to tiebreakers.
The Ducks rolled past Boise last weekend somewhat surprisingly, so it seems unlikely that SFU will be able to pull this upset. But, despite the outcry from their 45-0 debacle earlier this year, Brent Hoskins is a solid coach who will have his team ready. I still like the Ducks in this game, even if it is in British Columbia and they haven’t won a game against SFU since 2013.
Oregon 14, Simon Fraser 10
Texas at Southern Methodist
This is a first-round playoff game in the Lone Star Alliance and features SMU, an unproven, but undefeated team against Texas, once the LSA’s darling team now relegated to third banana. This game is a rematch of SMU’s 8-6 win over the Longhorns way back in early February. SMU’s schedule is pretty weak and they haven’t been seriously tested since a one-goal win over Texas A&M. Texas is coming off a 1-1 weekend with one goal games against Purdue and Pittsburgh.
I’m taking the Longhorns and I don’t have much else to say about it. I’d love to see an LSA team take the next step on the national stage. The conference only has one tournament win (TAMU in 2003) in MCLA history.
Texas 12, SMU 10