With the looming departure of four-time ACC Tournament champion Maryland, the ACC is staring at a different kind of reality.
Look: An ACC consisting of Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Syracuse is a deep, crushing hammer of a lacrosse conference. While the potential departure of Maryland to the Big Ten Conference -- a move that, in function and form, will result in a mutual hand wave between the ACC and the Terps -- will force the league to take a step back from "Unimpeachable Destroyer" status to a mere "Dark Lord of Doom" rating, the conference will still remain among the country's best affiliations, if not the best. Replacing a two-time national champion is difficult, though, and the ACC won't exist in the same kind of reality without a program that hasn't had a losing season since its inaugural campaign in 1924.
It's a little murky to see how the ACC is going to operate without the Terps on the membership roster, but Maryland's potential defection from the league does create some interesting consequences. The most notable result from the Terps' move is the league's lost opportunity to earn an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but even that is only a potential short term aftereffect. There are, I think, some other important things associated with the league that may result from Maryland's move:
Elevate? Elevate!: If I'm Boston College, Florida State, Virginia Tech or any other MCLA program currently associated with the ACC, I need to seriously consider elevating my program to varsity status. Participating in arguably the best league in the country, with guaranteed yearly visits from some of the best programs in the nation, there is strong value in moving men's lacrosse onto the varsity program roll. Florida State's athletic director has already indicated that if the school is going to add another men's athletic offering that it'll be men's lacrosse, and with the opportunity to do so in an environment that will allow the ACC to earn an automatic invitiation to the NCAA Tournament, institutions in a similar position to Florida State -- club programs with potential to benefit greatly from the power that is ACC lacrosse -- may have greater incentive now to move up the competition ladder. Even with the loss of Maryland the league is a bear trap, but it's not quite as competitively impossible for a new program as it once was. It'll be interesting to see what kind of momentum this causes.
The Connecticut Consequence: The rumor kicking around right now is that if Maryland moves to the ACC the league will look to Connecticut to fill the void. The Huskies, almost impossibly, do not sponsor men's varsity lacrosse, holding only a MCLA Division I program. Located within one of the stronger prep pockets in the country, Connecticut has all kinds of potential to make a splash at the NCAA level. If the ACC were to offer the Huskies membership, would that be enough to push Warde Manuel, UConn's athletic director, to consider elevating the men's lacrosse program on the same level as the school's women's lacrosse team? It's unclear at this point, but Connecticut's role in this entire situation is a unique circumstance with layered possibility.
The Sham May Continue: Without an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the ACC Tournament -- if held with fewer than six members -- will continue to exist as merely an RPI booster and nothing more. The league tournament will still be a ridiculously strong enterprise, but the value of the championship is nothing more than handshakes and winks and "Yeah, I can't believe we can get away with this, either." Which raises this question: How will Maryland, no longer part of the show, absorb the lack of, at least, one extra game against an ACC opponent? That may be a test case for just how much RPI gerrymandering is going on with the shambolic ACC Tournament.