April 5, 2012

Coyne v. Censer: Defining 'Institutional Advantage'

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Some might argue that Amherst (and LSM Danny Gold, above) has an institutional advantage over other schools in Division III. Who cares? There's 10 players and a ball on the field when they whistle blows. If a program is worried about all of the disadvantages it has, it has already lost.
© Sam Masinter

Joel leads us off this week...

"Institutional advantage" is an interesting term. Generally it means certain qualities of a school (its location, its price, its academic profile), give it an inherent leg up on the competition. And in Division III lacrosse, it's used pretty regularly (including by me) to discern the "haves" from the "have nots."

Certainly, you've heard these refrains before...

"Of course Salisbury and Cortland are going play for the national championships. They charge state tuition and have high admission rates in states ripe with lacrosse talent!"

Or...

"Of course, Gettysburg is going to win Centennial titles. It's got strong academics, is a stone's throw from Baltimore, and is a madras, sundress-friendly campus."

Or ...

"Of course, Middlebury is a good program (at least, historically). They can pilfer the Founders League with a two-sport sales pitch, the promise of ski trips to Canada, and all the venture capital career opportunities Thad could ever want!"

This logic can even be carried over to then explain why teams are struggling, as well. Washington College's Y2K problems (I know, I know, the Shoremen are rumbling now) are often addressed through the prism of private school tuition rates and academic rankings.

But if private colleges (unless they have certain US News and World Report bonafides) are at such a severe disadvantage, how is Stevenson so much better than CAC rivals and state beneficiaries Mary Washington and St. Mary's? Many DIII aficionados would point to the Mustangs' proximity to Maryland and Washington, D.C., and its transfer-friendly admissions office. Other private school powers with similar profiles and in advantageous locations (WNEC, Cabrini, Springfield, Nazareth) have been following this model for years.

But if these types of schools need to be siphoning local recruits from lacrosse-friendly environs, how do you explain schools like Lynchburg or Roanoke? Two schools who despite being pretty far removed from the I-95, I-90 corridors still consistently compete at a national level?

The point is, trying to categorize exactly why teams are good, and chalking their success to external factors seems to be a futile (and incomplete) exercise. For every Salisbury, there's a Montclair State. For every Haverford, there's a Vassar.

So what is it Jac? How much do "institutional advantages" matter these days? Can anyone be good with the right coach? Or does the school have to be a selling point too?

COYNE: During my days attending and working at NESCAC schools, I would hear coaches lamenting what they didn't have on a daily basis.

"Oh, well we can't get in Canadians like School X." "Heck, they're giving out poetry scholarships to offensive linemen at School Y." "I only have half the tips as School Z. How can I realistically compete?"

In reality, those who buy into the notion of institutional advantages are really just excuse-makers. And when individuals – whether it is a coach, administrator or even a player – buy into this mindset of not having the same benefits as others, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Why should I hit the wall for an extra hour this week, we're just going to get smoked." "I'm not going to spend an extra hour making recruiting calls because I'll never get the kind of kid I need." "Why should I hire a top-notch coach when we'll never make our conference tournament."

I have no sympathy for those who embrace this canard. Yes, every school and program doesn't have the same resources, educational reputation or premium location.

Welcome to life.

There's always somebody who's going to have more money. There's always somebody who is going to be smarter. There's always going to be the sun shining somewhere when it's raining on you.

You can either throw your hands up and complain about it as you get left in the dust, or you can continue to outwork the competition. You can continue to run into the wall using the same techniques, or you can find a secondary path to achieving your goals.

College athletics is suppose to be a tool to prepare student-athletes for the real world. If coaches, administrators and even fans are using the institutional advantage excuse to downplay expectations for their teams, then intercollegiate competition is a failure.

To the games (Censer picks up a game, so it's Jac at 30-10 and Joel posting a 26-14 mark)...

No. 8 Denison (9-0) at No. 6 Stevenson (10-2) – Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

COYNE: It's games like this where I'll flip the schedules and then try to figure out whether these two teams would have the same record. I feel pretty confident that the Mustangs would have equaled Denison's mark, especially considering that Stevenson is the only ranked team on the schedule. But how would the Big Red do with the schedule Paul Cantabene put together?

Alex Hardt and No. 8 Denison face their stiffest test of the season when they travel to No. 6 Stevenson on Saturday afternoon.
(c) Jace Delgado

Honestly, I think they'd fare relatively the same way, with Denison likely being 9-3 at this point. As a result, I'll take the 'Stangs, but it'll be close. Stevenson, 8-6.

CENSER: They're flying under the radar a bit, but the Mustangs are getting healthier (Tyler Reid is back) and are coming into form on the offensive end.

Denison is a solid, veteran squad, and probably has an advantage at the faceoff circle. Defenseman Nick Farrell is a rock.

But as Jac mentioned, the Big Red hasn't faced a team like the 'Stangs yet. Stevenson longsticks Kyle Holecheck, Parker Bratton and Ryan Rubenstein are going to push out and challenge. They're going to throw checks. Ian Bolland is going to make saves.

Will the Denison tablesetter Cory Couture and Co., punch back? I think so. Denison 10-7.

