In an interview with 11 Warriors, Ohio State AD Gene Smith gave a bit of credence to rumors of a Big Ten Lacrosse league. While he made clear that nothing concrete had been decided, the Buckeye Director of Athletics mentioned that with Maryland and Rutgers set to join the Big Ten in 2014, the administrators of the league are considering, or at least have considered, adding at least Men’s Lacrosse in the same way they are joining hockey this coming season. Granted, a Big Ten Lacrosse conference wouldn’t have the same effect that the hockey league had, spawning the NCHC, destroying the CCHA, and completely changing the WCHA. Most of the moves in Lacrosse will have lesser effect, at least compared to the other conference changes they are undergoing.
Here’s a general overview of the Division I Lacrosse landscape, with conference listings courtesy of LaxPower. Lacrosse is one of the higher-profile college sports in the country, though certainly behind Football, Basketball, and Hockey. College Baseball is maybe tied with it for visibility, though baseball certainly has more of a bearing on professional sports. While pro lacrosse exists, with leagues such as the MLL, it’s safe to say it gets less annual attention than the college variety. The magic number in LAX country is 6, as 6 teams in a conference means it can secure an automatic bid to the tournament for your champion.
The ACC is short on that right now (UNC, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia), but they’re not going to lose their bid, and even if they did, these are some of the elites in Lacrosse. They’ll lose Maryland if the Big Ten goes through with it, but they’ll get Notre Dame and Syracuse by the time that happens. The Big East would lose those teams, as well as Rutgers if the Big Ten does its thing, but will gain Marquette to remain at 5 (with Villanova, St. Johns, Georgetown, and Providence). Penn State would be taken out of the Colonial, or THUNDERDOME! as some blogs call it, but they would sit pretty with its other six teams, as long as someone like Drexel or Delaware doesn’t get called elsewhere (and that elsewhere needs a lacrosse conference of its own to matter; the A-10 doesn’t have one, which is why UMass and St. Joseph’s are there). Ohio State and Michigan would leave the ECAC, which is a kind of catch-all mish-mash of teams that don’t have a conference. If the ACC or Big East need a 6th, one of the remaining teams in the ECAC could be an option. The America East, Ivy, MAAC, NEC, and Patriot leagues roughly follow their own conferences’ lineups, which could be a question mark for the NEC as Quinnipiac is leaving for the MAAC. The Atlantic Sun is creating their own Lacrosse conference, taking
The real wild cards are the independents, as with any sport. While Marquette’s team is all but assured a spot with the Big East (they just started play this year), Mercer and High Point will help start the Atlantic Sun. However, far and away, the biggest question is Johns Hopkins. They’re the Notre Dame of Lacrosse, they’re independent, and they’re rumored to be heading…somewhere. Where is anyone’s guess, though it’s probably down to the ACC, Big East, or Big Ten, if the Big Ten yadda yadda. The ACC would be elite immediately, with NC and Duke, Cuse and ND. The Big East could use Johns Hopkins if Rutgers leaves, but they’d want the Blue Jays more than the Jays would want them. Most of the top competition is going to the ACC.
The Big Ten would have immediate contenders in Maryland and Penn State, with Ohio State not far behind. Johns Hopkins would continue its traditional rivalry with in-state rival Maryland, and a strong academic school like Johns Hopkins would help the image of the conference, partly obscuring the money-grab aspect of its expansion. Still, the Blue Jays could easily stay independent, or even more easily join the already-strong ACC. When your bottom team is currently ranked 18th in the nation, you’re already a tough conference. The Lacrosse prestige would be there.
So what would the Big Ten do if Johns Hopkins gives them an unfavorable diagnosis? There’s one obvious choice that I haven’t heard much talk about, that would be a great lacrosse-only member and has undergone plenty of realignment with its other teams already: Denver. Denver has become one of the tougher teams of late, and was the first (and thus far only) team to host a tournament game west of the Mississippi River. The ECAC would be down to five members (like seemingly every conference there) if the Big Ten steals away Ohio State and Michigan (Loyola Maryland is already heading to the Patriot League). Denver would keep any rivalry with those schools, joining a league that is (partly) out of the east-coast grouping of schools that makes up the majority of the Lacrosse schools. Of course, they may be contingent on what choices Air Force ends up with, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable that they make the hop too. Turn the Big Ten into the WCHA of Lacrosse. It could work. Marquette would be a thought, but they’re almost assuredly going to keep the Big East in Lacrosse if possible. Maybe if they break up, but I don’t see it happening. One last possibility: add Detroit for an easy geographic fit. It’s boring, it’s a mediocre team at best, but it’s an instant Michigan rival, and it’s cheap on the jet fuel.
Whatever happens, Lacrosse is already set for a major upheaval. The Big Ten creating a league and/or Johns Hopkins joining it or any other league seem to be the biggest pieces on the board. If one makes their move, the picture will get a lot clearer; if both do, we should be able to shake out the rest soon after.