February 13, 2013

Schooling Schooler: Swinging from the Gallows Poll

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

Cal Poly head coach Marc Lea saw his team -- which played for the national championship last spring -- lose to a ranked team and plummet down the rankings last week. Meanwhile, Colorado has two losing seasons in the past three, and sits comfortably at No. 6. Jac Coyne believes the MCLA polls, like every other division's, is flawed, and needs to be thrown out the window at selection time.
© Cecil Copeland/The Athletic Image

Ah, the annual poll pillow fight. A timeless MCLA classic.

It's undoubtedly a tired topic, but weekly coaches' polls in the MCLA are serious business.

Whereas polls in any of the NCAA divisions are either Monday time-killers for fans and players alike or a PR boost for teams on the recruiting trail, the association's rankings are pored over by everyone — me included — to see what kind of trends and anomalies show up. Alas, as odd as the this disparity between the varsity and non-varsity world seems, it makes perfect sense.

Why? Because the MCLA polls mean something.

Up until 2009, the coaches' poll meant everything, as the at-large selections and tournament seeding were based on how the voting hashed out at the end of the season. Since '09, when the MCLA adopted a committee model, the poll has been used as a criterion for both selection and seeding purposes, according to former selection committee chair Ken Lovic.

This makes the MCLA poll unique, but with a couple of drawbacks.

First, like the NCAA polls, some programs get the benefit of the doubt. Teams that have established themselves as annual contenders live a charmed life, and often times can't be removed from the Top 10 with a crowbar. Take Colorado, for example. The Buffs are 25-22 over the past three seasons with a couple of sub-.500 campaigns — including last year — but yet they sit comfortably at No. 6 in this week's poll. Meanwhile, Cal Poly, a program that broke out last year and played in the national championship game for the first time, couldn't even get ranked second in the preseason poll and fell like a stone with one loss to a ranked team.

Something doesn't add up there. In the NCAA polls, this same thing tends to happen, but it's not a big deal because it's just gossamer. But in the MCLA world, it would appear that Cal Poly is being evaluated by a different standard, and could pay the price for it on Selection Sunday if there's a tight decision to be made.

Second, the geographical footprint of the MCLA makes it very difficult to give a well-reasoned ranking, especially in the early part of the season because there isn't that much overlap in schedules. As such, you're going to have significant regional bias. Gary Podesta, who runs the poll, has worked hard to make sure there is equal representation (three voters from each conference), so that should technically even out the polls.

Still there's going to be a regional lilt to every ballot. That's why we're seeing teams like Missouri, Oregon State, SMU, Boise State, Richmond, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Santa Clara and TCU — all teams that are preposterous additions to any objective Top 25 ranking — receiving votes.

So what's the answer? It's time to remove the weekly coaches' poll from the list of tools at the disposal of the MCLA committee. It will alleviate any pressure that some coaches may feel to stack the deck in the favor of their team and/or conference and rid the committee of an unnecessary criterion. That body has enough tools to make the correct decision for the tournament without a stilted ranking. The MCLA weekly poll can then take its rightful place with the other lacrosse polls as simply a discussion piece.

Nick, I know you have some angst about the polls. Are you married to the idea of the weekly poll carrying some weight for postseason selection, or is it time to move on?

SCHOOLER: The MCLA weekly polls are unequivocally useful for the selection committee. Here is why:

First, the MCLA does not have the luxury of nationally televising games on a major broadcast network, like many NCAA Division I men's lacrosse games possess. There are other sources of coverage, such as the ever-increasing number of websites dedicated to covering and streaming MCLA games. But with 100 Division I teams and 108 Division II teams evenly distributed across the country, there is no way to effectively cover that many games.

This is where the poll comes into play. The poll has been set up so that three individuals from each conference who are associated with a team are nominated and selected to be a voter in the poll. That's 30 voters, representing 30 percent of the teams. In theory, that should adequately cover all of the games since each team plays approximately 20 games per season and sees many more on film for scouting purposes.

