MJ: The State of Michigan's Excellent Year
Let's be honest, the state of Michigan doesn't have a lot going for it right now. Unemployment numbers hover above 15 percent, two automakers are trying to scramble out of bankruptcy, and Detroit, well, just Detroit in general. But just when you think the 26th state is about to slowly slide into the abyss, it totally redeems itself.
The redemption has come through college lacrosse. There were numerous Michiganders, led by the likes of Roanoke's superb midfielder Justin Tuma (Bloomfield Hills), who had excellent years, and Davenport (Grand Rapids) made an improbable run to the MCLA Division II national championship as a five seed. One of Davenport's rivals, Grand Valley State (Allendale), put together an undefeated season and was ranked No. 1 in MCLA-2 for much of the season. While neither of them won a title, both the University of Michigan and Michigan State were Top 6 seeds in the MCLA Division I tournament. That was followed closely by the long-awaited announcement that the Wolverines would be joining the NCAA D-I ranks starting in 2012. In NCAA D-I, Detroit Mercy made the MAAC championship game in its third season.
Yesterday, the upward trend for the Great Lakes State continued. Hope (Holland), Calvin (Grand Rapids) and Olivet announced that they would be going varsity as well. The news in itself is not totally unexpected – there has been a steady addition of Midwestern teams to the NCAA realm and these schools had been flirting with the idea for some time (Hope actually had a false start a couple of years ago). The manner in which they coordinated the decision, however, was extremely impressive.
Instead of hastily leaping into the NCAA fray and worrying about the details later as some new programs have done, Hope, Calvin, Olivet and their conference – the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) – locked down all the details before officially taking the plunge. The individual announcements by the schools were complemented by the MIAA's concurrent declaration that the conference would sponsor the sport starting in 2013. Because it is a "traditional" conference, as opposed to an artificial league set up just for the sport like the Midwest Lacrosse Conference (MLC), the MIAA will immediately be eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament since it'll have the prerequisite seven programs (Adrian, Albion, Alma, Calvin, Hope, Olivet and Trine).
By making the joint proclamation yesterday, the MIAA also showed an admirable level of courtesy to the MLC, of which Adrian, Albion and Trine are members through this coming year. Instead of waiting until a later date, the MIAA's announcement gives the MLC a year to reformulate its league (it will still have enough teams to keep its AQ in 2013) and set its schedules without having to scramble at the last minute. The MIAA's eye toward the welfare of other growing programs in the Midwest should not go unnoticed.
The synergy between the schools and the conference to make this happen in such a clean fashion is a testament to both their organizational skills and seriousness about the undertaking. As the sport continues to grow at the Division III level and other leagues flirt with the idea of adding lacrosse to its sponsorship roll, they should look toward the MIAA for the blueprint in which to follow.
The last 12 months were a solid annum for lacrosse in general, but with this newest revelation, it's clear that 2011 was Michigan's year.