2014 College Lacrosse Preview: The Nation's Most Exciting Conferences

USA TODAY Sports

I'm willing to bet that you didn't realize how fun and wonderful THUNDERDOME! could be.

The ACC will draw a ton of attention this coming season and deservedly so: The league is unlike anything that has ever been created in college sports. From top to bottom, the entire conference is in the conversation of Championship Weekend contenders. There are no weak links in the ACC in 2014, and even its assumedly weaker teams are still stronger than the vast majority of Division I programs.

The ACC, however, isn't the only league in the nation that requires the consideration of your eyeballs. With 10 conferences sponsoring play this year, there are a host of leagues -- many forgotten (purposely or accidentally) -- that could provide a high level of play and intrigue. The beauty of the growth of the game at the Division I level is the leveraged competitiveness that has matured over the years, a consequence that necessitates greater recognition of what college lacrosse offers in totem.

To create an analysis that illustrates the prism of attractiveness that Division I's conferences offer, three questions need to be asked:

  1. Which leagues look like the strongest going into 2014?
  2. Which leagues are likely to maintain a constant level of strength?
  3. Which leagues look to have the tightest races going into 2014?

Those questions -- both exclusively and in concert -- lay the foundation for describing the landscape of college lacrosse's best leagues.

Which leagues look like the strongest going into 2014?

This analysis was fairly straightforward: Using Pythagorean win expectations from 2010 through 2013, conference Pythagorean win expectations -- for the same periods -- were determined. These conference Pythagorean win expectation values are not "as played" values; rather, they are built upon the 2014 memberships of each of the 10 leagues that will sponsor play in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the ACC came out on top:

RANKING THE CONFERENCES (CONFERENCE STRENGTH): 2010-2013
LEAGUE 2013 2012 2011 2010 4-YR. AVERAGE RANK
ACC 69.73% 67.72% 72.28% 75.49% 71.31% 1
IVY 62.10% 56.57% 57.47% 55.19% 57.83% 2
COLONIAL 52.57% 56.14% 56.74% 56.06% 55.38% 3
PATRIOT 52.27% 58.01% 49.00% 49.90% 52.29% 4
ECAC 47.70% 47.55% 52.26% 43.98% 47.88% 5
BIG EAST 44.82% 44.96% 48.63% 42.70% 45.28% 6
AMERICA EAST 42.29% 42.41% 45.60% 39.77% 42.52% 7
MAAC 34.14% 35.48% 41.48% 38.47% 37.39% 8
NEC 33.96% 37.13% 33.36% 37.25% 35.43% 9
ATLANTIC SUN 21.88% 22.21% 21.21% 33.31% 24.65% 10

The Ivy League slotting behind the ACC isn't unexpected given the strength of the top of that conference in the examined periods. What is somewhat interesting is the positioning of THUNDERDOME!: That league was one of only three to maintain a conference Pythagorean win expectation value above 50 percent for all four seasons included in the study. There is an incredible level of value in THUNDERDOME! and it supports the two bids per season that THUNDERDOME! has averaged in the NCAA Tournament since 2010.

Which leagues are likely to maintain a constant level of strength?

This analysis can be misleading. The focus here is on the standard deviation of a league's average Pythagorean win expectation over the four seasons examined in the analysis. The lower the standard deviation value, the more consistent the league has been at maintaining a static Pythagorean win expectation value as a conference. The results:

RANKING THE CONFERENCES (POWER STABILITY): 2010-2013
LEAGUE PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION STANDARD DEVIATION RANK
COLONIAL 0.019 1
NEC 0.021 2
AMERICA EAST 0.024 3
BIG EAST 0.025 4
IVY 0.030 5
MAAC 0.033 6
ACC 0.034 7
ECAC 0.034 8
PATRIOT 0.040 9
ATLANTIC SUN 0.058 10

Here's the deal: THUNDERDOME! maintains a membership that presents the league as the third-strongest in the nation and consistently hits its marks as a conference that will have its membership expected to win around 55 percent of its games. This begs the question: Why isn't THUNDERDOME! on television? Just stick that TV-MLV warning up in the corner of the screen at the top of the broadcast. America deserves to see THUNDERDOME!'s death blows.

Also: That value probably isn't something that the NEC wants to see. Ranked ninth in overall conference Pythagorean win expectation, the league probably would have liked to see some volatility in its yearly expected win percentage. Alas, the NEC is consistently a conference that has finished right around 35 percent in Pythagorean win expectation. That kind of stability desperately desires turbulence.

Which leagues look to have the tightest races going into 2014?

This is the money question: Which leagues have the most balance from top to bottom? Paying attention to conferences that feature two elite teams and four struggling teams isn't as fun as focusing on leagues with six teams that are all evenly matched. This is what makes conference races exciting and league tournaments valuable. The ACC tops the chart, but there are some other interesting results:

RANKING THE CONFERENCES (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS): 2010-2013
LEAGUE PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION STANDARD DEVIATION RANK
ACC 0.063 1
COLONIAL 0.101 2
AMERICA EAST 0.116 3
MAAC 0.120 4
IVY 0.127 5
ECAC 0.147 6
PATRIOT 0.162 7
NEC 0.168 8
BIG EAST 0.171 9
ATLANTIC SUN 0.196 10

You can throw rotting garbage at the MAAC if you want, but I think that I'm going to buy them a nice steak dinner. What that league lacks in overall strength it makes up for in top to bottom competitiveness. Teams won't run away and hide in the MAAC, which makes the conferences exciting to watch. Any team in that league can knock off another, and as an uninvested observer, there's nothing better than that fact.

Also: The Patriot League and THUNDERDOME! are polar opposites. Both hold strong conference memberships, yet the former is top heavy and lacks stability while the latter is consistently balanced and powerful. Those two leagues aren't comparatively equal in terms of excitement and steadiness, even if the two conferences are comparable in terms of overall conference strength since 2010.

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