February 20, 2013

Schooling Schooler: Where Are We Headed Next?

by Jac Coyne and Nick Schooler | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

There has always been plenty of seating for the MCLA championships. While facilities are important, the association has never drawn enough fans to mandate the huge stadiums it has been using since 2008.
© Cecil Copeland

It didn't work.

The MCLA's decision to get out of its comfort zone and head to Greenville, S.C., wasn't a terrible choice. Sometimes you have to see what's out there to get a good idea what really works, and what doesn't. Greenville doesn't work, and that's why the MCLA can't possibly re-up for an optional third year in 2014.

The city is fine. I didn't hear much criticism of the Greenville itself. The weather was spectacular, especially when judged on a relative (a.k.a. Denver) scale. The preliminary game fields were superb, and while the main stadium left a little bit to be desired, it was serviceable.

The problem with Greenville was the MCLA put itself above the teams that comprise the organization.

The MCLA has always operated in the black — I've viewed several of its 990 non-profit tax forms dating back to 2007 — and the organization has been well-served by the administrators, but the executive board tried to shoot the moon in Greenville and came up short. Yes, the MCLA saved a huge chunk of money by choosing Greenville and the free facilities it offered, furthering its tradition of fiscal prudence. However, by choosing a small city in South Carolina, the association inadvertently made the qualifying teams foot the bill.

Every nickel that the MCLA made as an organization was off the backs of those teams flying in from the West Coast that were saddled with outrageous travel costs attempting to get to Greenville. OK, we know all of this, right? So let's stop pointing the dirty end of the stick at Greenville and spend more time finding the perfect spot for the MCLA in 2014.

What are the key requirements, in order?

1. A major airport, preferably one that is a hub for a major carrier. This is where teams can save a lot of money, especially if are a surprise qualifier. If you're trying to get into a regional airport late in the game, you're going to get crushed. Either that, or you're going to have to find something relatively close (like Atlanta or Charlotte in Greenville's case) and bus in. This should be priority No. 1.

2. A location with a decent climate. It's obviously impossible to predict the weather, even in warm-weather locales, but there are places that have weather too dicey for a May tourney. This would preclude places like Seattle and Chicago.

3. Facilities. The nature of the MCLA tournament mandates that there be access to a multi-field complex for the first two rounds and then a main venue for the semifinals and finals. In Dallas and Greenville, they were at two different sites, although close by, and in Denver everything was all together. Both avenues work, and most large cities (with a major airport) will have one of these options. What has become clear is the MCLA doesn't need a huge stadium for its final four. Texas Stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park and even Sirrine Stadium were all more than what the crowds called for.

So what would be good fits? This is somewhat of a pie-in-the-sky musing because the MCLA relies on submitted proposals to determine its sites, but if they became more proactive in selecting their championship location, these would be my top three:

Las Vegas

No need to worry about the airport, which is one of the busiest in the country, and I'm pretty sure they'd have enough accommodations. The weather should still be cool enough in Vegas to host a tournament and there are plenty of auxiliary fields in the suburbs. Finding a venue for the final four might take a little work (and some cash), but the UNLV soccer complex could be a possibility.

St. Louis

With its location in the middle of the country, St. Louis is the most egalitarian spot in terms of travel times for all of the member schools. The airport is extensive and there are plenty of offerings for preliminary fields. The tournament could be played at Hunter Stadium on the campus of Lindenwood, which would provide an intimate setting for fans and would satisfy all of the needs from a media/TV standpoint.

Denver

The knock against Denver is certainly the weather, and I'm not sure we can chalk up the tornado scare and snow showers to a fluke, although that's my instinct. The airport is first class and is within a four-hour flight of just about every team in the MCLA. The auxiliary fields are perfect, but Dick's Sporting Goods Park is too big, and probably too expensive, for the association. However, Dick's comes with a professional staff that makes it easy to react quickly if troubles arise, which makes the cost easier to deal with.

Nick, you've been to various national championship venues. What are the necessities from your perspective and what would be some spots for the MCLA to consider?

SCHOOLER: I can't argue with anything you have said so far. The championships definitely needs to be near a major airport to decrease team costs. That is obvious.

A mild climate is great for the fans, but I do not think the weather affected me in any way during my four years playing at nationals. It did, however, make for some great memories. St. Louis had tornado warnings and thunderstorms that would postpone games, including the championship game in 2003.

Blaine, Minn., had a freakish, May cold spell. This was when the women's tournament was at the same location (something I think was great). On our day off, when the women's tournament was playing, several ladies from the Gauchos went to the hospital for hypothermia. The temperatures were playable, but when we played Sonoma State at night for the national championship game, we were playing in some of the coldest weather Californians had ever played in.

