Conference Realignment: Inside MD Sports Grows Johns Hopkins-to-the-Big-Ten Rumor

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

I have to say: I'm not sure what's more believable -- Hopkins to a new Big Ten lacrosse league or the story of Manti Te'o and his dead nonexistent girlfriend.

Crazy doesn't take days off. I know this because I live in America, and while it is awesome it is equally insane. The fact that New Hampshire exists without anyone questioning its bona fides for statehood -- "We have a rock formation that looks like a dude's face. Give us statehood, founding fathers." "You got it, crazy people. And if it falls apart in 200 years and people there lose their minds about it, you're still in the America club." -- confirms this notion. Then, of course, there's the daily dose of news that makes you wonder if the concept of "America" was just an elaborate plan by Big Pharma to sell us all Xanax or something:

Thanks to @Eri_Barrister for the find.

I honestly don't know what to make of this. The first issue is the source; we're not exactly talking about a site or a writer that is knee-deep in sources throughout the country, covering the entirety of Division I lacrosse like the folks at Inside Lacrosse or Lacrosse Magazine. However, these recruiting sites built around major programs -- like Maryland.247Sports.com -- do, in general, have good sources within their own universe and they're getting better about what information/rumors they float. I wouldn't totally dismiss this given: (1) The importance of lacrosse to the Maryland athletic department; and (2) How loosely big information flies around the Baltimore/District of Columbia corridor, especially with respect to lacrosse.

The second issue I have with this is that I just don't understand how Johns Hopkins is going to make this work or why the Blue Jays would pursue this. The Blue Jays, as evidenced by the recently released ESPNU broadcast schedule for this upcoming season, already have the highest level of exposure in the game in terms of television broadcast opportunities on a national basis; if Hopkins joins the Big Ten as an associate member, will that impact the Jays' ESPNU relationship (given that the Big Ten may restrict the rights of its members -- full or associate -- to contract individual broadcast rights)? This only makes sense to me if Johns Hopkins can otherwise maintain its broadcast rights (or if the Big Ten inks a deal with a national network to broadcast a high inventory of league-member lacrosse games, like the Big East and ACC), because signing on to the Big Ten and having games merely broadcast on the Big Ten Network is limiting in contrast to what the Jays already have in place. In short, there are exposure issues here that are undefined at the moment that creates confusion as to why Hopkins would abandon its current position for one that is potentially limiting. (Note: I'm ignoring the potential "Big Ten Money" issue here because that is indescribably opaque relative to a lacrosse-only membership, if it even exists.)

Then, of course, is the issue of Hopkins forfeiting its historic independence for mandatory annual games against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland (only one of which -- Maryland -- the Jays have any traditional relationship with). I have no idea how this would go over at Homewood Field, but joining the Big Ten as a lacrosse-only member will undoubtedly create scheduling issues for Hopkins: Assuming the Jays attempt to build a yearly 12- to 14-game regular season schedule (five games are already earmarked for Big Ten games plus a game or two for what would assumedly be a Big Ten Tournament), will Hopkins have the opportunity (or desire) to play local teams -- Towson, Loyola, UMBC, Mount St. Mary's, Navy, etc. -- that have dotted the Jays' schedule in the past in addition to nationally-relevant rivals -- Syracuse, Virginia, Princeton, North Carolina, etc.? Simply, Johns Hopkins can't have what it has always had the luxury of -- schedule flexibility that balances local concerns and historic rivals from around the nation -- while also playing in a conference. This was Syracuse's fate when it finally acceded to the demands of Big East members to join and help form that conference's lacrosse league; there is impact here that many will argue -- for a school like Hopkins -- is proportionally burdensome to the opportunity to obtain an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament (after a two-year waiting period).

As for the national fallout if the Jays decide to pursuit a lacrosse-only membership with the Big Ten Conference, there are four conferences (in the overall) that are impacted with the formation of the league: ECAC (would lose Ohio State and Michigan); THUNDERDOME! (Penn State); ACC (Maryland); and Big East (Rutgers). The ACC issues are of little concern; the Terps weren't going to park its lacrosse team in the league after moving the balance of its sports to the Big Ten anyway, and the ACC is going to be fine -- even continuing to exist without an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament -- regardless of what the Big Ten does. The loss of Penn State would drop THUNDERDOME!'s membership to six, so things are fine there but the league does take a competitive hit, potentially losing a member that is on the rise and has the look of a program that could carry the CAA banner down the line. The Big East's situation is the Big East's situation, and if you need words about that situation just click this highlighted text. That situation is like trying to explain to people why you shouldn't drink gasoline.

As for the ECAC, it may or may not be in a troubling position. The conference would lose Michigan and Ohio State if the Big Ten Conference is formed; it is also bracing for the loss of Loyola to the Patriot League. That would drop the ECAC's membership to only five, but given how the ECAC has become a landing spot for everyone and comforting blanket over the years, the likelihood of the league surviving is far better than average. Losing arguably two of its three best programs is a concern, though, and doesn't bode particularly well for overall conference strength. That's definitely a wait-and-see situation.

What do you guys think? Is this going to happen? Excited for it? Skeptical? Ambivalent because you're the world's biggest Wagner fan? Let me know in the comments.

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