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Conference Realignment: Maryland, and Presumably Rutgers, in Big Ten for 2014-2015

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Is that enough time to start a Big Ten lacrosse league and save the Big East?

Winslow Townson

As the Maryland-to-the-Big-Ten situation continues to develop -- and which will presumably encompass Rutgers as early as tomorrow -- important news with a residual impact to college lacrosse is also coming into focus. For now, the biggest thing hanging out there is the timing of Maryland's transition, which according to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post is coming relatively soon:

Let's assume, then, that Rutgers is also potentially on a 2014-2015 trajectory to move into the Big Ten from the Big East. There are two considerations that will need to try and function in that two year timeline:

I. Can the Big Ten Get a Lacrosse League Together?
Two years isn't an especially long time to get a league together, but it also isn't an impotently truncated period. As currently situated, the Big Ten would have five lacrosse playing members -- Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers. That's one fewer than the mandatory six teams necessary to confer an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament on a conference. Without an auto-bid available, schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State -- currently residing in conference's with free passes to May -- don't have a significant level incentive to throw away their safety nets for what is already a crowded and confused at-large field. (Just ask Jeff Tambroni how that worked out for the Nittany Lions last season.) To function in a league without an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament is a dangerous proposition for these schools -- none squarely in the national elite save for Maryland -- and without some assurance that the league will, in the relative short term, assume a sixth member, a possible Big Ten lacrosse league is still an unknown.

The Big Ten, then, is looking at three scenarios: (1) Allow its members to stay in their current conferences, essentially making Maryland and Rutgers fend for themselves in the wild; (2) Push a Big Ten school -- Michigan State, Minnesota, etc. -- to pursue varsity men's lacrosse in a two-year period (which isn't impossible, but it is daunting); or (3) Take on lacrosse-only members, which doesn't seem all that likely. All involved in this situation would probably prefer for the second scenario to occur, resulting in a fully Big Ten-populated conference that would only need to wait two seasons for an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament (something that the Big East went through recently). Only time will tell how this plays out.

II. Can the Big East Save Itself?
After Rutgers' presumed defection from the league on the heels of Maryland's decision today, the Big East will only have five lacrosse playing members -- Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, and Villanova. That's a tough situation for a league that just got its auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament last season. Like the Big Ten, the Big East may look to lacrosse-specific confederation with a non-Big East school to fill out the membership roll, urge another conference member to make the jump to varsity lacrosse like Marquette did, or disband the affiliation entirely. There is zero incentive for any of the remaining Big East schools to stick around Big East lacrosse if the conference cannot provide an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. If the Big East can't figure out a way to survive over the next two seasons, there is a decent possibility that the league will fold, spitting out its (former) members into the atmosphere for absorption elsewhere.

That's where things become interesting. If the Big East can't save itself, the MAAC, ECAC, and THUNDERDOME! look like potential destinations for a bunch of schools -- that at some point in history -- put their fingerprints on these leagues. Some of these leagues could swell significantly, especially THUNDERDOME! or the ECAC where, if either conference picked up the entirety of the Big East's remaining schools, would push their lacrosse-playing membership to 11 (which is insane). That's an apocalyptic scenario, though, and isn't all that likely, but it is an interesting scenario to consider. The Big East has two seasons to figure out its flight path, and if it doesn't have an approach, there are a handful of other conferences that may assume the responsibility of providing a home.