June 4, 2009

Midwest Muscle: AQ League Prepping for ‘12

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Andrew Bellville and the rest of the Carthage players will be eligible for conference awards when the Midwest Lacrosse Conference goes live next spring. The MLC will start with seven teams in 2010 and then balloon to perhaps as many as 12 by the time the league's NCAA automatic qualifier kicks in during the 2012 season.
© Mike Gryniewicz

Chris Delfausse needed a better answer.

The coach of the Adrian (Mich.) men's lacrosse team was being bombarded with the same query on the recruiting trail and his reply just wasn't cutting it.

"One of the first questions I get when I sit down with a kid or call him on the phone is, ‘What conference are you in?'" said Delfausse, who is entering his third season with the Bulldogs.

Sick of constantly trying to put a positive spin on his status as a Division III independent in the hinterlands of the sport, Delfausse decided to simplify his life.

He formed his own conference.

Starting this coming spring - and solidified in 2012 with the addition of an auto-bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament - the Midwest Lacrosse Conference will be part of the MD3 lexicon.

"We wanted to be able to sell our schools better and becoming part of a conference is a big part of it," said Delfausse, who recognized Dave Neff from Carthage (Wis.) and Nick Silva at Fontbonne (Mo.) as coaches who helped make the MLC a reality. "None of our conferences were going in full bore - I know our conference is at least four or five years away - so why don't we do our own thing and see what we can do?"

The MLC will initially start with seven teams in 2010 - Carthage, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Trine (Ind.), Adrian, Albion (Mich.), Mount St. Joseph's (Ohio) and Fontbonne - which is the minimum needed for a conference AQ from the NCAA.

Other programs, however, are expected to join in the next year or so.

Aurora (Ill.) and Concordia (Wis.) have already declared they will be going varsity in 2011 and the potential for other Illinois teams - perhaps Benedictine or Lake Forest - to go varsity is considered likely in the next couple of months. With Otterbein (Ohio) and St. Vincent (Pa.) also showing interest, the league's numbers could swell past a dozen by the time the AQ kicks in.

The MLC coaches met on June 2 to ratify their bylaws and hammer out any remaining details for the league's dry run next spring. There will likely be no NCAA participants coming out of the conference prior to the auto-bid, but the new arrangement will at least provide the members with key benefits.

In addition to providing a satisfactory answer on recruiting calls, the formation of the MLC allows the players at the various schools to receive accolades - one of the biggest attractions for Delfausse.

"When you're an independent, you either get All-American or you get nothing," said Delfausse, who played collegiately at Connecticut College. "That's hard enough to get, especially when you're in a new program, so it started with giving our kids all-conference awards and academic awards. Basically, it's a way for us to recognize our kids."

For those schools on the western edge of the conference's geographic footprint, guaranteed games, especially at home, is a huge bonus.

"I had one home game last year in my first season," said Neff, the coach at Carthage, located in Kenosha, Wis. "We were traveling to Alabama and Philadelphia. Any game that I can get more local, which is four to five hours, is a good thing."

At a macro level, the formation of the MLC is a huge step for lacrosse in the Great Lakes area.

Instead of floating along for several years trying to find its niche, a start-up program can now jump into an established league, fill out its schedule quickly, and be eligible for an NCAA bid - all of which will make the idea of starting a new lacrosse team more palatable for a prospective athletic department.

The MLC will also act as a "mother league" - providing time for traditional NCAA conferences to build up the number of sponsors needed for an AQ, and then branch off. Members of the Northern Athletics Conference (Milwaukee Engineering, Aurora, Concordia) or the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (Adrian, Albion) will have an opportunity to showcase the sport and entice other institutions to give it a shot.

"That's exactly what I see happening. I'm not sure if schools that are going to be in it for the long haul would be happy with that, but since I'm at one of those schools that envisions going back to its original conference, I think it's great," said Neff, whose school is a traditional member of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW).

"Sooner or later, one of these conferences is going to have enough teams to go [for their own AQ]. That's why we're looking to get big early so if one of the conferences leave, the MLC will still keep going," said Delfausse. "We don't want to see it die if another conference goes active. I want this league to survive as a lasting lacrosse conference. We're trying to structure it so other conferences can grow, but keep the MLC stable and active."

What does this mean for the rest of men's Division III?

Not a whole lot. The loss of six independents, along with the conversion of four more indies with the impending formation of the SCAC in 2011, means the number of Pool B bids will likely drop in the near future. But that's about it.

This move wasn't about the rest of the division, however. It was about lacrosse in the Midwest being able to answer the important questions when it comes to impressing talented prep players all over the country.

"Even when I told our guys in the locker room that we were approved, they were excited to be able to play for a conference championship next year," said Delfausse. "It builds in more excitement. Now we have five or six games on the schedule that mean more than the others. And programs out here need every edge we can find to get those recruits away from the more established programs."


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