Salisbury content to rule Div. III

March 08, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

When a team is at the top and stays there for a while, there is always criticism and finger-pointing. With each Salisbury men's lacrosse victory and national championship, there comes more innuendo and envy.

It happens all the time to teams that build dynasties. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees and UCLA's men's basketball teams. The complaints and questions never stop for Salisbury coach Jim Berkman, whose Sea Gulls have won the past three Division III national championships and have a 54-game winning streak.

The No. 1 question is: Why doesn't Salisbury play in Division I against the likes of Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Duke and Maryland?

"That's the university's decision," said Berkman, whose team is ranked No. 1. "We're a true Division III school, and academics are first. Athletics are here just to complement academics. It has been and will remain the philosophy of this university.

"People often ask me, do I want to coach on the Division I level? I enjoy coaching here. I like being able to teach a couple of classes. My wife is the director of the health center here. I've put in 18 years here, and it's good to enjoy the fruits of your labor."

Agreed.

Sometimes, it's disturbing watching some of those Salisbury scores. Already this season, the Sea Gulls have beaten Goucher, 16-7; Catholic, 19-5; Marymount, 29-0; and Virginia Wesleyan, 16-4.

Ho, hum. Another game, another drubbing.

But Berkman is right. He has taken an already successful program to another level. It's not his fault if others can't keep pace.

"I played on the first team at Salisbury," said Maryland coach Dave Cottle. "We got good in a hurry. But what they've done is gotten great. It's easy to be good, but it's hard to be great. At their level, they've absolutely dominated."

Salisbury could move up to Division I, but probably with ramifications. It could stay Division III in its other sports, but would probably have to compete in Division I lacrosse without the aid of scholarships.

Is that fair? Wouldn't that create an unequal playing field?

Or maybe Salisbury could move all its sports teams to Division I just because the lacrosse team has been so dominant. That makes no sense, either.

So, why change if you're the king?

You can question some of the things that happen at Salisbury. The school has become a haven for former players who have flunked out, been thrown out or couldn't cut it for whatever reasons at Division I schools. You'll occasionally see a 28-year-old on the roster who might own a house and a boat and has a wife, two kids and a dog.

But, if you couldn't make it on the Division I level, what other Division III, or Division II program for that matter, would you choose?

It's all aboveboard. To say transfers are the major reasons for Berkman's success would be a slap at him, and would cheapen everything about the Salisbury program. What Berkman does better than most of his peers is find those kids who don't fit the Division I standards and bring them to Salisbury.

Maybe they're too big or too short. Maybe they don't have enough speed or the proper stick skills. The Sea Gulls are so deep in talent that they can wait for these players to develop.

"Every year we take in three or four guys that weren't recruited by Division I schools, but at the end of their careers, some of those Division I schools wished they had recruited them," Berkman said.

Offensively, the Sea Gulls are fun to watch because of their transition game. Berkman has as much energy as his offense. He's known all around Salisbury and spends a lot of time working with area youth programs, some of them having adopted similar uniforms and the color scheme of the Sea Gulls.

Berkman doesn't hide his pride in the program. He's a tireless worker who has gotten every ounce out of Salisbury's lacrosse program.

"We have a great coaching staff," said Berkman, who has a career record of 261-29 at Salisbury. `The biggest compliment you can pay to a coaching staff is when other people say that everyone who has gone through the program has gotten better. It's a system of hard work; there's a good lacrosse culture here.

"The tradition here is tremendous. The guys who come in know that the guys before them worked hard and accomplished a great deal. They don't want to be the class that lets down."

It's an attitude. It's a culture. It's a program that for the most part should be emulated instead of criticized.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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