We can argue that this Senate-like representation of equal voters from each conference does not adequately represent all of the teams because large conferences like the SELC are under-represented and the small ones like the RMLC are over-represented. Maybe a weighted representation by conference size would be more fair.

But I digress from the main point. What I think Jac is arguing is that these voters are stacking the votes in the favor of the teams represented by the voters. Just like his fellow GOPers, Jac is blaming poll bias (and we all know where that gets you).

Take Jac's example of Colorado. Aside from the blowout against Michigan in 2009, they have played very close games in the tournament, and it can be argued that they have been one of the more successful tournament teams over that span. However, Jac does have a point with Cal Poly, but I believe that they dropped adequately in the polls after losing to my Gauchos at home. They have a whole season to pull a "Colorado" and make a run at the tournament. With all of the outrage surrounding the polls over the last few seasons, pollsters consistently do a good job of picking the best teams with the exception of a few in the lower seeds.

And why is this? Well, my good friend Bill Clinton calls it arithmetic, something people like Jac choose to ignore. If there were five or ten voters out there, I think Jac would have a great argument, but 30 voters is more than enough to account for any variance in the voting caused by the rare rogue voter that may stack the voting in their best interest.

It may be my naivety, but I do not believe that there is a voter in the group who would do something like that, but I guess I have a little more faith in humanity than Jac. I would also like to think that Gary Podesta looks at each individual poll and will be able to catch a voter who is doing something that would jeopardize the validity of the poll, and the league.

My beef with the current poll is the preseason poll and the few polls following it. The first poll should not come out until all teams have played at least one game. This will eliminate the necessity of past performance to rank teams and eliminate the guessing game that we are now experiencing this early in the season.

On to the games, where we're tied up after the first week, 4-1...

No. 15 Cal (1-1) at No. 2 Arizona State (0-0) – Saturday, 12 p.m. PT (at Los Angeles)

Expectations are running high in the desert for Chris Malone (above) and the Sun Devils. Will ASU be able to handle a highly-regarded Cal team in the season opener? Without All-American goalie Dylan Westfall around, Nick Schooler doesn't think so. "He was the difference-maker last season in the final push," Schooler said of Westfall. "Without the leadership and emotional strength that he brought to the team, ASU will have some struggles this season."
© Cecil Copeland/The Athletic Image

COYNE: The overtime loss to UC Santa Barbara was undoubtedly a disappointment for the Bears, but there should be reason for optimism. Senior Dan Cohen has picked up right where he left off in '12 with four goals against the Gauchos (and 10 points on the weekend) and the defense allowed just eight markers in 60 minutes. A weekend of action under its belt should also benefit Cal against a Sun Devils squad playing its first contest.

This ASU team shouldn't go through the growing pains that last year's version did, when it took nearly half a season to find its offensive identity. The Devils are still a relatively young team — there are only four seniors on the roster — but the key players earned enough experience last year to see them through. It'll be the Sun Devils in a less-than-Pac-12 Shootout, 8-5.

SCHOOLER: I wish I was able to see Cal play the Gauchos last weekend, but I will have to take the word of several people in attendance. Multiple sources told me that they were very impressed with the Bears and believe that they will win the WCLL. Relying on a strong offense, run through Cohen, should lead to a successful season for Berkeley.

The Sun Devils have managed to keep intact the majority of their team, but they're missing an integral part: Dylan Westfall. He was the difference-maker last season in the final push. Without the leadership and emotional strength that he brought to the team, ASU will have some struggles this season, including in this game. I have the Bears winning, 12-10.

No. 18 Florida State (1-1) vs. No. 21 Texas (3-0) – Saturday, 8:30 p.m. CT (at New Orleans)

COYNE: Back in 2011, Florida State posted a 19-2 record and made a trip to the national quarterfinals, and still managed to lose to the Longhorns, 12-11, at the Sugar Bowl Classic. They'll return again to the event this weekend looking for a little revenge, but sporting a team far less talented than that '11 squad. The 'Noles have weapons, with middie Luke Donovan (15 points in three games) and goalie Tyler Selman (62.9 sv%), but they've already lost to Boston College.