Blaine was short lived, and the championships were moved to a warmer location. Almost too warm. Let's just say that Dallas was hot. I think it was 112 degrees for our first game, but we were well prepared. Mike Allan had us practicing in sweats to acclimate to the heat and it worked. We did not have any problems and made it to the semifinals as 12th-seed.

As long as the games are not postponed, I have no issues with the weather. Hot or cold, both teams are experiencing the same thing.

I also agree that a top-notch venue is a must for the perception that the MCLA is trying to achieve, but I think you missed one key. While it is not essential, holding the championships in a location where lacrosse is an up and coming sport, such as California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc., will do wonders for the league. None of those states have top NCAA Division I men's lacrosse, and it is likely that the MCLA national tournament will be the best lacrosse any of those kids get to see live.

This kind of thinking could also deal with another issue that the MCLA is facing. The problem with some of these large areas is financing the high cost of a venue such as Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Having a lot of high school and middle school kids could offer the potential to put on clinics or run a tournament that could generate some revenue and balance the cost. If the tournament fees can be coupled with admission to the championships, the MCLA could get great exposure and a larger turnout.

And my final requirement is a city with culture and a great social scene. This will draw fans who may not want to travel to a place like Greenville for just lacrosse and alumni who may just want to spend all of their free time in the bars. St. Louis was easily the best place for that, though we had some pretty amazing times in Dallas.

Since Denver and St. Louis have already been nixed due to unpredictable weather, I like your recommendation of Las Vegas. Talk about a social scene, nothing compares to that...except maybe New Orleans, another place I wouldn't mind.

On to the games, where Coyne is rolling after a 5-0 week, 9-1 to 5-5.

No. 21 Northeastern (0-0) at No. 4 Stanford (3-0) – Friday, 3 p.m. PT

COYNE: Can anyone slow down the Stanford juggernaut? At this point, it appears that Colorado State and Arizona State are the only two with the goods to bring the Cardinal back down to earth. The two-headed monster of attackman Jack Farr, who had eight goals and two assists against Oregon, and midfielder Peter Doyle, who torched UCSB for a fiver, is proving to be nearly unstoppable.

Northeastern is certainly a program on the rise, and the Huskies Golden State trip to play No. 13 Cal, No. 4 Stanford and No. 7 UC Santa Barbara in a four-day span to start the season is commendable. With Chris Tecca (30g, 19a in '12) returning up front, Northeastern will provide stiff competition, but I worry the Huskies might suffer the same fate as Boston College last year. The Eagles flew to California and played Chapman, Cal Poly and UCSB in four days and took the broom.

It's just too much, too soon for a New England team. Cardinal, 12-7.

SCHOOLER: It is only a matter of time until teams figure out how to stop Peter Doyle — or at least slow him down. The Gauchos were not prepared for the dual threat. But the question is whether Northeastern has the defense to stop Farr and Doyle. The Huskies keep most of their defense intact, but losing first team PCLL defenseman Kyle Bedell has to hurt.

I am going against my Berkeley roots and picking the Cardinal, 10-6.

Returning to Denver and Dick's Sporting Goods Park wouldn't be the worst choice in the world, but the main stadium is probably more than what the MCLA needs. Is there a better-sized, and perhaps more economical, alternative nearby?
© Cecil Copeland

No. 15 Cal Poly (2-1) at No. 18 Minnesota-Duluth (3-0) – Friday, 9 p.m. CT

COYNE: There's a lot riding on this game for both of these teams. Cal Poly bounced back from the UCSB debacle with wins over Grand Canyon and Loyola Marymount last weekend, but continued its poll nose-dive. The Mustangs need a ranked win to remind pollsters that they came up two goals short of all the marbles last year, as well give themselves a little confidence for the WCLL slate. Duluth needs a ranked win to give it a chance when selection Sunday rolls around without the AQ safety net.

New coach Sam Litman said Duluth will once again be predicated on its defense, and that has been confirmed so far with only 12 goals allowed in three games (albeit against some lightweights). In order to win this game, however, the UMD staff has to break free of the conservative Graff/Clark regimes and unshackle the offense, letting guys like attackman Ryan Butts (9g, 2a) and middie Stan Drutowski (5g, 6a) be creative.

I may be the only person left in America right now outside of SLO who thinks Poly is far better than its No. 15 ranking, and I'll stick to my guns. 'Stangs, 10-9.

