Conference Realignment: Big East Implosion Plan Focuses

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Everything looks like it will change for the 2015 lacrosse season. Or maybe it won't.

The future of Big East lacrosse -- a thing that has only existed for three seasons, entering its fourth in 2013 -- is starting to come into focus: The endgame is more than ambiguous at this point, and while it isn't immediate, there is a loose roadmap as to how everything is going to come to a conclusion.

First up: Notre Dame's departure date from the league for the ACC, the second blow to the Big East's lacrosse efforts after Syracuse's exit for the 2014 season:

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says he believes it's in the "interest of everybody" to have the Fighting Irish and the other nine schools leave the Big East "sooner rather than later."

Swarbrick said the Irish would remain in the Big East for the 2013-14 season.

"It's important to say all we're confirming is where we are next year," said Swarbrick, who was attending the BCS commissioners meeting about college football's upcoming playoff.

The Irish have announced they are leaving the Big East for the ACC in all sports but football. Also, Rutgers (Big Ten) and Louisville (ACC), along with the Catholic 7 basketball schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova -- have given the Big East notification they are exiting the league.

So, obviously, the Irish will wait one more lacrosse season to join Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia (Maryland will depart for the Big Ten and/or lacrosse-parts-unknown -- as of right now -- for the 2015 lacrosse season, the same year that the Irish intend to play in the ACC) in the strongest lacrosse conference on Earth. Or they cut a check large enough to buy a small island in the South Pacific tomorrow and start ACC play in the 2014 season. When the sky rains blood circumstances tend to change, you guys.

The timing of Notre Dame's move -- coinciding with the Terrapins' departure -- ensures that the ACC will continue to keep its place atop the nation, moving membership toward the magic "six" for automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament should Swofford and Associates, Ltd. decide to pursue an associate member or a program in the league decides to increase its lacrosse presence and start playing at the game's highest level. (I'm staring you down, Boston College, Florida State, and every other school that is currently dancing in the dark and shouldn't be.)

Then there is the news about what the Catholic Seven plan to do, specifically the cartel's lacrosse-playing members -- Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Villanova -- with respect to a separation timeline:

The Big East is hoping to resolve its divorce with the seven departing Catholic-based basketball schools within the next few weeks -- in time for a summer 2014 departure -- according to a source who had detailed knowledge of Friday's conference call with the Big East.

The source said there seems to be a consensus the seven will leave and form their own league for fall 2014, exactly what the seven want as well, according to a number of sources from the departing seven.

* * * * *

The departing seven -- Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Marquette, DePaul and Villanova -- still must form a league. They also need to decide on a commissioner, bylaws, location, championships, compliance rules and how many schools they will add. The departing seven are expected to initially target Butler and Xavier out of the Atlantic 10, and possibly grow to 10 or 12 teams with candidates among Creighton, Dayton, Saint Louis, Richmond and VCU.

There are three important pieces of information in there for lacrosse purposes:

  • As Andy Katz notes, the departing schools plan to form a new conference. This is an important development in this entire process -- which will never end because athletics administrators need things to do -- and may ultimately determine the upward climb that the four five lacrosse-playing members have ahead of them: It isn't just that the five schools will be part of a league with fewer than six members, it's that they will be forming a new league and, if you give a strict reading of the NCAA manual, that may mean that the conference -- once it gets six members -- may need to go through the two-year waiting period for an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. (Again, I'm not 100 percent positive on this, especially with the Atlantic Sun's immediate ability to generate an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament.) That's why the fight over the Big East name -- anathema to many -- is arguably important in all of this: It may be the difference between completely starting over and potentially having the ability to take advantage of various exceptions and grace periods. The last thing that the lacrosse-playing schools can afford -- both for themselves and attracting other members -- is needing to go back through the re-certification process, and forming a new league without the Big East name could either crush the possibility of the new league in sponsoring the game or force the lacrosse-playing members to find homes elsewhere.
  • The timing for all this to go down is the 2015 lacrosse season, which gives the new league time to find out who is going to comprise the conference. Unfortunately, with lacrosse concerns subordinated behind basketball concerns, the league may or may not be in a position to soothe its lacrosse issues until hoops is taken care of first.
  • Richmond, eh? (I wonder what the Atlantic Sun thinks about this after bringing the Spiders into the fold starting next year for lacrosse purposes.) The Spiders would only get the league to five members, but that'd be a big move for a program that would be going through only its second year of competition, helping to build a Southern conference in the interim. (Correction: It gets them to six.)(It also means that the conference would have two programs that would have, combined, three seasons of Division I play under their belts. That's some shakiness in overall league competitiveness.) Andy Katz provided further definition on a potential Richmond inclusion, writing: "The 10th spot has interesting candidates, and while I have heard strong Richmond arguments for that spot, the Spiders may end up being more of an 11th or 12th member if the league decides to go that far." So, the Spiders look like they aren't necessarily a front-line candidate for the Catholic Seven, but rather a back-up or supplemental plan. Which means that the league's lacrosse concerns remain as unstable as ever as none of the other schools in discussion to join the conference currently sponsor men's lacrosse at the Division I level.
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