There can be only one Highlanders!
The story emerged from the ether: New Jersey Institute of Technology was in the market for a new head men's lacrosse coach to navigate the waters of Division I men's lacrosse -- a pursuit that NJIT hadn't experienced in its history -- starting with the 2015 season. There was nothing concrete about the Highlanders' potential adventure through college lacrosse's highest level of play, other than the aforementioned job listing that didn't seem to complement any other indicia of future Division I lacrosse efforts. That is, of course, until NJIT's athletic director confirmed the school's aggressive plan for elite varsity lacrosse.
"We are definitely adding men's lacrosse," NJIT athletic director Lenny Kaplan said Wednesday, signifying the formation of the 69th men's DI program and the 11th start-up since 2010.
A technical university in downtown Newark, N.J., that finished its department's transition to DI in 2009, NJIT — which competes as the Highlanders — is currently an independent and Kaplan said the addition of men's lacrosse could help play a role in joining a conference.
"The leagues we're looking at joining all offer lacrosse and are looking for lacrosse teams," Kaplan says, noting that many of NJIT's prospects — which he didn't name, but one can reasonably guess might be the America East, NEC or MAAC — have six or seven teams, meaning a league's pursuit for another squad to protect their AQ in the wake of future realignment could lead to an opportunity for NJIT.
Using lacrosse as a leverage point to join a conference isn't particularly unique (Massachusetts-Lowell is going to throw a varsity lacrosse team on the field in 2015 due, in part, to the America East's classification of lacrosse as a core sport), but NJIT's overt strategy to use men's lacrosse as a value asset in the potential alignment with a league is different in that the Highlanders are a ronin that couldn't find a feudal lord when its former master passed away.
There is a sense of desperation here, but there also seems to be a plan in place: Kaplan wants to have a hire in place by Thanksgiving and NJIT is going to use its club program -- which has little exceptional history -- as a foundation to play in 2015 as an independent with a potentially truncated schedule. Whether that plan materializes in a functional form -- there are all kinds of hurdles to overcome in just around a year, not the least of which is assembling a Division I roster -- is the biggest variable in this whole situation, and it reminds of a scene from The Graduate:
"Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked."
"Oh, it's not. It's completely baked. It's a decision I've made."