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Friday, May 27, 2011

Two out of Three Ain't Hard

Talks have ramped back up on what the Big East will do with realignment to continue to remain competitive on the college sports landscape. While most talks are on who we should bring in to bolster football, there remains the quiet rumbling of who we can get rid of in our unwieldy, soon-to-be-17-member conference.

I propose a two out of three doctrine. There are three college sports seasons: Fall, Winter, and Spring. I'd argue that if you don't bring something to the table in the most valuable sport in the majority of seasons, consider yourself gone. Football clearly owns the fall, and everyone's got men's basketball in the winter. As for spring, considering the success of the teams that currently play Big East men's lacrosse, particularly as it compares to baseball, I'd consider men's lacrosse the banner men's sport.

Since everyone's got basketball, the eight (soon to be nine) football schools obviously meet that requirement. The folks on the chopping block are those who don't field football or lacrosse. I speculated not long ago that part of Marquette's motive for adding lacrosse may be to remain attractive to the Big East; under my doctrine they've done exactly that. The two teams that draw the short straw are Seton Hall and DePaul. For the record, neither did particularly well in basketball this past year either. Sorry, guys. Don't let the door hit ya.

Is Denver Lacrosse's Butler or Boise State?

I spoke in the podcast not long ago about how "May Madness" isn't comparable to March Madness, but this year, in lacrosse something has happened that we often hope for in basketball: a "mid major" has broken into the Final Four.

True enough, mid majors aren't nearly as defined in college lacrosse. Sure we know who the haves are: The ACC. Hopkins. Syracuse. Princeton. Cornell. And in a pinch, it surprises no one if a school with big-time college football makes a run. But if not being among the elites isn't enough, Denver walks through the door with an additional handicap: they sit over 1,500 miles west of the traditional lacrosse establishment. With that in mind, Denver's really had to put in work to thrive in a sport with a true east coast bias.

Despite being a bit of a western Mecca for the sport with the likes of the MLL's Outlaws and the NLL's Mammoth, Denver was turned down in a recent bid to host quarterfinal action. The Pioneers instead went out and took a home game themselves, earning a 6 seed and hosting Villanova in an opening round matchup. Following that, the Pioneers came back east and earned a win that was their symbolic coming out party: Becoming the first team west of the Mississippi to earn their way into the Final Four - at the expense of Johns Hopkins, the bluest of lacrosse's bluebloods.

If Denver is to continue their "To be the man (WOO!) you gotta beat the man" campaign, they'll have to burn through two ACC schools on their way to a national championship: They will face four-time national champions UVA in the semifinals tomorrow, and a win there earns them an unenviable matchup with either Duke or UMCP for the championship. But does being one win away from playing in the national title game put them in the conversation with the likes of Butler basketball and Boise State football, programs known for busting through the glass ceiling? I'd argue that it doesn't, and the difference is coaching.

Boise State's Chris Petersen and Butler's Brad Stevens are up-and-coming (or, more accurately, up-and-come) coaches who made their bone bringing excellence to their respective universities. They have, at least to this point, been resistant to the lures of bigger programs, instead choosing to try and continue the excellence at their current stations. Bill Tierney, however, walked through the doors at Denver already a Hall of Famer with six championships under his belt. It is a different conversation in the manner that the coach made the program; Steven's and Petersen's rises were symbiotic with their respective programs; Tierney walked in with clout. This was not a co-building process, this was a made man laying hands on a new adventure. So while I'll give Denver credit for plenty, the story simply isn't the same when a legend joins your ranks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Power (Hounds? Flow?) to the People

Since the announcement that Charlotte would field a Major League Lacrosse franchise starting in 2012, the people behind the team have been committed to involving potential fans in the creation of the team's identity. Primarily using social media, Charlotte MLL began the process by building community on Facebook and Twitter and engaging potential fans, collecting suggestions for team names, colors, and attributes that became more concrete over several weeks, culminating in yesterday's release of six concepts upon which fans can vote.

I first want to commend the folks at Charlotte MLL for truly crowdsourcing the creation of this team and making it a community event. The other new team joining in 2012, the Columbus-based Ohio Machine, went through no such effort, instead resurrecting a name from the now defunct Chicago franchise, resulting in a name that makes as much sense as the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers. As a lacrosse fan in NC who will likely be attending games once the new franchise is installed, this was a great first step to making this truly feel like my team. I engaged in the dialogue almost immediately, and while I had an idea or two that I brought to the table, I also heard quite a few very strong ideas that I began to really fall for. In all. I think the folks at Charlotte MLL scooped some of the most prominent (and most transferrable) to produce into prototypes upon which the public could vote. These are those concepts.

I'll give some overall thoughts on each of them and some potential insight into how they came about, having been around for those conversations.

Two (three?) of the selections reference Charlotte's fairly recent surge (pun intended) in the energy industry. The Charlotte Power and Charlotte Charge reference it directly, while the Charlotte Flow (which I'll talk a bit more about later) could be interpreted as energy flow. Both logos incorporate lightning imagery, with the Charge using the backdrop of a lacrosse stick head. I will note here that I'm typically biased against collective nouns as team names; it seems like Arena Football or WNBA territory to me.

The Charlotte Hounds are based on the state dog of North Carolina, the Plott Hound. As a proud UMBC Retriever, far be it for me to speak ill of a team that chooses to use the state dog as their mascot.