Meanwhile, Texas is breaking in a new coach in Andy Garrigan, but still have those Texas athletes that can pose problems for the best teams. With attackman Spencer Price (14g, 7a) back and healthy, and Jordan Lee — who quietly might be the best goalie in the country — returning between the pipes, the 'Horns will be ready. Can they make it three straight against the Seminoles (UT also beat FSU, 20-11, in '10)? I think they will. Longhorns, 13-12.

SCHOOLER: I am really happy that these two teams seem to find a way to play each other every season. This is beginning to develop into a great rivalry. That being said, I can never root for Texas teams, but that is not why I am picking the 'Noles.

Florida State suffered a tough loss to Boston College two weeks ago. I am a believer in the theory that sometimes a loss is the best thing for a team. It acts as a wake up call. This will be the first big test for Florida State since that game and I expect them to come out on top. Midfield is the key to this game, and FSU holds the advantage there. 'Noles win, 15-10.

No. 11 Stanford (1-0) vs. No. 7 Oregon (1-0) – Sunday, 2:30 p.m. PT (at Los Angeles)

COYNE: We've got a pretty good feel for this Stanford team — and the Cardinal are definitely good — but what to make of the Ducks? They're another one of the traditional powers initiating a new coach in Phil Keebler, and they get their first test tonight when they face Simon Fraser at home in a PNCLL grudge match. The Stanford game will be determined by which team controls the faceoff dot.

Stanford senior draw-man Sean O'Brien dominated UC Santa Barbara in their match-up while Trey Norris is a first-team All-PNCLL faceoff selection from last year, dominating Western Oregon in the Ducks tune-up last week. Who has the advantage in this one? It'll be O'Brien, helped by the fact that Norris and the Ducks have to scrap with Chapman the night before. Cardinal, 10-9.

SCHOOLER: The outcome of this game hinges on the performance of freshman phenom, Peter Doyle. This guy had a chance to play Division I lacrosse but decided to stick around the Bay Area. I assume he will be able to make the game, and if that is the case, Oregon does not stand much of a chance. Contrary to what Jac has said, the faceoff matchup favors Oregon, but the goalie play will really tilt this in favor of the Cardinal. Stanford wins, 11-8.

Schooler's Pick

No. 22 Simon Fraser (1-0) at No. 25 Chico State (0-0) – Friday, 8 p.m. PT

SCHOOLER: Chico was a young team last season. They made some noise on the national scene, but could not win the games they needed to make it to the tournament. Simon Fraser had an up and down season in which it had a long stretch of losses, although it finished the season strong.

But the Clansmen relied on Calvin Craig last season, something they will not have the luxury of doing this season. It will take Simon Fraser a few games to learn how to play without him. I'm going with Chico State at home, 15-11.

COYNE: I doubt we'll be seeing many 30-second shot clocks in this contest. These are a pair of teams who, traditionally, have liked to keep things moving. That'll be the case here again. Chico is going to upset somebody in the WCLL before the postseason starts, but this is the season-opener. Fraser has three games under its belt, including a rivalry contest. That pays off. Clansmen, 18-15.

Coyne's Pick

Kansas (0-1) at Iowa (0-0) – Saturday, 12 p.m. CT

COYNE: It's that time of year again when my annual Hawkeyes game returns to Schooling Schooler. And for the third straight year, I'll be hoping Iowa can find a way to solve the Jayhawks – a team that has never suffered a loss in this series. There's a little bit more on the line than usual this weekend, as the loser will be hard-pressed to make the GRLC tournament.

It's the first game of the season for Iowa, and Kansas is coming off a surprising setback to D-II Missouri State at home. This one will be close, but the Iowa Bubble will be littered with black and gold confetti when the final whistle blows. Go Hawks! 9-8.

SCHOOLER: I guess it is tough for Jac to pick against his Hawkeyes, so he always tries to add a game that will be close and one he believes Iowa can win. In this case I have no issue with it. The Jayhawks have won every matchup between these two teams. So I am sticking with the trend and going with Kansas, 15-10.

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