Thursday, February 21, 2013

lacrosse in five years - updated

Last year I wrote a post speculating on the future of college lacrosse, mainly as it pertains to realignment.  I hate the subject of realignment - except in lacrosse, where the conference shuffle was going on long before the football mess and will be going on for a little while yet.  I think it's time to revisit some of the speculations from last year and add a few new ones.

Here are the points we made last year:

Known for sure:

-- Syracuse will be in the ACC.  Yes, and now we also know that Notre Dame will join and Maryland will leave.  That puts the ACC at five teams, barring further movement, which is a pretty tenuous situation.  The ACC's future likely hinges on that Maryland lawsuit.  Win it and it's a likely blow for stability.  Lose it and - well, we'll see.  It's not outside the realm of possibility that the ACC has to drop lacrosse because Syracuse and Duke are the only teams left to play it.

-- There will be at least four new teams in Division I.  Two of which have started play this year (Marquette and High Point) and two of which (Furman and Boston U.) come next year.  Last year, Furman's schedule was the spring of 2015 - that's been bumped up one year so as to facilitate the formation of the Atlantic Sun (about which more in a bit.)  And since that post last year, three more schools have announced new lacrosse programs: Richmond, Monmouth, and UMass-Lowell.

-- The MAAC will become a "fully funded" league. Still unsure about the impact on the MAAC, but outside forces greater than its scholarship funding are conspiring to change the conference more than that.

Predicted by me:

-- There will not be a sudden wave of FBS football schools adding lacrosse.  There hasn't been, nor does it look like there will be.  If I had to make a totally wild guess on which FBS school might make the jump, the pressure might be building on Boston College as more schools in the state have added the sport and they have a new AD, as of last October.  Gene DiFilippo's approach to lacrosse was "not only no, but hell no."  Brad Bates is a much younger guy and his openness to the idea is up for debate, but will never be less than DiFilippo's.  But other than that?  Still don't see it.

-- There will be a Southern Conference.  The mantle has been taken up by the Atlantic Sun, which will start play next year with six schools: Jacksonville and VMI from the MAAC, Mercer and High Point from the independent ranks, and Furman and Richmond as brand-new programs.

The A-Sun will have an autobid right away.  That seems a little screwed-up when you consider the NEC had to wait a couple years, and the NEC is comprised entirely of actual NEC members while the A-Sun will need four affiliate members to make it happen (only Jax and Mercer are real card-carrying A-Sun members.)  The issue was Bryant, which only this year dropped their provisional status for Division I.

I see the South, by the way, as the next real expansion grounds for the sport.  Not the Clemsons or Auburns of the world.  It's these smallish southern schools that don't have the football GDP of a small banana republic that are jumping on the bandwagon quickly.

-- The ECAC will re-evolve into a reincarnation of the Great Western Lacrosse League. Actually, it'll be interesting to see what happens here, because the Big Ten seems dead set on having a lacrosse league of their own.  Big Ten lacrosse would probably force the ECAC to either stay as a weird hodgepodge of eastern and western schools or make like the GWLL in another way, and dissolve.

-- The tournament will expand to 18 or 20 teams.  Hasn't happened yet, but seems almost a foregone conclusion with yet another autobid on the way next year.  And don't rule out the ACC as an autobid candidate, if it can hold itself together.

The total unknowns:

-- The future of the Big East.  Much better-known these days.  The Big East has basically become a southern conference with the advent of the Catholic 7 - and one that almost definitely won't sponsor lacrosse.  Seven schools currently comprise the lacrosse-playing conference, and not one of them plans to be in the Big East in two years.  Two are ACC-bound, one to the Big Ten, and the other four are C7 schools.

-- Who will drop lacrosse.  Nobody has in the past year.

So with those items updated, it's worth a look at the conference scene.  Here's a list of teams that will definitely be in a different conference in 2014 (or 2015) than they are today.  The conferences listed are lacrosse-only, so if someone's going to, say, the Big Ten, then it's not mentioned.

Maryland (ACC --> ???)
Notre Dame (Big East --> ACC)
Syracuse (Big East --> ACC)
Providence (Big East --> ???)
St. John's (Big East --> ???)
Rutgers (Big East --> ???)
Villanova (Big East --> ???)
Georgetown (Big East --> ???)
Loyola (ECAC --> Patriot)
Jacksonville (MAAC --> A-Sun)
VMI (MAAC --> A-Sun)
Quinnipiac (NEC --> MAAC)
Wagner (NEC --> MAAC)
Mercer (Ind. --> A-Sun)
High Point (Ind. --> A-Sun)

Of the new teams, Boston U. will join not the America East, but the Patriot, a jump they made last summer.  Monmouth will join the MAAC instead of the NEC - they announced that move at the same time as Wagner and Quinnipiac.  And UMass-Lowell will be in the America East.

From the conference standpoint, it's like this, with departing members crossed out and new ones italicized:


North Carolina
Notre Dame

America East

Stony Brook

Atlantic Sun

High Point

Big East

(forget it, it's disappearing entirely.  The only way it sticks around is if the C7 get to keep the Big East name, which is looking highly unlikely.)


Penn State
St. Joseph's


Air Force
Ohio State

(the ECAC's role as a holding pen until teams find a real conference continues.)

Ivy League


(what, you expected any movement here?  Stablest conference ever.)



