A central tenet it the Communist Manifesto is that government should take from each individual according to their ability and give to each individual according to their need. The world of major college athletics operates in a somewhat similar fashion – major revenue sports such as football and basketball provide the financial support for non-revenue sports, ranging from crew to baseball. However, some sports exist outside of this continuum, and fend for themselves in the wilds of Club Sports – by and large, these teams are more than just sports teams, as players pay for their own tuition, pay for the privilege to participate in their sport, and invest further sweat equity in cold, hard, labor to ensure that their teams stay afloat.
One such team at Michigan is the Men’s Lacrosse team. Presently, Men’s Lacrosse is the single most successful team on campus – winners of thirty-five consecutive games, the defending MCLA champions, and the current #1 ranked team in MCLA – an organization comprised of over 200 university club lacrosse teams. The team is 85-2 in league play, both of those losses coming in the finals of the league tournament, and has won eight of the last ten league championships (this year likely will bring that to 9 of 11). While comprising this record, the team had been funded by revenues generated by player-run lacrosse camps for high-school players, an assortment of sponsorships that garner the team a free weekly team-dinner (at Cottage Inn!) and the bulk of their equipment, somewhat lofty club-dues, alumni donations, and a parent-run booster club largely responsible for pre and post-game snacks (seriously, they also run the end-of-year banquet and help form sponsorship and partnership deals). Support for the sport, and the team, is growing – Michigan’s Men’s team attracts several hundred fans a game, and, when they play Michigan State, fills the stands with over 5,000 spectators – there to watch a club team, and our friend’s at Varsity Blue already offer extensive coverage of the team.
What has become clear is that Michigan’s Men’s Lacrosse team has outgrown its level of competition. Of the 200+ teams in the MCL, Michigan’s fourteen game schedule has featured eight of the top-25 teams in the organization, and they have won those games by a combined score of 93-48, with their chief rivalry game versus #7 Michigan State still to play (they have 10 of their last 11 against Michigan State, including a 21-5 blood-letting in their last meeting at the 2008 CCLA Championship game). Eleven team members recently received All-CCLA honors – despite the fact that you only start ten players in lacrosse. Sporting an unblemished record against occasional D-II and D-III opponents in recent years, Michigan’s Club team badly needs an upgrade in their level of competition.
Many can level one of several claims why the promotion shouldn’t come – beating up a Club-level schedule isn’t the same as Division I, financial concerns, and Title IX concerns. However, let’s take these one-by-one to see if these claims ring true.
1. Success against club teams isn’t an indication that the team is ready for NCAA Division I Lacrosse.
First, there are two levels of club teams – teams that exist in addition to a varsity sport at the same school (for instance, there is a women’s club volleyball team at Michigan) and those that are the only team the school field’s in it’s sport. In the case of club teams and varsity co-existing, the club team clearly gets an inferior caliber of athlete. Club lacrosse, however, nearly never co-exists with a varsity team. Thus, the Club teams in the MCLA (which contains many large “Division I” Universities such as Michigan, MSU, Illinois, Colorado, BYU, Pitt, and Georgia) are the best lacrosse players at these large schools. Thus, the level of competition in the league is generally regarded as equivalent to top-level D-II or D-III lacrosse or mid to low level D-I lacrosse.
Second, Michigan is currently not only beating the current MCLA competition, but crushing a schedule larded with the best teams available to play. If the quality of play in the MCLA is generally regarded as “low-level D-I or top D-II”, Michigan is leaps and bounds superior to that standard.
Third, Michigan actually has a small track-record against elite D-I competition. In 2007, a Michigan team inferior to the current iteration hosted then NCAA #1 Johns Hopkins and #8 Army in “The Wolverine Showcase” – a series of scrimmages. While Johns Hopkins put the wood to the Wolverines, Michigan played respectably against Army (who went on to beat the defending champion Blue Jays later in the day), losing 11-5. In a game against College Lacrosse’s best, the Wolverines were not out of place.
Finally, the ability to recruit players and offer scholarships would only enhance the current talent-base. Michiganalready enjoys superior facilities to most D-I teams (Johns Hopkins and Army were reportedly “awed” by Oosterbaan Field House), and would have an easy time attracting better talent.
2. Accepting Men’s Lacrosse as a Varsity sport would violate Title IX.
Yes, accepting only Men’s Lacrosse as a varsity sport is an impossibility. Thankfully, Michigan’s women’s club lacrosse team is also riotously successful. While they don’t boast as mind-boggling a resume as the men’s club, the women’s team has been the third most successful female club team in the WDIA – the Women’s Club lacrosse league, behind Cal-Poly (7 national championships) and Colorado State. The women’s team is currently ranked third in the nation, with a number of victories over top-ten teams.
Accepting men’s lacrosse would require that the school grant varsity status to a female program – but a worthy program does exist at Michigan.
3. It will cost too much money.
Men’s lacrosse has a current annual budget of around $520,000; with women’s lacrosse’s budget coming in at slightly more than half (they have a significantly smaller roster). According to the Athletic department budget, the department, even after paying for Michigan Stadium renovations, will earn over $2.5 million dollars in 2009 – more than enough to cover the operating budgets of the two programs. Admittedly, there is additional cost in that they would now need to offer athletic scholarships, but the Department already makes a sizeable contribution of $1.9 million to the university general fund to endow non-athletic scholarships. This dollar amount could fund an out-of state scholarship for every rostered member of both teams – despite the fact that neither team would be comprised solely of scholarship athletes (NCAA rules only allow 12.6 scholarships per year for Men’s Lacrosse and 12 for Women’s – which would still allow for a surplus in the budget and not impact the AD’s ability to contribute to the general fund), nor would they come from out of state.
Further, part of the approximately $806,000 that would need to spent in order to fund the sports above and beyond the scholarships is already be raised by the team. The current funding comes from a few primary sources: alumni gifts, booster gifts, camps, and club dues. As a varsity sport, the program would still be able to hold camps and receive contributions. The team gets the vast majority of it’s equipment in sponsorship arrangements – an arrangement that likely wouldn’t need to change. Thus, the only true new cost that the athletic department would need to pick up is the amount currently covered by club dues – $3,500 per player, or, $157,500. For Women’s lacrosse, dues aren’t published, but at the same rate, it would be an additional $87,500 – well within the current AD budget structure.
Comrades, it is time to stand up for our marginalized Wolverine brethren – the riotously successful lacrosse players toiling in your midst, paying and working for the privilege to represent the school. You can show your support this Saturday by attending their season-ending matchup with #7 Michigan State at 7 PM at Seaholm High School. For more information on Michigan lacrosse, or to check out highlights if you’re unfamiliar with the sport, check out the newly-minted Mflowblue, written, it would seem, by injured senior midfielder Nick Standiford and featuring videos from senior attack Wes McGowan.