Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Nation Isn't Ready for this Stick and Ball

(This article was orginally published by Sports Media Watch on January 25, 2006.)

One of the pure joys of writing this column is the potential for the random and bizarre. For example, did you know that the Rams from Dickinson High School of Wilmington, Delaware are ranked 2,290th and last in the nation among high school boys lacrosse teams? I’ll bet you didn’t. And if you’re like me, you didn’t even realize there were 2,290 high school boys lacrosse teams. Think about it – that’s a ton of stick wielding, ball chucking, would-be miscreants organizing together.

It’s so many teams, I don’t actually think the good people at LaxPower - a website devoted to tracking and reporting all things lacrosse - could actually have seen every game. Lacrosse is very popular among the fringes of sports media, as testified to by the sheer number of high school teams. There’s even a fledgling professional league. Mark my words: in a few years, the college game will be widely seen on ESPN and Major League Lacrosse will show up on Fox Sports and ESPN2. In fact, ESPN2 already televises the NCAA championship game. The fringes know what’s up before the centers do.

Having said that, though, LaxPower cannot possibly have the organization and manpower to accurately rate and rank 2,290 high school boys teams, not to mention all 1,767 high school girls teams and three divisions worth of college men’s and women’s teams. It makes me wonder if maybe the Dickinson Rams aren’t getting a raw deal.

Ok, it’s true – they finished last season 0-14. That’s not good. And granted they were outscored 23-243; also not good. But after getting shut out of 5 of their first 9 games, they didn’t go scoreless in one of their final five games. That’s progress! They should be proud of and rewarded for that!

And can they really be worse than the other teams clustered around the bottom ten (five of which are from Delaware, by the way)? Or other teams further up the rankings? Take Rockville High School, in Vernon, Connecticut, for example. According to LaxPower, the boys team went 0-16 last year, two worse than Dickinson High. Yet the Rockville Rams are ranked 2,268th in the country, a full 22 spots ahead of the boys from Delaware. Where’s the justice?

By the way, I find it very fishy that both of these Ram-avatared teams had reverse perfect seasons during the same year. I don’t know what it means, I’m just pointing it out. Someone should look into this.

Perhaps the biggest injustice to Dickinson and Rockville, though, is Wilmington High School, from Wilmington, Massachusetts. The Rams on both teams played hard, gave every game their best shot and, unfortunately, came out on the losing end of every game. But they played a full season. They proved their worth if only in effort. The Wildcats of Wilmington, however, couldn’t even manage that. And yet they’re still the highest ranked team in the country, 680th, with 0 victories.

I admit, the Wildcats have fewer losses than either wooly team, but Wilmington only played ONE game! Seriously, check it out. They played one game. Was the entire team one kid who really really loved lacrosse and broke his leg in that one game and so they had to cancel the rest of the season? Maybe his little brother is moving into 9th grade this year and will be the goalie. I can see the local paper’s headline: “Wildcats to Add Second Player; Coach: ‘It Can’t Hurt.’”

Really, this speaks to the fact that in some ways, LaxPower is making this up as they go. Sure, if you look at their team pages, there is clearly some system in place. From what I can tell, they use goals scored, strength of schedule, goal differential, etc. to determine overall ranking. Compared to the BCS system, it’s seems kind of benign, actually.

However, the system is never explained. And there’s no explanation of how they get information for the system either. I assumed local papers, but that didn’t pan out. A few casual searches of local papers around those schools indicated that lacrosse – surprise surprise – is not heavily covered. Even around Delaware, in the Mid-Atlantic region, where Lacrosse is most popular, the papers only had game capsules, not information as detailed as LaxPower’s. So who knows how LaxPower makes their rankings.

And even if they have a remarkably comprehensive investigating, reporting, and compiling system for team data, there are 2,290 high school boys lacrosse teams! The margin for error is astounding. NASA is more likely to successfully land one of those teams on an asteroid than LaxPower is to track and rank all those teams successfully, nevermind the high school girls teams and college teams.

LaxPower is admirable in its intent: be a comprehensive source for the ins and outs of lacrosse at every level. Lacrosse is a rapidly growing sport; I stand my prediction from the beginning of this column. In a few years, this site will be much more relevant that it seems today, when it appears to be more of a fringe love affair with an obscure sport.

The problem is that fringe media coverage of this obscure sport has not caught up with this fringe love affair with this obscure sport. Fringe media coverage of sports is infrastructure. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and all other forms of national media can’t exist without the lower levels doing some of the heavy lifting and interest generating for them.

Think way back to your American history class sophomore or junior year in high school. I’ll give you a minute.

No, not that one. That’s Canada. The one below it. There you go.

The vehicle the United States rode to international prominence was economic development: manufacturing, agricultural advances, internal trade, international trade, etc. Ask any good Marxist, they’ll tell you all about it.

But before we could grow economically, we had to build our infrastructure first. We needed roads, railroads, telegraph wires, canals (quaint man-made rivers, for those of us still trying to remember the last time we had an American history course) and later electricity, highways, phone systems, and internet capabilities. To make the big bucks, you gotta have the big infrastructure.

That’s what fringe and local media is for national media, particularly for sports. All of the most popular sports in the country today started as smaller regional favorites. Baseball was concentrated in the northeast, college football was big at large state schools in the southeast, professional football was huge in the industrial Midwest, basketball was isolated to very urban and (paradoxically) very rural areas.

Local papers covered those sports and helped to solidify their popularity, then mediums like television and radio spread their appeal beyond their traditional geographic borders until they became nationally popular sports. The transnational sports media empires we see today are the end result of fringe media efforts for the last one hundred years.

LaxPower is ahead of itself. When local newspapers, radio stations and TV networks are covering lacrosse at a greater level than they currently are, LaxPower will have more information to work with and a larger audience. I love fringe sports darlings going national, but there is a time and a place for everything. For the moment, lacrosse belongs to the random and bizarre of the fringes.


Blogger Erik Mann said...

great topic, keep up the great posts, MMA

12:56 PM  

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