There’s so much going on in the world of Division-1 lacrosse realignment, sometimes it’s just best to take a step back and take stock of where things are. Here is the current status. We’ll go a little further back in the machine to include any change in the future that will put a team in a different conference than they play in 2012.
- Marquette: New program to Big East (lacrosse, spring 2013)
- Boston University: New program to Patriot League (lacrosse, spring 2014)
- Syracuse: Big East to ACC (all sports, spring 2014)
- Notre Dame: Big East to ACC (all non-football sports, spring 2014)
- Loyola: ECAC to Patriot (lacrosse, spring 2014)
- Quinnipiac: NEC to MAAC (all sports, spring 2014)
- Monmouth: New program to MAAC (lacrosse, spring 2014)
- Richmond: New program (lacrosse, spring 2014)
- Rutgers: Big East to Big Ten (all sports, spring 2015, lacrosse future undetermined)
- Maryland: ACC to Big Ten (all sports, spring 2015, lacrosse future undetermined)
- Furman: New program (lacrosse, spring 2015)
So what do we have here, beyond talking points?
- ACC: Five programs (up from four, not enough for AQ)
- America East: Six programs (no change)
- Big East: Five programs (down from seven, not enough for AQ)
- Colonial: Seven programs (no change)
- ECAC: Seven programs (down from eight)
- Ivy: Seven programs (no change)
- MAAC: Nine programs (up from seven)
- NEC: Five programs (down from six, not enough for AQ)
- Patriot: Nine programs (up from seven)
- Independents: Seven (up from three)
Those seven independents are in radically different boats. Johns Hopkins, for example, could be in any conference it chooses (the Blue Jays just choose not to be). Maryland and Rutgers’ current independence is temporary while they look for new conferences homes after leaving their current conferences. Richmond is a new program seeking admission to the CAA or Patriot league, while High Point, Mercer, and Furman are new programs with less definite conference plans in the future.
(You can see the updated conference map here).
The ACC doesn’t have enough programs for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but those five squads are traditional powers, and firmly on Team Don’t Care as far as an AQ goes. Assuming the league continues to exist on a large scale, they’re fine sitting with five and all hoping for at-large bids (as at least three and more likely five of them should be able to rack up on a yearly basis).
The Big East looks to be done for. I would be surprised if Marquette – without programs like Notre Dame and Syracuse in the league – has any interest in staying in an East Coast conference. That leaves four programs who will likely look for new homes in the NEC, MAAC, etc. Marquette, on the other hand, is likely to (or should, at the very least) look to band up with the other Midwest/Western programs, either in the ECAC or a new conference.
The Colonial Athletic Association is stable, and with seven programs it is in no danger of going away. The only potential change that seems to have any traction is Penn State joining its Big Ten conferencemates Ohio State and Michigan in an ECAC/Midwest conference, but even that looks a little further off (and the Rutgers/Maryland situation makes that look less obvious a move for the Nittany Lions). Jeff Tambroni has expressed comfort with the CAA, so nothing is inevitable there, to say the least.
The ECAC, with the loss of Loyola, looks a lot less strong (the defection of a reigning national champion tends to do that to you). Loyola’s departure also makes Fairfield and Hobart even more out-of-place geographically, so could they look for new homes? Fairfield is a full member of the MAAC in other sports, so they have a natural reason to shift conference affiliations.
The MAAC is starting to get bloated, even if Fairfield sticks in the ECAC. If – as rumored – Wagner also joins, that makes a ten-team conference (eleven if Fairfield makes the logical switch). Associate members Detroit, VMI, and Jacksonville are not only the remaining non-full members, but geographic outliers, as well. Detroit would have a natural home in a Midwest/West conference – especially if fellow Jesuit institution Marquette ends up there.
The NEC is down to five programs – four if Wagner makes the rumored switch to the MAAC – and in big trouble. The league is already one of the least competitive in the country, and dropping two programs short of an automatic bid is not the way to get better. Of course, refugees from the Big East (and possibly Hobart, should the ECAC realign or cease to exist) could shore this league up considerably.
The Patriot League is bordering on the bloated side, with nine programs (and possibly a tenth in associate member Georgetown, a natural fit given that the Hoyas are already associate members for football). However, since all current squads are full members, change does not look imminent here.
I touched on the independents above: Hopkins and Maryland are free to remain independent and play whomever the hell they want, but they’d also be welcomed with open arms to just about any conference. Rutgers is in the same situation but, like, way worse at lacrosse. Richmond has made no secret that it would like to join the Colonial or Patriot, while High Point, Furman, and Mercer are vagabonds for the time being.
The presence of those last three programs in particular is intriguing. Along with the possibility of fellow southern programs Jacksonville and VMI having occasion to leave the MAAC (and even Richmond not yet having its conference future squared away), and potential changes in the ECAC possibly shaking Bellarmine loose from the conference, is a long-desired Southern Conference on the horizon?
Would the creation of a Southern Conference make it more likely for some football schools in the South (probably not Florida, but maybe Georgia or UCF) to consider taking the plunge? Does a five-team ACC make Boston College or NC State – both former homes of Division-1 programs – scratch their chins and re-enter the fray? The same could be said of the Big Ten and Michigan State (or a Big Ten program that hasn’t had an NCAA team in the past).
Obviously, I’ve set up a lot of potential dominoes to get from point A to point C in some of the above-listed scenarios. However, it does seem wise to presume that an era of regional realignment could be upon us, and that could help lead to a continuing era of growth.