The Charlotte Legion speaks to the stadium, American Legion Memorial Stadium, where the team will play. In the imagery, they go with a military theme, which is most closely related to my original suggestion, the Carolina Crosshairs. Despite what I said about collective nouns, I think this one has some promise.

My personal favorite is the Charlotte Monarchs. While many have remarked that they would share their name with a former WNBA team, the connection is clear, with Charlotte being the Queen City. One of the ideas I became more enthralled with throughout the discussion was bringing in Charlotte/the Carolinas' Scots-Irish heritage, and this logo incorporates a touch of plaid for a nod at that. I will note that the shape of the crown used in the logo evokes another Charlotte area organization.

The Charlotte Flow are my personal least favorite. First of all, the logo looks like a beer label (not necessarily bad in and of itself). For those unfamiliar, the "flow" to which they refer is a lax bro term for the hair that flows from the back of one's helmet, and can be further expanded to the greater lax bro lifestyle. I just don't see this holding up beyond the lax bros themselves, and it looks as if Charlotte MLL has said the same, though it was a popular (polarizing, actually) choice. I think that one of many reasons that lacrosse isn't as big of a sport as it could be is that by and large, many who watch lacrosse are also those who play lacrosse, and I think that a new team, particularly in a non-hotbed area, needs to reach beyond that fanbase to draw in other fans.

But enough of my thoughts--get out there, check them out, and vote yourself!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tour of Champions Revisited

In my selfish focus on Carolina Crown's NightBEAT on the Tour of Champions schedule, I really haven't looked at the TOC schedule as a whole. For those unfamiliar, the DCI Tour of Champions events will feature eight recently top-performing corps in five banner events throughout the country that should be the best that drum corps has to offer. In the inaugural year of the series, there will be TOC events in Rockford, IL; Houston, TX; Murfreesboro, TN; Rock Hill, SC; and East Rutherford, NJ. In the same manner as I re-imagined NightBEAT--and with the same caveat that I am doing this not having the limitations of budget, scheduling, or frankly reality, that DCI has, so take this as little more than an exercise in fun. While it isn't my intent to throw shade on the league, I will point out that since the TOC came about as the result of a rogue faction within DCI, the league may have an interest in it being successful, but not TOO successful. But I won't get all conspiracy theory here.
First of all, if I had it to do, in five shows, I'd do my best to spread TOC events as much throughout the country as possible. Since this is the biggest thing DCI's got to offer, I'd do my best to put it into the biggest venues and biggest metro areas possible, so as to maximize the number of eyes on the product.
Let's start with what I think they got spot on. The show in East Rutherford, NJ is in New Meadowlands Stadium, home to the NFL's Giants and Jets, and in the shadow of the biggest city in the country. It is also in a strong drum corps community in the Tri-State area and northeastern Pennsylvania. For those traveling to the show, the NYC area is easily accessible via various moves of transportation.
The next closest to right is the homer pick. I've already discussed how a move from Rock Hill, SC to Charlotte would do the show a world of good, so I won't rehash that here. Beyond that, though, Charlotte is a major southeastern city (and Atlanta already hosts the SE regional) and is a major transportation hub.
Houston's not a bad pick--it's the 6th largest metro area in the country, and the ideal location there would be the Texans' Reliant Stadium. If I were to switch this one up, I'd move this show elsewhere in the state to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, specifically Jerry World, the new Cowboys' Stadium in Arlington. This is where I again remind you that this exercise of mine is without the restraints of budget, scheduling, or reality. Still, DFW is easy to get into and out of travelwise, and as much as I hate to compliment anything Cowboys related, it is perhaps the premier stage in sports and entertainment. Hopefully they won't charge folks to hang out in the parking lot and watch it on TV. A move to DFW also gives this a little more physical distance from the major DCI event in San Antonio.
I know that one of the TOC participants, Phantom Regiment, hosts their Show of Shows in their hometown of Rockford, IL. With all due respect to the 2008 World Champs, I'd move this show about 90 miles to the east to Chicago. It's the third biggest metro in the company, a major transportation hub, and could the show could take place in the home of Da Bears, or, if you're feeling frisky, we learned this past season from the Illinois-Northwestern game that a football field will fit in iconic Wrigley Field--how's that for a drum corps backdrop?
Finally Murfreesboro. Sorry, I know drum corps has been good to Murfreesboro and Murfreesboro's been good to drum corps, but I'm taking this show west, young man. I feel comfortable moving this show for a few reasons. First of all, Murfreesboro has long been the host of the Masters of the Summer Music Games, which pits the top eight corps against one another en route to the Southeastern Championship in Atlanta. I've got no desire to take that show from them; if the self-professed champions are that good, then the Murfreesboro show would be a de facto Tour of Champions event. If not, the drum corps mad crowd in TN will see the actual top eight corps. Either way, that show wins. But instead of codifying it as a TOC event, I'd save that for something the series doesn't currently have: A West Coast show. And though the two TOC corps hailing from out west reside in the Bay area, I've got my sights set on the LA metro area, placing the show in a place that's no stranger to pageantry: The Rose Bowl. Why not round out the series in a historic stadium in the second biggest metro in the country?
So that's my Tour of Champions--shows in the four largest metros in the country, spread east, west, south, and midwest, with a Texas show for good measure. If you've got a re-imagining of your own, I'd love to hear it.
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