Ursinus (5-5) at No. 18 Gettysburg (6-3) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: There's still plenty of time left for some movement, but at this point the top three seeds in the four-team Centennial Conference tournament appear to be set with Washington College, Dickinson and Gettysburg all undefeated in conference play. That fourth spot is still up grabs, and if Ursinus wants to stay in the mix, they'll need this tough road victory. If the Bears lose and F&M beats Swarthmore, the Dips will be two games clear of Ursinus with the tiebreaker.

Gettysburg doesn't send the chills down the spine of the conference anymore, especially with double-overtime victories over Swat, but Ursinus is on a four-game skid, which includes a loss to Eastern. I'll take the Bullets, 9-6.

CENSER: In what's become a sort of annual rite of preseason, Ursinus message board posters always assure us that this is going to be the Bears' year.

In 2012, coach Jamie Steele (a Gettysburg alum) seems to have put together the school's best team since Dane Mangin was running roughshod on the Astroturf.

The Bears have played well at times (and Eastern is better than people give them credit for), but the four-game slide is head scratching. Even with Haverford's demise, Ursinus is still scrapping for that fourth conference playoff spot.

I think Jeff Ocampo will get healthy and get it going again. I think the Bears will make the Centennial playoffs. But I just can't trust them in a grinder with the Boulets. 'Burg, 7-5.

No. 19 Trinity (6-2) at No. 11 Bowdoin (8-2) – Saturday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: This might be the game of the weekend, with the winner assuming control of the NESCAC. For a couple of days, anyway. Bowdoin's only loss has come to Amherst in Florida, 14-12, while both of Trinity's setbacks have come out of conference (Skidmore, WNE). Of course, the Bantams are coming off the overtime victory against Tufts on Saturday.

Peter Johnson is a difference-maker in net, and he was huge in the Chicken's win over the Jumbos. Although he gave up eight goals to Western Connecticut on Tuesday – the same amount he allowed to Tufts – he can change the complexion of a game single-handedly. Where this one will be determined is at the dot. The Bantams got housed on faceoffs by WCSU, and Bowdoin has a premium draw man in Brendan Hughes (62.4%). That will give the Polar Bears just enough enough extra possessions to pull it out home, 10-9.

CENSER: Jac's right. Johnson's legit. Plus, Trinity has some proven options on the offensive end.

But there's something I like about this Bowdoin team in coach Tom McCabe's final year at the helm. Maybe it's the balanced scoring. Or Hughes's work at the face-off stripe. Or the way they can grind or get up and down. When you consider that a trip from Hartford to Brunswick is no walk in the park, it's all Polar Bears here. 11-6 Bowdoin.

COYNE: I felt a lot better about my pick before Bowdoin got handled by Bates on Wednesday night.

Coyne's Pick

Keene State (3-4) at Eastern Conn. (4-4) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: I'm 0-for-the season picking Keene State, but I'm going back to the well again, although they are going against team just as grizzled as the Owls in ECSU. Not much analysis here. This is strictly to see if Keene State can pay me off once this season, because this the last attempt. Owls, 11-8.

CENSER: You have to give both these teams credit. Both have left the Little East confines looking for competition. Both took some lumps on the chin from quality opponents.

With Michael Sullinger and Mike Devine leading the way, ECSU looks more explosive on offense than the Owls. Keene State has quality defense, but I think the Warriors will score enough here. 12-7 ECSU.

Censer's Pick

No. 14 Amherst (7-2) at Middlebury (2-6) – Saturday, 2 p.m.

CENSER: Before the season started, the NESCACohphiles had this game circled on their calendar.

Traditional power meets feisty upstart. Not to mention the Lord Jeffs ended the Panthers season last year in the NCAA tournament.

Still, in year two of the Jon Thompson reclamation project, there has been some stumbles. Getting ground up by the Weseylan zone and running into a red-hot keeper in Hamilton, N.Y. knocked the pre-season luster right off the Jeffs.

But Evan Redwood, Devin Acton can fill it up, and I can't see a Midd team starved for goals keeping up with a motivated Amherst offense for 60 minutes. Lord Jeffs get back on track here. Amherst, 13-5.

COYNE: I know the conference determines the available dates, and I'm sure Middlebury wasn't planning on being 2-5 heading into the Thursday-Saturday gauntlet with Tufts and Amherst, but that was a pretty big mouthful to bite off even if the Panthers were running hot. A national finalist and quarterfinalist in the span of 70 hours? C'mon.

Considering the run that Middlebury's been on over the past 15 years, they've earned the right to have a hiccup year without having every Chicken Little from Burlington to Boston wringing their hands. But 2012 has been a stinker, and if the Panthers lose both contests (which I think they will), they'll be doomed to their first losing season since 1990. Lord Jeffs, 10-7.

Coyne v. Censer Archive

Week Seven: Making a Case for the NCAC
Week Six: Whittier Still California Dreaming
Week Five: Finding the ODAC's Blueprint
Week Four: NESCAC's Degree of Difficulty
Week Three: Using Scheduling to Recruit
Week Two: The State of the Shoremen
Week One: Starting with a Must-Game


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