Where Would a Five Team Big Ten Conference Stack Up?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

I still don't think that it makes sense for Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan to leave auto-bid conferences to form a non-qualifying Big Ten with fewer than six teams, but how would a Big Ten Conference look?

I keep getting pulled back into these things and I hate myself for it. I should be done writing about Rutgers and Maryland's move to the Big Ten and what that means -- if anything -- for college lacrosse. And yet, here we are; another effort in trying to quantify what the two moves -- with the potential for more to come -- means to the landscape of college lacrosse. You're welcome?

In between naps this extended weekend I started thinking about how competitive a Big Ten Conference lacrosse league would be. I still don't completely understand why Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State would leave their respective conferences -- conferences with automatic invitations to the NCAA Tournament -- for a non-qualifying league (assuming that the Big Ten doesn't pursue confederation or if another Big Ten school doesn't seek to add Division I lacrosse to its offerings). The only thing that I think would push those schools to play in a five-team league would be this: The Big Ten -- in a faux-league format, with a bogus postseason tournament like the ACC -- could create enough strength of schedule to make the move somewhat worthwhile. After smashing a few numbers into oblivion, it turns out that a Big Ten lacrosse league -- with just Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers -- would, with an eye toward prior returns, be pretty competitive (although I'm skeptical that it'd be competitive enough to ditch auto-bid leagues).

The last time that I ran permutations on picking realignment "winners," the results somewhat mirrored those when Loyola signed its enlistment papers with the Patriot League. I deferred on including any values relative to the Big Ten as the future of that league was unknown -- Would Maryland play as an independent? What was Rutgers' plan? -- but after running a dummy calculation for a Big Ten league, the results are fairly interesting:

  • Based on a four year period -- 2009-2012 -- only two leagues (ACC and Ivy) have an overall Pythagorean expectation stronger than what a five team Big Ten would have. That's . . . I didn't expect that. Now, I ran this permutation not taking Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State out of their current leagues, but that would likely cement the Big Ten ahead of the ECAC and THUNDERDOME! even more. Which, yeah. (Please note: A Big Ten league drags significantly behind the ACC and Ivy in terms of overall Pythagorean expectation; there is a significant drop off from ACC to Ivy to Big Ten.)
  • Looking at just 2012 values -- which is, of itself, misleading, but addresses the fact that Michigan has played just one season -- the Big Ten, based on expectations, would have been the fifth strongest league in the country behind the ACC, Patriot, Ivy, and THUNDERDOME! (This is based on all the realignment news that has already been announced. If we look at this from an "as played" standpoint, the Big Ten would still be the fifth-ranked conference behind the same leagues (although the Ivy League and Patriot League would be flipped).) This is admittedly only a snapshot of reality, and as relative league strength changes from year to year, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

This begs the question: As the ECAC and THUNDERDOME! aren't showing as particularly stronger than a hypothetical five team Big Ten lacrosse league, would that be enough for Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State to abandon their leagues and try to make the NCAA Tournament on an at-large basis with the expectation of a potentially higher strength of schedule (even though this wouldn't be an officially sanctioned Big Ten league)? To me, that's a dangerous proposition; it's better to stay in a league with automatic qualification and schedule strongly in the non-conference slate to make up the difference than take a chance as pseudo-independents. This isn't, after all, the ACC (far from it, actually); the Big Ten would be strong, but not as strong as what the ACC provides (and that's the standard that you'd need to approach, I think, to make this all worthwhile). But, the fact remains: A five-team Big Ten Conference would be among the stronger leagues in the country based on efficiency/expectation information over the last four years. And that's something.

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