As I was sitting through an impressively long meeting yesterday afternoon, I started thinking about this tweet from Furman (and USA! USA! USA! Freedom Liberty Right to Grill Steaks Deliciously!) head coach Richie Meade:
Meade is right: The Atlantic Sun's acquisition of Bellarmine was a great move for the conference. With five relatively fresh programs -- Furman (first season in 2014), High Point (just entered Division I in 2013), Mercer (still finding its legs since joining college lacrosse's highest level of play in 2011), Jacksonville (began full Division I play in 2010), and Richmond (first season in 2014) -- and a VMI program that has experienced significant struggles, Bellarmine has the potential to steady a league that is likely going to exist on the periphery until it matures a little bit. The question, though, is how much the league improved.
I turned on the lacrosse calculator and updated the below table to reflect the conference changes for St. Joseph's (from THUNDERDOME! to the NEC) and Bellarmine (from the ECAC to the Atlantic Sun). This is how things shook out.
|NEW RK.||CONFERENCE||NEW WIN%||OLD WIN%||OLD RK.||DIFF.|
|7.||ECAC (Air Force)||45.77||52.16||3.||-4|
Some brief thoughts:
- The Atlantic Sun's average Pythagorean win expectation value based on the last four year's worth of information isn't pretty compared to the rest of the nation (and it's likely a little weaker given that two brand new programs will participate in the conference next year), but that "NEW WIN%" value is an improvement over where the league ranked after I ran this analysis to consider Hobart's move to the NEC: It's about a five percent increase. That doesn't seem like much, but it is an improvement, and that's good news for the Atlantic Sun. It's not like Bellarmine is a crushing force of destruction that is primed for a national title run, but the Knights are reasonably competitive, and that's important for a league that is going to experience growing pains internally and externally.
- Air Force's problem isn't that it lacks competitive value; rather, it's that the Falcons are hidden away in Colorado Springs. Air Force would, from a lacrosse standpoint, fit in well in any number of leagues. The Falcons, though, need to find a place -- if it can find a place -- that will accept that the Air Force Academy isn't mobile and is stuck in the mountains halfway across the country.
- The NEC's absorption of St. Joseph's dropped the average win expectation for the conference by about three percent, actually tucking the league behind the MAAC. The Hawks' decision to depart THUNDERDOME! for the NEC makes sense from a competitive standpoint for St. Joseph's (the Hawks had been overmatched in that league ever since they came into the fold after leaving the MAAC), but the Hawks don't exactly have a long history of smashing faces. Taylor Wray has done a nice job of getting St. Joseph's out of a ditch on the side of the road, but there's still a way to go for the Hawks. I wouldn't say this was a bad decision for either St. Joe's or the NEC (it's a good fit for both the league and the school), but it's not a "PLINKO!" moment either.