June 28, 2012

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Summer Reading Email Exchange: Forman v. Censer Part III

by Matt Forman and Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com

Will Tom Schreiber and Princeton make a deep run in 2013?
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Unabashed Bill Simmons-wannabe Joel Censer — he of Uncensered and Coyne v. Censer fame — enlisted Lacrosse Magazine's Matt Forman for the newest volume of the growing Censer brand-building media properties list: Summer Reading Email Exchange, a play off Grantland's Gladwell vs. Simmons.

The result? Well, about 5,500 words covering some of college lacrosse's hot-button storylines and many other worthwhile topics.

This is Part III. Click here to read Part I, and here for Part II.

Censer sent the first email, and we kept them going for a full week — from Saturday to Saturday. Here's what transpired...

CENSER: In many ways, the growth of the club game seems to parallel what happened to youth basketball in America a couple decades ago. "AAUization" meant many of our best young hoopers playing on quickly constructed teams, where winning and being seen was the primary emphasis. So general fundamentals and team play suffered a bit.

In basketball, Europeans who had focused more on fundamentals growing up picked up the slack (there's a reason Dirk Nowitzki is 7-foot and can shoot better than anyone else). In lacrosse, there's a whole northern continent of box-trained, slick-stick handlers ready to fill the void.

[Steps off soapbox...]

Ok... Top-5 offenses for 2013, listed in descending order:

5. Princeton — Tom Schreiber meets the world.
4. Denver — Have to replace Mark Matthews. But Wes Berg, Cam Flint and Jeremy Noble can ball.
3. Loyola — I'm interested how much the Eric Lusby void on the left side matters. Every other starter returns.
2. North Carolina — Another lacrosse season, another year of the Heels trying to figure out how to get all those attackmen on the field.
1. Colgate — Ryan Walsh doesn't get the same type of hype as Peter Baum in Hamilton, N.Y., but I wouldn't want to guard him.

How's that for a list?

FORMAN: That's a clown question, bro.

But seriously, you deserve a pat on the back. [Slow clap...] Really impressed with your club lacrosse, AAU basketball comparison. Bravo. Tremendous. Question: What about the club soccer scene? Are there any parallels or comparisons there?

I approve of your top-5 offenses, and I don't have any Notre Dame-like bones to pick. This is a tough, tough list to compile. (I'd probably give the nod to Carolina; Marcus Holman deserves preseason player of the year consideration.) But I'd like to throw a couple teams into the mix, at least for consideration.

In no particular order:
1. Robert Morris — Yep, I said it. And this is right up your alley, Joel. The "Canadian-infused road show" has led the nation in scoring offense for each of the last three seasons. Kiel Matisz graduates, but each of the next top four scorers return: Jake Hayes, Dave Morton, Kyle Buchanan and Casey Abbott.
2. Albany — Like Robert Morris, top scorer Joe Resetaritis graduates. But on pure, silly talent alone? Miles, Ty and Lyle Thompson might be among the most fun players to watch in the country.
3. Cornell — Averaged 12 goals per game last year without Rob Pannell. Assuming the "Red Mamba" returns, watch out. Sophomores Matt Donovan and Connor Buczek, alongside Connor English and Max Van Bourgondien, will make Ivy League defensive coordinators shudder.

CENSER: Can't say I know much about select soccer. Except that when I was in middle school it took all the cute girls away on weekends.

But regarding our more foot-oriented sport, I think there's another futbol trend that very much relates to lacrosse. England, which has a long history of having their youth play on large fields, recently scrapped their kick-and-run model in favor of small-sided five-on-five games that take place on smaller pitches, use smaller goals and focus mostly on developing skills.

This small-sided trend has been pervasive in many countries for many years (ever see this Ronaldinho clip?). More than decade ago, a British schoolteacher named Simon Clifford wondered why Brazil was such a dominant force in international soccer. Traveling through the country, Clifford attributed much of the success to a lack of field space in the cities. Without expansive green pitches to play full-field, kids in favelas and other urban recesses focused their energies on Futsal, a version of soccer that is played in tight confines and with a weightier, more compact ball that can't be booted downfield. As a result, kids learned to more effectively dribble through defenders, get more touches and be creative.

Today, everyone from FC Barcelona's La Masia school (which produced Lionel Messi) to the US Youth Soccer Organization promotes the small-sided philosophy.

Do I think in a decade, when half the attackmen in Division I are from the Hill School, that youth lacrosse teams will be playing small-sided games or starting in — Gasp! — an indoor box? Well, history does have a way of repeating itself.

Enough talk about indoor lacrosse though. Although I think I do deserve some Canadian citizenship perks for all I've written about boxla (like free health insurance, a signed Steve Nash jersey, a lifetime supply of poutine or a personal Rush concert).

Your reminding me about Cornell's offense and "The Red Mamba" made me want to riff on a point you made earlier. Can Pannell or Schreiber lead an Ivy League school back to the final four?

It's been two years since the Big Red were last felt at championship weekend, and Princeton's turn-of-century salad days seem like a distant memory. When Jeff Tambroni and Bill Tierney bolted for Penn State and Denver, respectively, people murmured (fairly or not) that it was in part because they saw the writing on the wall. That the growth of the game meant the days of Ryan Boyle and Max Seibald choosing between non-scholarship Ivy League schools wasn't going to last forever.

