Blogs and Commentary

posted 04.03.2011 at 9.55 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: The Michigan Effect

If Arizona State is able to defeat Michigan State today -- no easy task, to be sure -- we'll likely see one of the more peculiar trends in MCLA polling. Despite the fact that Colorado State defeated Arizona State last weekend and each team went 1-1 this weekend, the Sun Devils will probably leapfrog the Rams in this week's Prodigy Division I ranking.

How can this be, you ask? The answer lies in the hegemony created by Michigan within the non-varsity world. Because of the dominance of the past three years, MCLA pollsters suffer from a sort of lacrosse Stockholm syndrome where they have come to view everything through a Maize and Blue prism, despite the fact that the Wolverines have taken their league hostage.

Instead of teams being judged against each other -- and there is no better way of judging two teams than on head-to-head results -- teams are ranked based on how they stack up to Michigan. The rest of the MCLA programs are just moons circling an Ann Arbor sun.

When the various pollsters look at the results from this weekend, they'll see Colorado State struggling in an 11-3 loss to Michigan and Arizona State giving the Wolverines a run in a 12-10 setback. No mitigating factors will be considered during the evaluation process, nor the inconvenient fact that both teams lost. The comparative scores in relation to Michigan will be the primary ranking criteria. We saw it earlier this year when a 1-5 Oregon team went skyrocketing up the polls based on a double-overtime loss to Michigan.

This isn't just a ranking phenomenon. The selection committee also has been taken hostage by -- or perhaps has an awkward love affair with -- Michigan. We saw that last year when, to bring up one of my favorite dead horses, Colorado's fluky win over the Wolverines completely blinded the committee to the fact that the Buffs were a sub-.500 team and undeserving of a tournament berth.

The bizarre part of the Michigan Effect is as much as a team's fortunes rise with the closeness of a game with the Wolverines, blowout losses to UM are essentially viewed as anomalous. Florida lost to Michigan, 26-6, on Feb. 19 and actually stayed in the poll that was released the following Tuesday. It took a loss to Tennessee the following week to get rid of the Gators. UC Santa Barbara lost 21-0 to the Wolverines last weekend and dropped three spots in Tuesday's poll. A three spot drop after getting shutout? Only against Michigan.

All of the NCAA readers who have made it this far are saying to themselves, "What's the big deal? It's just a poll. They don't mean anything." Well, the Prodigy poll is a primary selection criteria in the MCLA and influences the tournament seeding, as well. Currently, the teams aren't being ranked on how good they have proven themselves to be against other teams in the association, they are being ranked on how close they have come -- or are estimated to be -- to Michigan. That's not right.

Michigan is an excellent team. They deserve all the recognition and credit they receive. But the Wolverines shouldn't indirectly determine where teams get ranked, which ones make the tournament and where they are seeded.