Conference Realignment: The Atlantic Sun Lacrosse Conference and the "Who's Winning?" Leaderboard

Winslow Townson

The numbers here still show that the Patriot League has made the biggest gains. And the Atlantic Sun isn't exactly a special forces unit.

This shouldn't shake the core of your being, and if it does you probably need to get your melon checked, but the Atlantic Sun Conference -- Division I's newest league -- probably isn't going to be all that good in 2014. I know, right? With a host of piping fresh members -- two will begin play in 2014, one will have only a single season of play under its belt, and two others will have fewer than five years of competition at the game's highest level on their resume -- the Atlantic Sun is basically an incubator for newborns with undefined futures. That isn't exactly a formula for creating an efficient machine capable of evading high speed pursuit.

To confirm this, I reran the analysis I've been spitting out each time a realignment move occurs: Using Pythagorean win expectation values to determine the relative strength of each conference, both on an "as constituted" basis and an "as will be constituted" basis, we can get an idea of which leagues are making gains and losing ground in the never-ending battle for signing new conference membership documents. There are some important notes that accompany this analysis:

  • I ignore Marquette, High Point, Richmond, Furman, Boston University, and Monmouth in the analysis as they have no actionable data for the considered periods.
  • The Big East's "new rank" considers Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, and Villanova even if that league may not survive -- or if it takes another form -- down the road.
  • For the Northeast Conference, see the preceding bullet point.
  • The data set is from 2009 through 2012.
  • I ignore the old Great Western Lacrosse League and am not currently including a Big Ten league (with or without Johns Hopkins). If you want to see how a Big Ten lacrosse league stacks up (with or without Johns Hopkins), click this fancy highlighted text that brings you to a different page on your Internet computing machine.

So, how did everything shake out? To the informative table!

CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT: ATLANTIC SUN BECOMES A THING
NEW RK. CONFERENCE NEW WIN% OLD WIN% OLD RK. DIFF.
1. ACC 72.91 71.82 1.
2. Ivy League 56.38 56.38 2.
3. Patriot 50.87 49.15 6. +3
4. Colonial 50.23 50.82 3. -1
5. ECAC 47.11 50.17 4. -1
6. Big East 43.07 49.96 5. -1
7. America East 42.69 42.69 7.
8. Northeast 37.40 38.91 8.
9. MAAC 36.53 33.10 9.
10. Atlantic Sun 22.89 N/A N/A

Some brief thoughts on this:

  • I wrote in that Atlantic-Sun-to-sponsor-men's-lacrosse piece that the MAAC would take a hit for losing Jacksonville and VMI. After looking at these numbers, that may not be the case. With the loss of the Dolphins and Keydets and the addition of Quinnipiac and Monmouth (again, the Hawks aren't considered in this analysis since they haven't played a game yet), the MAAC is actually in a slightly stronger position -- in terms of competitive teams comprising the league -- than they were prior to all this recent movement. Plus, as pointed out at Great Lax State, the MAAC becomes geographically centralized, which isn't a bad thing (as is shedding VMI's dead weight). It'll still be interesting to see what the MAAC does at this point with seven teams and the conference's pursuit of lacrosse as a "core sport" -- try and bring Fairfield on board as a lacrosse member? poach a Catholic Seven member for lacrosse-only purposes if that league can't figure out its situation after the split from the Big East? -- but the loss of Jacksonville doesn't significantly hurt the MAAC relative to where it was. (The steady increase in the MAAC's Pythagorean expectation is somewhat impressive, rising with the addition of Quinnipiac and again rising with the losses of Jacksonville and VMI. This has been kind of a weird story that probably deserves some stronger ink at some point.)
  • The Patriot League is still the biggest winner so far, climbing three positions with the addition of Loyola. Boston University will likely bring that Pythagorean expectation value back a little bit, but the conference is undoubtedly stronger in 2014 with the 'Hounds. (The other thing factoring into this is the increase in ability throughout the league's legacy membership, but that's another story for another day.)
  • There are lots of issues in that Atlantic Sun value -- most notably, VMI dominating the calculation given the neophyte nature of much of the conference's membership -- but the league is going to be the weakest in Division I next season, regardless of how you want to pull apart the calculation. If you're an automatic qualification hater, this conference is your magic elixir for complaining on the Internet machine. I don't necessarily have an issue with the Atlantic Sun getting an auto-bid -- I like that players in the league will get a taste of the big time, as well as showing the South what this whole Division I lacrosse thing means -- but there isn't much strength in the conference right now. Hopefully it develops at an accelerated pace. At worse, it'll create an interesting race for the conference's automatic invitation given where all these programs are situated relative to each other.
  • I am quite positive that this is not the situation that the Big East envisioned when it finally convinced Syracuse to go all-in on a conference lacrosse league. Good gracious.
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