In this entire Maryland-and-Rutgers-to-the-Big-Ten fiasco, there's been one storyline that I haven't been able to figure out -- why do people automatically assume that the Big Ten will sponsor men's lacrosse with only five participating members (currently)? It didn't make any sense to me, both from the league's perspective and for conference members that play lacrosse in leagues that already maintain an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. I couldn't figure out the incentive to move down the path of essentially becoming the ACC without, you know, having the overall strength of the ACC (a fact that allows the ACC to muscle its way through a crowded NCAA Tournament at-large pool).
Luckily, it appears as if Michigan's John Paul -- and his colleagues -- aren't totally insane:
Michigan coach @johnpaulum on any potential Big Ten men's lacrosse: "To my knowledge, the Big Ten wouldn’t go without six programs."— Corey McLaughlin (@Corey_McL) November 19, 2012
So, what does this mean? A couple of things, I think:
- The pressure is potentially on for a current (if not more than one) non-lacrosse playing Big Ten school to elevate its program to varsity status if the current lacrosse-playing schools really want to form a league. (Either that or the Big Ten will need to take on a non-Big Ten member to make a conference happen that carries with it a free pass to the NCAA Tournament, which seems unlikely.)
- Maryland and Rutgers, unless they hook on with another league (which isn't an absolute definite at this point with the future potential of either team bolting for a Big Ten lacrosse league down the line should it form, thereby serving as leeches on already established conferences in the short term), are going at this as independents. That's a situation that Maryland can probably handle, even if they are stuck with icy relationships with their former ACC comrades. Rutgers, though, isn't anywhere near where the Terps are, and with potential issues around the Scarlet Knights' ability to put together a decent spring schedule as an independent, Rutgers' momentum under Brian Brecht could stall. Scheduling is more important than ever with small at-large margins for the NCAA Tournament; if Maryland and Rutgers can't handle that situation, both programs could be in some deep muddy.
- If the issue of the Big Ten forming a league down the line doesn't turn an established conference off to trying to bring Maryland or Rutgers into the fold, there are three likely landing spots for the schools: ECAC, THUNDERDOME!, or the MAAC. Maryland is obviously the bigger fish here, and given the timeline of each school's assimilation into the Big Ten proper (2014-2015), I'd think that the Terps would look to either the ECAC or THUNDERDOME! for membership (if they want to confederate at all and not become pseudo-Hopkins). For Rutgers, the situation isn't quite as rosy. The Scarlet Knights aren't as strong a property as Maryland, and I don't have a gut feeling as to whether the ECAC or THUNDERDOME! would want to bloat with the Scarlet Knights on their membership rolls. (Although, Rutgers is a former ECAC member.) The MAAC would be a decent landing spot for Rutgers right now based on where the Scarlet Knights are competitively, but pride on the part of Rutgers may keep them from pursuing this option.