Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
I've written a lot about what conference realignment may mean to programs that may be considering pursuing Division I lacrosse, but what about the "other" possible consequence?
I was flipping through the ol' Twitter machine the other day -- Do you follow College Crosse on Twitter? No? Well, get on that, knucklehead! -- and came across this tweet from Brian Ewart (he contributes to SB Nation's Villanova site, VU Hoops (it's more than just hoops)):
Villanova is ultimately going to have to cut a LOT of non-revenue sports, guys. Won't be able to support so many teams.— Brian Ewart (@Brian_Ewart) December 13, 2012
To be honest, I hadn't even thought of this as a consequence of conference realignment. All along the storyline has been potential additions -- which is reasonable given the growth of the game nationally, pertinently at the Division I level -- and how realignment may drive that: Minnesota to potentially join the Big Ten and create an auto-bid for that league; Florida State or Boston College looking to pursue varsity lacrosse to join the hardest going conference on the plaent; etc. To consider that realignment -- that fickle mistress -- would potentially devour a program or two didn't even enter my mind, even if I personally think that lacrosse will survive all of this relatively unscathed.
I think we're far too early in this process to make any reasonable assumptions as to whether schools will cut lacrosse programs as a result of all this league shifting, but it should remain a shadowy issue. For example, take a school like Villanova: This is an institution that may take a significant cut in their television revenues depending on how its new league television contract will work out; the Wildcats may also lose guaranteed home games against big ticket draws like Syracuse and Notre Dame on a yearly basis depending on where Villanova ends up when the dust settles (if it ever settles). Will the university definitely want to support lacrosse -- scholarships, travel, coaching budgets, equipment, etc. -- if the return on investment doesn't work within the school's new economic climate? I don't know the answer to that question (in fact, I don't think anybody does right now). And Villanova isn't the only school in this kind of situation (even though I think the universe of schools that this impacts is fairly small in quantity); while tradition and history make us all want to believe that an institution wouldn't cut their men's lacrosse program, bean counters can be very pursuasive and college administrators have as their core responsibility the maintenance of the health and purposes of their institutions. Lacrosse is a game on the move -- just check out The Growth Blog, pals and gal pals -- and schools are moving in greater numbers toward putting the game on the varsity sponorship roll. It's just . . . when push comes to shove, looking at a ledger, is lacrosse 100 percent protected if cuts need to be made? I can't say with absolute certainty that the answer is "Yes."
Lacrosse isn't facilitating conference realignment; it merely feels the residue of all this movement. Schools are already in difficult financial situations outside of conference realignment considerations; there are no definites out there that the current 63 schools that will play Division I lacrosse next spring will also participate five years from now. (Although, my gut tells me that we won't see too many schools -- if any -- send their programs off to the lacrosse field in the sky (at least not in the near future). The seemingly endless growth of the game during a relatively similar overall economic climate over the last decade or so is, at least, circumstantial evidence that lacrosse will survive any economic-based cuts due to conference realignment. This drives my opinion that only a small handful of schools would even need to make this kind of consideration should it become necessary.) Again, it's far too early to say cuts will or won't happen, but it is a possibility that, due to money driving the bus, the bad consequence that none of us really think about could happen down the line.
This is definitely a "wait and see" situation. (Let's hope that all of our assumptions work out well in the end.)