Conference Realignment: The Big East is a Big Mess

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Marquette, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, and Villanova are facing an unclear lacrosse future.

It's a day of the week, which obviously means that Division I lacrosse schools are making decisions that impact their lacrosse programs but probably haven't completely thought through the lacrosse ramifications because, well, the only livestock inventory that seems to be counted these days before going to market are the ones that generate big bids at the daily auction. We're officially approaching the point where this all dissolves into anarchy and chaos with, I am to assume, Chris Gabrielli of Providence running around with a sheath of ammunition around his chest while screaming, "All this land is now the property of Providence until my heart stops beating!" It's truly an exciting time to be alive, people.

Brett McMurphy and Andy Katz, reporting for ESPN.com, are responsible for the latest update in the-story-that-refuses-to-die-until-it-kills-everything: The non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the Big East -- namely, Marquette, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, and Villanova for this site's purposes -- met with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco yesterday and may be considering splitting off to form their own conference:

The seven Big East Catholic, non-FBS schools met with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco on Sunday to express their concerns for the direction of the conference, multiple Big East sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday.

Sources said the New York meeting was the first among the seven schools (Marquette, DePaul, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova) and ultimately could lead to them splitting from the Big East's football members.

Sources said the seven schools discussed a number of options but most importantly wanted to have "lots of dialogue to better understand the best course of action for the future." Another source said no decision was made on what future action to take.

* * * * *

The problem for the Catholic seven would be that if they were to venture off without taking the assets and brand name, they would forfeit all the NCAA tournament revenue from the conference and would be left without any start-up to form a new conference. Then, of course, the seven schools would have to attempt to lure Atlantic-10 members Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, Butler and possibly Creighton, the latter out of the Missouri Valley, to form a city league that would stretch from St. Louis to Chicago to Milwaukee to Indianapolis to Cincinnati to Dayton to Providence to New York-New Jersey to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.

Alright, wonderful. Where's the bleach?

Let's try and put this into context with some short bullet points:

  • If there is a breakaway of the five lacrosse-playing members and these schools can't retain the Big East's assets or brand (forcing those schools to form a new conference entirely), I'm unsure that the five schools would want to confederate under a new flag -- bringing in a lacrosse-only member (either in expansion or for lacrosse purposes only) or getting what would be a conference member to pursue varsity men's lacrosse to get to six lacrosse-playing schools -- and sponsor men's lacrosse. Forming a new league would, presumably, require not only six lacrosse-playing members to earn an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but it would also carry with it the mandatory two-year waiting period for automatic qualification as a new conference. Would these lacrosse schools -- without certainty that they'll be able to get to a solid six lacrosse-playing members (either partially confederated or fully constituted from the league's ranks) -- want to go through a few years of taking their chances in a crowded at-large pool without a relatively significant strength of schedule earned from their "conference" slate? I don't know; it's really unclear right now. My gut, though, tells me that this isn't an especially attractive option, especially with only five schools definitely on board right now.
  • Let's say that these schools split away, form a new conference for basketball purposes (kind of like the A-10), and don't pursue men's lacrosse as a league-sponsored sport. What happens now? Methinks the situation that I floated earlier this fall occurs: The ECAC, CAA, and MAAC start to get phone calls from the stranded lacrosse schools. There could be significant membership bloating in these leagues, which creates all kinds of issues -- positive and negative -- for both the leagues and their members. I'm not sure that it's all that worthwhile to cut that to shreds right now due to two dominating themes:(1) The end-game is opaque given the stage all of this is in; and (2) This presumption -- schools being spun out into the ether -- is in flux due to a new potential set of circumstances: If the former Big East schools form a new conference and look to gut other conferences for basketball power (Catholic-oriented or otherwise), how does that impact that constitution of the CAA and MAAC where there are some potentially attractive schools for a basketball-focused league? Which means . . .
  • . . . maybe there is value in a new conference sponsoring men's lacrosse and waiting the two years for an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The report from McMurphy and Katz note only the potential for a "Catholic Conference" -- which could include the opportunity to talk to St. Joseph's (which I am to assume that Villanova would not support) -- but what if the league thought a little broader? Drexel may be an attractive option for the league (again with Villanova's potential dissent) but pulling either the Hawks or Dragons out of the CAA (for lacrosse purposes, not overall athletic affilations) could drop that membership under the mandatory six (without considering affiliation with Richmond or Johns Hopkins or any other school you could possibly think of) and putting this new league above the threshold necessary for an automatic invitation. There's just way too much speculation that could be made as to this potential outcome, so I'll just back away from it slowly and let your mind explode in quiet anger.
  • I don't think independence is an option that any of these schools want to pursue for lacrosse purposes. It was these schools that pushed for Big East confederation on the lacrosse side in the first place and all played in leagues before the formation of the Big East lacrosse conference. Going on their own just isn't something these schools can afford right now given the climate of Division I lacrosse and I think all will recognize that.

The comments are yours to unload any of your thoughts.

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