SCHOOLER: I don't know how they do it, but the Bulldogs manage to put together a quality team every season. Maybe it's the coaching. Maybe it's the proximity to the Canadian border. Who knows?

But I know one thing for certain: this is not the Cal Poly team we saw last year. They had their chance and one bad game cost them. The Mustang's performance against UCSB on their home turf was atrocious. This is Cal Poly's chance to put their name back in the conversation. Unlike Jac, I do not see this being a one goal game. I have Duluth winning comfortably, 12-9.

No. 3 Brigham Young (1-0) vs. No. 9 Chapman (1-1) – Friday, 7 p.m. PT (at Las Vegas)

COYNE: If we've learned one thing from the last two times these programs have met, it's that Chapman has a hard time holding a late lead. In the regular season matchup last year, the Panthers held a 10-6 advantage going into the fourth quarter and lost, 12-11, in overtime. When they met again in the national quarterfinals, Chapman took a 9-7 edge into the final frame before allowing the Cougars to notch an eight-spot for the 15-12 win. The fact that Dallas Hartley's squad had an 8-6 fourth-quarter lead over Oregon last weekend and still lost 9-8 doesn't instill a lot of confidence in their closing ability.

Fortunately for Chapman, BYU is very different than last year's senior-laden squad. In addition, the young Cougars only have one game under their belt and will have to play UNLV on Thursday night. Alas, considering its current late game woes, it's difficult picking the Panthers. Percentages say they're due to pull one of these out, however. Chappy, 11-10.

SCHOOLER: It's a toss up. I would be lying if I said that I am confident with my picks this early in the season. My pitiful performance last week proves that point. Last week, I would have guessed that this game would be a close one, but Chaptown lost to the Ducks. I'm doubting just how good Chapman is. Could this be the year that my Gauchos get back on top on the Panthers? This game will be a good measuring stick.

You can never count BYU out. Year in and year out, they are a contender, and nothing changes this year. Cougars win, 14-11.

Schooler's Pick

South Carolina (0-0) at Georgia (3-0) – Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (at Tallahassee, Fla.)

SCHOOLER: I have been told that I have a "West Coast bias." Well, I do, but hopefully this will show everyone that I am open to trying new things. I do care about those teams east of the Mississippi. So I chose the most challenging and intriguing game I could think of. Both teams have shown a glimmer of greatness over the past few seasons, but are just on the verge of breaking into the top ranks of the SELC.

The Bulldogs have the stronger resume over the last few years and have pretty much owned this matchup. However, South Carolina has kept its 2012 roster intact. So this is a tough choice. I have Georgia winning, 10-9.

COYNE: Interesting. Nick usually sandbags his pick when he's leading, not when he's getting demolished. Georgia is going to win this game, and do it in comfortable fashion.

If the two teams were just playing this contest, things could have been interesting. But with an angry Florida State team about to run the Gamecocks ragged on Friday night, they are going to be gassed on Saturday. UGA squares off against a decent Central Florida team on Friday, but UCF will be saving up for a league game the next day against FSU — a far more important contest for the Knights in the grand scheme of things. Throw in the fact that Georgia is simply a better team, and it's a slam dunk. Dawgs, 13-7.

Coyne's Pick

No. 24 Arizona (1-1) at Grand Canyon (1-1) – Saturday, 7 p.m. MT

COYNE: It's easy to get blinders on when covering the MCLA. It's routine to fall into the trap of seeing certain scores and extrapolating them out over the course of the season to predict outcomes. It wasn't one of our picks last week, but based on its opening-game performance against San Diego State, I thought Grand Canyon could hang with Cal Poly. The Mustangs cured me of that notion with a convincing, 15-11 result over the 'Lopes. Unfortunately, I just can't quit GCU.

The 'Lopes enter the game with Arizona as underdogs -- the Wildcats boast a No. 24 national ranking even after being dispatched by California, 14-5. 'Zona has proven weapons, notably Zach Johnson (3g, 3a) and William Stanaback (4g), but they are frighteningly young on the backline, with rookie Philp Pierce as the last line of defense. That's spells trouble. Grand Canyon, 12-8.

SCHOOLER: I'm down by a few games and my gut is telling me to go with Grand Canyon. But doesn't that go against what I said early in the season when analyzing the jump from Division II to Division I? So I am conflicted here. Arizona had a less than average season last year, so I am hesitant in picking the 'Cats. Plus, I do not trust the voters this early in the season.

I picked the 'Lopes last week over Cal Poly. That proved to be stupid, but I guess I should stick with my gut and take Grand Canyon again, 10-9.


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