Although the rumblings of a six-team Big Ten (including Johns Hopkins as an associate member) have not been confirmed publicly, it it the opinion of this blog that the B1GLAX is inevitable. With that in mind, it was also inevitable that either the ECAC would seek new members to replace Michigan and Ohio State (and Loyola, which will join the Patriot League next spring), or that the current ECAC members would look for other conference options, resulting in the dissolution of the league.
The biggest domino remaining in ECAC-land may be about to drop with the pending announcement that Denver will head to the Big East. First, the direct impact on the Big East: A league that will be losing Notre Dame (ACC), Syracuse (ACC), and Rutgers (hypothetical Big Ten) suddenly gets an influx of stability in the form of a program that has emerged as a national power. Geography notwithstanding, that’s about as good a land as the Big East is going to get, and it allows the league to remain at six members.
Dropping the ECAC down to four teams, of course, means that those four programs have to find a place to go.
Bellarmine. This is the program that likely has the most natural fit elsewhere. The Atlantic Sun comprises – will comprise, that is – just about every team that could reasonably be considered in the South (aside from the three ACC teams, which aren’t going anywhere). Bellarmine would be a natural addition, and immediately competitive with the rest of the league, to boot.
Hobart. One of the few Division-3 schools plying its trade in the Big Boy ranks doesn’t have a home conference in Division-1, but there are a few reasonable options. The Northeast Conference is just a couple years into its existence, but already will be losing members soon (Quinnipiac to the MAAC). Hobart can help maintain the AQ while mostly retaining geographic solidarity (if anything, improving presence in Central New York is a good thing, right?).
More Drama. Bigger Heading.
There is some disagreement about the Stags. It seems natural that they would simply flip from the ECAC to the MAAC, their all-sport conference home. However, Inside Lacrosse’s Terry Foy actually predicts that they’ll pursue the Big East, and settle for the Colonial if that doesn’t work out. He says (in as many words) that they basically see themselves as too good for the MAAC nowadays.
Without knowing the ins and outs of their all-sports conference affiliation, it still makes sense to me that they would join the MAAC (assuming that remains their primary home for basketball, etc.). For starters, the league has elevated lacrosse to a core sport since the Stags last plied their trade in the Metro Atlantic, which should raise the overall level of play. Second, the MAAC is soon to shed some dead weight in the form of VMI. Jacksonville (joining the Keydets in the A-Sun) will be replaced by a Quinnipiac program that is roughly its equal over the last four years, but also happened to exist before that and has a bit more tradition.
Of course, my analysis is based on what looks right, whereas Terry’s is likely based on actual sources with actual knowledge, so you’re probably wise to go with what he said. Fairfield changing all-sport affiliations would obviously submarine this whole idea anyway.
This is the program that looks lost in the wilderness. They’ve already been sort of out there geographically as a GWLL and ECAC member, but they’ve had Denver alongside them in the conference, and were in the most geographically reasonable league for a program 1,000 miles from the second-closest opponent. Now the leagues that comprise the schools populating the West don’t make a whole lot of sense unless you’re: A small school also in the South, a Big Ten member, or a Big East member.
That means… Air Force is out of luck. Could they join the Big East as an associate member? Clearly, they don’t quite fit the profile of the new Big East (not to be confused with the football Big East, which will be a different thing. We’re talkin’ Catholic 7 here), but geographically it makes the most sense if that’s where Denver is headed – Marquette is one of the next-closest schools to Colorado Springs.
The Falcons could also strike out solo, if that’s what it takes for a couple years. The majority of the conferences will be at (America East, Big Ten, New Big East, Colonial, Ivy, Northeast) or below (ACC) the AQ minimum of six teams, meaning lots of opportunities to schedule in the non-conference.
Since most of this is speculation, I’m not updating the official D-1 lacrosse map (which can be seen here), but this is what the new landscape would look like:
View D-1LAXnew in a larger map
Happy fun times of conference alignment! Stay tuned for more developments as they… um… develop.