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Conference Realignment: Atlantic Sun to Sponsor Men's Lacrosse in 2014, "Southern Conference" Finally Realized

This is actually happening, people.

Jamie Squire

I didn't expect to wake up this morning and find out that the Atlantic Sun Conference -- a real thing with a logo and everything -- would be getting into the men's lacrosse game. In fact, what I expected to do this morning was drink a cup of coffee, email clients that I was snowed-in and unavailable for teleconferences today, and just kill time until lunch when I'd make the day's toughest decision: Minnesota chicken soup or turkey chili. You know, really important things that make the world a better place.

Thanks for nothin', Atlantic Sun. To the press release!

The Atlantic Sun Conference will debut men’s lacrosse as an NCAA Division I championship sport in the spring of 2014, adding its third new sport in as many years and the 20th sport overall to its roster.

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Consistent with its mission and efforts to build alliances that increase competitive opportunities for student-athletes, the A-Sun will coordinate conference competition for the following group of men's lacrosse programs: Jacksonville, Mercer, Furman (affiliate), High Point (affiliate), Richmond (affiliate) and VMI (affiliate). Furman and Richmond will play their inaugural seasons in 2013-14.

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The six teams will play a single round robin schedule, along with the championship to be scheduled in May of 2014. As a multi-sport conference, the A-Sun is immediately eligible for automatic qualification into the NCAA championship. The NCAA Championships Cabinet determines the format for NCAA championships.

This is a big development for college lacrosse, even if the league will feature six programs that aren't exactly invited to high tea with the hyper-elite. Let's get to the bullet point thoughts:

  • The MAAC takes a bit of a hit with the losses of Jacksonville and VMI (although the loss of the Dolphins likely stings a little more given the competitive arc that the Dolphins were on since putting a program on the field). The league, however, will still keep its automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 as the additions of Quinnipiac and Monmouth will keep the conference's membership at seven (those two schools plus Canisius, Detroit, Manhattan, Marist, and Siena). Should the MAAC decide to raid the NEC again -- for Wagner (as was rumored when the league brought the Bobcats and Hawks aboard)? -- or otherwise take on more affiliated members -- maybe some of the Catholic Seven schools (the story about that situation comes tomorrow)? -- the conference will remain auto-bid protected, although it isn't necessary at this juncture. The league's response -- either affirmative or negative action -- to the organization of the Atlantic Sun, though, is a secondary storyline in all of this that maintains a particular level of interest.
  • Good for High Point, Mercer, Furman, and Richmond to find a conference home that makes geographic sense and is competitively balanced throughout. Like the organization of the NEC a few years back, the ability to get to the NCAA Tournament is much easier this way, and with the league automatically in the show in 2014, this is a huge coup for all competing members.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but: With the Atlantic Sun on board as an auto-bid league, we're staring at a play-in game requirement for the NCAA Tournament, no? (The 50 percent threshold has been breached with the Atlantic Sun being the ninth conference with an automatic invitation to the 16-team field). It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out in terms of how the committee populates that game (two lowest rated squads, regardless of automatic qualification status? the lowest rated at-large teams play each other? a mix of those scenarios?). These are crazy times down at Costello Music.
  • I'm somewhat surprised to see Richmond walk down this path with its Southern brethren, and I'm not 100 percent positive that the Spiders are going to be in the Atlantic Sun for the balance of eternity. There has been lots of chatter where Richmond may end up as there's a lot of juice around the program, and Richmond's name was even dropped in a note about potentially joining the Catholic Seven in whatever they choose to do. As of now the Spiders are playing Dixie, but I'm not going to say that it's a forever kind of thing quite yet.
  • You now have to wonder what the NEC, Catholic Seven, and ECAC plan to do given their current outlooks. It's hard to speculate on those futures in this context, but their moves -- not unlike the MAAC's scenario -- are something to keep an eye on.
  • Will this spur any other Southern schools to go ahead and make a run at Division I lacrosse? The game is starting to really move in the right direction in the South, and with an auto-bid league in their backyard, will institutions that are currently of the MCLA variety decide to give Division I lacrosse a shot now that there is a viable league in their area? That's a huge question, and it could help determine the participation arc of the college game at its highest level for the next decade or so.

I'm sure you guys have things to add, even if it's to point out my errors or omissions. Make the comments blink, people.