Conference Realignment: The Big East is Boned

Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

The Big East has only sponsored men's lacrosse for three seasons, and it's not looking so hot that the league will reach a half-decade of competition.

As it stands currently, the Big East looks like toast. Just not toast, though, but a blackened brick of over-cooked death that gets thrown in the trash and never mentioned again. The departures of Syracuse and Notre Dame put the league's future in doubt; the potential loss of Rutgers to the Big Ten, assuming that the Big East won't let the Scarlet Knights confederate as a lacrosse-only member, makes the conference's future even bleaker.

Rutgers wasn't necessarily going to become the league's flag bearer in the vacuum left in the Orange and Irish's wake -- although, to discount what Brian Brecht is capable of accomplishing is like punching yourself in the face and suing your hand for battery -- but the Scarlet Knights did provide something the league desperately needed: A warm body willing to play. If Rutgers walks out the door, the league is pretty screwed.

Later, Auto-Bid?: As constructed, a five-team Big East -- Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, and Marquette -- isn't enough to earn an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Playing in a conference without a free pass to May isn't a desirable situation for any of these schools, having gone through two seasons without such an opportunity while building the Big East lacrosse league. The women's side of the league has adopted lacrosse-only confederation in the past in its relationship with Loyola, but the men's side has not pursued this in its truncated history. Will this push the league to consider looking outside itself to keep its membership roll at six? I don't know; if I did, I'd make big wagers on this and become a billionaire. Will this push a current or future Big East member -- like Southern Methodist -- to elevate their club program(s)? It's an opportunity wrapped in a disasterous situation. The instability of the league as a whole, though, may ultimately determine the efficacy of this entire situation.

Marquette and Providence Can't be Pleased: The Golden Eagles, in their first year in Division I competition, have to be spitting fire. The promise of joining a conference with an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, not to mention the ability to play in one of the stronger league's in the country, had to be an underlying factor in the school's decision to pursue lacrosse at its highest level. That's blown to smithereens with the Big East barely breathing at this point. This has created an especially difficult situation for Joe Amplo and Associates, Ltd., and how Marquette deals with this situation is an interesting storyline. As for Providence, which is in the process of building new lacrosse facilities, they have to start wondering where this investment is going to take them. Chris Gabrielli just showed up in Friartown to try and repair the program; instead of just changing the culture at Providence, the newly-minted head coach is also going through a league-wide culture shift. It must be a frustrating situation in Rhode Island devoid of clarity, with only the ability to keep moving forward because there's little that can be done with mere speculation.

What's the End Game?: If the Big East were to abandon its lacrosse pursuits, five teams are getting spit out into the atmosphere and they're not likely to want to have a future of independence (or in a league without an automatic NCAA Tournament invitation). So, where does everyone end up? Providence is a former MAAC member, but with the resources being dumped into the Friars program I'd be shocked if Providence moves back in that direction. Georgetown and St. John's were each members of the ECAC, and might think about moving back to that conference down the road (creating a quantified superconference). Villanova has roots in THUNDERDOME! and may go back that way again, creating deeper Philadelphia rivalries with Drexel and St. Joseph's. Marquette may get their hands on a stick, tie a handkerchief with all their possessions to it, and ride the rails across the country as train vagrants. (Maybe.) It's too early to say that any of this is an eventuality -- especially the Marquette stuff -- but there are options here for a soft-ish landing for the Big East's left-behinds.

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