(the fairly safe bet here is that the conference's fully-fundedness means that its new members are also joining for lacrosse, and the end result of that plus the A-Sun losses is that there is, for now, only one associate member, where before the conference was like, practically nothing but associate members.)


Mount St. Mary's
Robert Morris
Sacred Heart

(autobid is in real danger unless the conference can scare up two more teams.  Hobart?  A new program from a team already a member?)


Boston U.
Holy Cross

So with all that settled, it's time for a fresh look at the issues, such as they've cropped up over the past year.  Starting with....

-- What will the Big Ten do?  This is the sword of Damocles over the entire landscape, and not just lacrosse.  The conventional wisdom is that they're not done at 14 teams.  They've had various ADs plus Gerry DiNardo (the guy in charge of the BTN) speculating as much.  (But only speculating.  Those folks don't make any decisions in this area.)  Their big TV contract renegotiation is due in two or three years and you expect they'd want any further expansion in place by then.

When it comes to lacrosse, they only need one more team to make Big Ten lacrosse a reality.  Penn State leaving the CAA wouldn't be too big of a deal there, as the CAA has seven teams.  Michigan and Ohio State would leave the ECAC with five if no other moves are made.  I would guess Maryland is going to make a go of it as an independent unless and until Big Ten lacrosse exists; I don't know what the hell Rutgers's plans are.

Big Ten expansion these days is thought to be all about UVA and UNC, which would make B1G lax a reality, but what if those two resist the call?  Nobody really knows.  The B1G is not gonna play lacrosse with five teams, so the lacrosse world awaits their next move.  However, they do have one other play they're making.....

-- What will Johns Hopkins do?  Hopkins, the Notre Dame of lacrosse, that so dearly cherishes its independence?  Well, if Notre Dame can join the ACC and be almost a football member even, so can Hopkins.  The similarities are big; Notre Dame has their NBC deal, and Hopkins has a nice setup with ESPNU broadcasting their schedule too.  But Hopkins, as they say, is "weighing its options."

One of those options is the Big Ten - if Jim Delany gets his way, Hopkins will be an associate member.  But wait, you say.  I thought the Big Ten didn't do associate memberships.  A lacrosse autobid is not the reason the Big Ten is leaning on Johns Hopkins; it's just the excuse.  There's a well-written post on it in the MGoBlog diaries.  Big Ten membership means CIC membership as well; it's the Big Ten's research collaboration enterprise, and it means big bucks.  And Hopkins is a research powerhouse.  JHU and the B1G doesn't look like a stretch at all when viewed through the very politicky, massive-budget, prestige-fueled lens of the research world.  In fact, when viewed in that light it starts to look awful silly that Inside Lacrosse reached out to Dave Pietramala to ask whether Hopkins was gonna B1G it up.  If research money is the deciding factor, Petro won't have any more say in the process than I will.

If the Big Ten has "reached out" to Hopkins, you can bet the ACC has as well.  At least I damn hope so.  I've been advocating they do so for a while now.  And with the Big Ten already trying to eat the ACC for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if the ACC lets Hopkins go to the Midwest without so much as a peep, it'd be no wonder everyone thinks the conference is doomed.  That'd be a massive lack of leadership.  No, the ACC doesn't have a CIC equivalent to make the decision about something more than lacrosse, but hell - maybe it should.

-- Who do the Catholic 7 want to associate with?  Among them, they have five lacrosse teams: Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova, and Marquette.  That ought to make it easy.  Just find one more.  That said.....of the schools most often mentioned as possible future members of their future conference, none have a lacrosse team.  It might be that if they want their own lacrosse league, they're going to have to make one addition with the sport specifically in mind.  And there aren't too many Catholic options - if indeed they want to stick with Catholic options.

(Side note: I go to Detroit Mercy for grad school, so if I had my way, that's who they'd invite - UDM is a Jesuit school, so that's one check in the box - and that would solve the lacrosse problem too.  Detroit would leave the MAAC and join the new conference and then there wouldn't be any associate-member stuff in the MAAC either and everything would be neat and tidy.  Despite the size of the Detroit market, though, it seems a massive, massive longshot.)

At any rate, if they don't end up with a sixth lacrosse member, the options defy imagination.  Maybe they keep Rutgers as an associate member - if the Big Ten doesn't require their services, that is.  Maybe they just go with five and no autobid - remember, the ACC is technically just four independent schools that agree to play a round-robin and a tournament, as far as the NCAA is concerned.  Maybe they scatter to the four winds.

-- What does the NEC do?  It's gonna be a short-lived autobid if they stand pat.  If they're smart, they'll court the Catholic 7 (or 5) as associate members until they figure something out.  That probably won't work, but hey.

-- Will any Western schools add the sport?  USC and Colorado are adding women's teams.  Florida and Northwestern have them and have made no noises at all about a men's team, but it's a step in that direction anyway.  Colorado can't play football to save its life, it might as well try men's lacrosse.  Any new Western program would be a natural fit for the ECAC, which as I've suggested might just end up being the WCAC, particularly if the B1G pulls its teams out.

-- What will the Ivy League do?  Just seeing if you're still paying attention at this point.

Chances are we'll have a chance next year at this time to revisit this topic yet again and see what happened in the interim.  Let's hope that UVA hasn't decided to follow Maryland to the Midwest by then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good piece on LAX. Don't forget that the BIG could also have Minnesota in the mix. They have added Rich Limpert as head coach of their program and the sport is booming at the HS level and MN has an abundance of hockey players that play in the off season. Just a thought.