When Quinnipiac and Monmouth left the Northeast Conference for the Metro Atlantic, the NEC inherited the problem the MAAC was about to stare down thanks to the creation of the Atlantic Sun’s men’s lacrosse conference: only 5 lacrosse teams remained. Quinnipiac was MAAC’s team 6 – alongside Canisius, Detroit, Manhattan, Marist, and Siena - ensuring a continued ability to put on a conference tournament and bestow an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The NEC was left with five (Bryant, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, Mt. Saint Mary’s, and Wagner), and a quandary as to who would fill in their gap. Thankfully, for them at least, ECAC Lacrosse started to come apart at the seams. First Denver takes off for the Big East, then the Big Ten mega-nuke takes away Ohio State and Michigan, and then Fairfield took the opportunity to bolt to the CAA. The remaining schools started to look like the last ladies left at the bar, and the NEC was just the conference to take one home.
And that’s what happened last Monday, when Hobart joined the NEC. Hobart, technically Hobart and William Smith College, is a Division III school that was basically the fusion of a male-only college and its women’s-only counterpart. The Hobart Statesmen (the women are the Smith Herons, which sounds much less clumsy than Stateswomen) leave the disintegrating ECAC Lacrosse league with only two homeless teams – Bellarmine and Air Force – which are both rumored to be shacking up in the Atlantic Sun in the spring of 2015. Oddly enough, Hobart is leaving the ECAC in 2014 – this next season – instead of 2015 when the Big Ten will start up. This leaves only 5 ECAC teams to sustain the conference’s final season. NCAA-wise, this is ok as they’d have a couple of seasons to get back to 6 teams anyway, but it does deplete an already scarce conference schedule.
Then Wednesday, Saint Joseph’s announced their move to the NEC. St. Joe’s had been outmatched in the CAA, finishing 1-5 in the conference and 5-11 overall last year, and the level of competition in the NEC will be a better match for their recent efforts. This brings the NEC to seven teams, meaning it can weather a defection should one arise, quite the asset for one of the lesser lacrosse conferences. The CAA will be left with 6 teams in 2014, remaining at 6 when Penn State leaves and Fairfield takes its place. There’s talk about Fairfield jumping sooner: should that happen, Ohio State and Michigan may have to spend the year as independents or, more likely, find someone willing to carry them for the year. I don’t see that happening, especially with what happened this week.
What happened was the Monday announcement that Bellarmine’s men’s lacrosse team would join the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2014-15. The move, which makes as much sense as opening a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in the Galapagos Islands (hint: a lot of sense), will bring the Kentucky school in the same conference as teams from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina. With Bellarmine joining in 2015, that keeps the ECAC’s probable final season on the books, at least for now, with Air Force, Bellarmine, Fairfield, Michigan, and Ohio State. All of those teams have homes for 2015 except Air Force.
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Air Force has enjoyed its proximity to rising power Denver in its years in ECAC Lacrosse. With Denver taking off for the Big East, Air Force is stranded in a virtual no-man’s-land. Other than Denver, the closest men’s lacrosse schools are Bellarmine, Michigan, Detroit, and Ohio State. While the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (unofficial motto: If you’ve got the schools, we’ve got your conference!) boasts 7 California women’s lacrosse teams and 9 overall, men’s lacrosse is largely an East Coast gig. Personally, I’d love to see men’s lacrosse stretch to both coasts in the future. I could see Cal-Stanford or USC-UCLA bringing the heat that Maryland-Johns Hopkins, or at least Duke-NC, does in twenty years. Alas, no such league exists to hold up Air Force’s team, and as their success has been limited, they will likely also end up in the Atlantic Sun, if they don’t fall all the way to independence and the possibility of having to drop the sport altogether. As good as a tournament berth is, what Air Force needs is a confirmed set of yearly matches, and an agreement that will bring the teams in the East to the Rockies.
This move sets the 2015 men’s D-I lacrosse landscape as follows: ACC with 5 schools, Atlantic Sun with 7 or 8 depending on Air Force, Big East with 6, Big Ten with 6, CAA with 6, Ivy standing strong with 7, MAAC with 6, NEC with 7, and Patriot League with 8. ECAC will be disbanded in lacrosse, and unless Air Force gets orphaned or other schools start sponsoring men’s lacrosse, there may be no independent teams. The only conference that doesn’t have the minimum for an auto-berth is the ACC, and they don’t need one. If Duke, NC, Virginia, Notre Dame, and Syracuse are all left out of the tournament, something went very wrong in lacrosse that year.