It seems that more than ever this year teams in the NCDA are travelling to a variety of tournaments while staying as close to home as possible. Teams in the more Midwest area of the league are staying in states like Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. Teams further west like DePaul and Wisconsin make it to as many as they can, but can’t travel with the ease of an Ohio State or Grand Valley. While they are capable of making the drives, the teams on the East Coast seem relegated to battle amongst themselves the majority of the season per usual.
As the dynamic of league travel evolves into more condensed areas, so too can perception of teams. Those who get to see more know more and typically have different ways of seeing each and every member team. Using two prominent teams, Michigan State and James Madison, it seems more appropriate than ever to examine how perception plays a major role in the NCDA.
Since 2011 when both teams were in the league both JMU and MSU usually end up in the top 4 or 5 in the rankings at the end of the season. Yet it seems like nobody in the league views the two teams as being similar in any way. I wonder why that is?
Let’s start by getting the obvious differences out of the way:
- MSU is a founding member while JMU is in their 5th season
- The Spartans are in the historically toughest region in the league. JMU plays a majority East Coast schedule
- JMU is known as a loud, brash team while MSU is usually labeled as ultra-competitive
If that last one gives you even the slightest second of pause then you will understand why this examination is important. Yes, there has been a lot of noise coming from the squad in Southwest Virginia, but the boys and girls from East Lansing make their own waves as well. So how are they perceived differently you ask?
Around the league JMU is widely considered the team that talks a lot of trash that doesn’t back it up while MSU seems to be the closest thing to a loveable loser that the league could find. Now let’s take a look at some factors that play into why these teams are seen the way they are.
- The Michigan Region gets a lot of publicity.
It’s no secret that most of the league content on the NCDA website comes out of Michigan. With the majority of the content staff hailing from the Murder Mitten the league is going to read and listen to a more partisan representation than most would realize. The hard truth is as objective as a writer tries to be there will always be some sort of personal flair to their work. MSU has their own content writer in Colin O’Brien while JMU currently has nobody on the NCDA staff.
- JMU is team people love to hate.
People want villains when it comes to athletics. It makes things more interesting because not only are there teams to cheer for, there are ones to root against. In regards to college dodgeball, people seem to look at JMU as they would for Duke in college basketball; you’re either cheering for them, or cheering for anyone to beat them even if they’re not playing your team. A lot of this is due to how JMU came into the league.
“In our second year we became known as a cocky team, but we saw it as being competitive and confident on the court” said team founder and former Captain Chris Hess. “We take no opponent softly and play each game like it’s the final game, and you can bet we will be playing you all 50 minutes regardless of your talent and status of your team.”
- MSU has made it to the championship game while JMU has not made it past the semis
Teams are measured by success right? Based on that it should make sense that Michigan State is looked upon with more favor as they have made it further than any JMU team ever has. However, this does not always mean one team is better than the other. If you disagree make sure to check the records and look at the year Kentucky made it to the final. All four Michigan teams were forced to one side of the bracket only allowing one to make it to the final match. Had this not happened many around the league believe that it would have been a Michigan v. Michigan final that year; so keep in mind that just making it to the championship round isn’t the only factor in how good your team is.
Alright enough with the lists, time to look at the teams head-to-head.
The Dukes are 5-0 in their history against the Spartans, including two overtime matches. No game between the teams has been decided by more than one point. However, the teams have yet to play on Sunday at Nationals, leaving it up for debate what would happen when the stakes are at their highest.
With the way both teams are playing this season it is very possible we could see them matched up on elimination day for the first time this year. I don’t know who people around the league would pick in that match but I can assume many would go with MSU. The Spartans appear to have done more in taking the next step to excellence by picking up victories against all Michigan schools, including reigning champion Grand Valley State; a feat they had never accomplished before. JMU has played a small, solely East Coast schedule due to a litany of reasons. While it is getting better overall, the Dukes home region is considered severely weaker than the Michigan area. Don’t let that affect how you think though, because JMU’s players frankly don’t give a damn who they play.
“I think the strength of schedule has little to no effect on JMU.” Said former Assistant Captain Brent Gromer.
While Gromer is no longer playing in the NCDA, he was an integral part in the Dukes’ quick rise within the league. In his time in the league Gromer has seen and heard enough to know how both JMU and MSU are seen around the league.
“Starting with Michigan State, I honestly feel like they are underrated. I believe they almost view themselves as the team who has to make a statement since they do, in fact, have to compete with the other three powerhouse teams in Michigan which really throws a lot of pressure on them,” Gromer said.
“As far as JMU, it’s a different story,” he continued. “We came into the league competing from the start but still lack in the part of the game that the Michigan schools have mastered. JMU, in my opinion is like the little annoying brother that nobody wanted.”
MSU does seem to have an upper hand on the Dukes this year. The Dukes lost 12 starters from last year’s roster while the Spartans have more roster stability than recent memory allows me to remember. All that is though, is perception. Nobody knows what will actually happen if/when they play. It could be a blowout or it could go into overtime. Personally, I’d love to see the match happen and hear what people think of each team before and after they play.
Every team has their own perception of themselves and the league. I don’t hide that my own perceptions are skewed by being seemingly stuck on the East Coast. If you’ve read this far then you’ll know I even styled this article to effect the way you see it. In case anyone hasn’t noticed here it is: I only interviewed guys from JMU. I want to see what sort of response this sort of spin elicits.
So I ask whoever it is that reads this, what are your personal opinions of the teams in the league?