Conference Realignment: Ohio State's Athletic Director Reaffirms Big Ten's Lacrosse Discussions

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Gene Smith specifically notes two important things.

With Johns Hopkins' loss to Loyola on Saturday, the Blue Jays have likely situated themselves in a position that Homewood Field hasn't had to deal with since 1971: Despite being arguably among the 16 or so best teams in the country, Johns Hopkins -- based on their record, RPI ranking, and RPI wins (among other things) -- is likely headed for a lacrosse-starved May. Without a conference tournament and automatic bid at their disposal to potentially earn a back-door invitation to the NCAA Tournament, Johns Hopkins' postseason desires rest on a date with Army and the hope of a disturbing level of anarchy -- on the field and in a hotel room where Selection Committee members are sequestered -- to occur over the next few days.

This, of course, brings about a recurring question: Just how close are the Blue Jays to joining a conference and changing the historic philosophy of the program? Ohio State's athletic director -- Gene Smith -- recently conducted an interview with Eleven Warriors, indicating that the Big Ten (one of the proposed destinations for Hopkins should the school look to affiliate with a conference) is in a prolonged discussion about sponsoring lacrosse and potentially bringing in an unnamed lacrosse-only member:

11W: Is there still a discussion to have a Big Ten Lacrosse Conference?

GS: There is a discussion. There’s talk about bringing in an affiliate member. The bylaw says you have to have six. Because of the nature of that sport and its growth and Maryland’s success, we’ve discussed identifying an affiliate member and possibly creating a Big Ten Lacrosse Conference.

Smith's comments shouldn't make faces melt, but it is affirmation, once again, that the Big Ten is seriously considering making lacrosse a thing and that affiliated membership -- which Smith specifically notes -- is on the table for a league that has been decidedly against such relationships in its past. The Big Ten is squarely within the "if" phase of its lacrosse sponsorship journey -- although the progress of that conversation is seemingly well past initial consideration -- but the dominating issue concerns "when" the Big Ten may pursue this.

Hopkins has to be antsy about getting into an auto-bid league (or a future auto-bid league) given where their season went this year. Maryland has another season in the ACC (at least at the moment), but Rutgers' future next season isn't set in stone: With the "new" Big East forming next season, will the Scarlet Knights join Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, and Villanova in a six-team conference (contingent upon what that league does relative to affiliate membership) for at least one season of play? (Note: Good catch here from BruceMcF: Rutgers will play with the basketball schools next season. I don't know how I missed that.) Then there is the issue of Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State departing their current lacrosse-only leagues to form a Big Ten lacrosse conference. There remain a lot of moving parts here, and it doesn't appear as if the Big Ten is going to have a workable model in place for the 2014 season. 2015 appears to be the first instance in which the Big Ten could conceivably put a sponsored product on the field.

Two things, however, are clear: Big Ten people are continuing to talk about lacrosse and affiliate membership is definitely on the table.

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