But the question remains: Is the game growing now at a rate where the Ivy League should expect to be relegated to second-tier status?

In the broader scope of the men's college landscape, will Ivy League schools continue to be able to compete on the recruiting trail?
© Greg Wall

FORMAN: You'll have a hard time convincing me Cornell couldn't have won a national championship last year if Rob Pannell stayed healthy.

Using your world of alternate realities, Pannell plays every game, racks up 100 points and wins the Tewaaraton Award. The Big Red beat Virginia in the Face-Off Classic, don't misstep against Brown, win the Ivy League, land the No. 2 seed in the postseason and make a run to the national championship.

Believable? Certainly. The same could be said for Schreiber and Princeton next year, assuming the Tigers are able to replace several significant pieces off their defense like Chad Wiedmaier and Tyler Fiorito. (And by the way, I've been thoroughly impressed by the recruiting inroads Harvard has made over the past few seasons.)

But, as you said, if history has a way of repeating itself, the Ivy League's future — 10 years from now, since you used that in reference to Canadian attackmen — might not be so bright.

I mean, a quick look in the college football record book tells you Princeton (28) and Yale (27) have the most national titles of all-time. Now they don't play with the big boys like Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama and Southern Cal; they survive in the Football Championship Subdivision.

How about college basketball? Storied program Princeton made the Sweet 16 six times in the 1950s and 1960s, when Bill Bradley played. They haven't made it back since 1967. Penn last made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in 1979; Columbia 1968; Yale 1962; Harvard 1946.

As sports continue to grow nationally and gain popularity, and as more schools start playing, it becomes tougher and tougher for non-scholarship programs to compete. Sure, there are only 61 Division I men's lacrosse programs. But Furman, Boston University and Monmouth are going to join the ranks soon. And if you're an upper-middle tier lacrosse player, would you take a full scholarship to play at Furman or Michigan, or a partial academic scholarship to play at Princeton or Yale? (The cache of attending a top Ivy League university shouldn't be overlooked. But Furman and Michigan are top-ranked academically, too.)

So I'm not comfortable saying the Ivy League is second-class to anyone, or any conference. But it's certainly an interesting discussion, and a point worth following over the coming years.

CENSER: How do we get to this alternate reality we keep veering off to? Is it in some wormhole in West Islip or Shove Park?

Before consigning the Ivy League into oblivion, it's important to mention a couple things. First, fully funded Division I programs only have 12.6 total scholarships. So if there are 40 people on a team, and the dough is split evenly, guys are still getting only one-third of their tuition covered. That's a pretty modest slice of the pie. Second, these Ivies have endowments bigger than some countries' GDP, and can all offer very generous merit-based financial aid packages. Finally, take a look at Lacrosse Magazine's final high school boys' top 25 poll — 13 of the teams are private schools, and that's not counting the publics in affluent areas like Garden City (N.Y.), Darien (Conn.) and Conestoga (Pa.). The schools that continue to produce elite talent are going to have kids who prioritize academics as much as partial scholarships.

Let's just say I'm not holding breath for the time in lacrosse when the Ivy League isn't relevant.

Speaking of which, how dog-eat-dog is that conference? Besides the usual suspects, Yale returns a whole host of talented poles and one of the best face-off men in the nation, Dylan Levings. Harvard, as you mentioned, brings in gold-plated recruits by the dozen. Brown, Penn and Dartmouth are tough outs too. I root for the Quakers because Mike Murphy was my college coach (how painful was that last-second loss to Villanova on a 30-yard, buzzer-beating heave?). I certainly don't envy that league schedule.

FORMAN: Think this alternate reality likely exists somewhere in the shackles of Corey McLaughlin's brain, since he'll have to edit our ridiculous rants.

But your Ivy League riff is a perfect segue. Wanted to ask you to make one final list: Give me your lacrosse conference-by-conference power rankings for 2013.

CENSER: Another ranking, Forman? Didn't us media types learn anything about all this pre-season hot air after last season? As lacrosse pundits, it's probably best to keep our heads down and not remind everyone about Lacrosse Magazine's February 2012 issue (Denver), or the February 2011 issue, for that matter (Stony Brook).

I guess this is part of sports writing, though. To start dialogue. To get people thinking. To paraphrase Dave Matthews, to fill the space between [Editor's note: Great reference.]. And sometimes, to even get it wrong. That's why it infuriates me when journalists say the team who won the title the last year should be the pre-season favorite. Our job isn't to recycle some formula or do plug-and-chug. Our job is to try to write something readers don't know, and think critically or beyond the obvious.

So on that more philosophical note...
1. ACC
2. ECAC
3. Ivy
4. Patriot
5. CAA
6. Big East
7. America East
8. Northeast
9. MAAC

FORMAN: Forgive me for asking you to make another ranking. In a media world with a 24-hour news cycle, ever-shortening attention spans and feed-the-beast strategies, readers seem to love lists — they're easy to digest and often create a point of contention. Hopefully they offer something beyond the obvious, or yield insight on something not previously uncovered. And that was the point of this email chain. Right?

Or maybe we just need a life?


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