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Conference Realignment: Johns Hopkins Lacrosse to Officially Seek Conference Affiliation

This is all really happening.


Johns Hopkins has made it official: The Blue Jays are looking to join someone's clubhouse and have all kinds of new friends. On the heels of a recommendation report issued from the school's Blue Ribbon Committee to Study Conference Alignment for the Men's Lacrosse Team (How much more Johns Hopkins-y could that committee name be? None. None more Johns Hopkins-y.), the university today publicly issued a letter to the Blue Jays community asserting that Johns Hopkins will active seek to eschew its traditional independence and fly the flag of a yet-to-be determined conference at Homewood Field:

The committee’s unanimous conclusion, transmitted to me last week, is that Johns Hopkins and its men’s lacrosse student-athletes would best be served by our seeking affiliation for men’s lacrosse only with an NCAA Division I conference. That conclusion was based on committee members’ conviction that such a move will provide our university and history’s most-successful lacrosse program the best opportunity for continued leadership at the highest level of intercollegiate competition. It was based on their conviction that joining a Division I conference for men’s lacrosse is the best course for our athletes, our program and our university, and that it can be done without compromise to our academic integrity or athletic traditions.

I agree with the committee’s analysis and have accepted its recommendations. Tom Calder and Dave Pietramala are also in agreement. Together, we intend to pursue an affiliation. As I mentioned in my March message, there already have been expressions of interest. I will report to you when there is a conclusion to these discussions.

The special committee’s report is available online here. To be clear, we intend, as previously announced, to compete as a Division I independent in women’s lacrosse. We remain deeply and philosophically committed to continued participation in NCAA Division III competition in all other sports.

There are three interesting and important aspects to the report: (1) Independence is still on the table for Hopkins (the report only recommends pursuing an affiliated situation); (2) That it is Hopkins' "desire to maintain traditional rivalries with institutions such as Maryland, Syracuse, Navy, North Carolina, and Loyola" and that the university has had been in communication with these rival lacrosse programs and the feeling is mutual that the competitive relationships should remain "as long as possible" (the recommendation reports goes on to note that "the door should not be closed to developing new traditions" and that "conference alignment could forge exciting new rivalries with teams against which Johns Hopkins has rarely competed in the past"); and (3) Specific recommendations around what criteria should drive the decision-making process relative to agreeing to join a league. With respect to the final aspect of the report, the committee provided the following four criteria as drivers for league affilation (none are explicitly noted as deal-breaking points or otherwise overtly ordered in terms of importance):


In light of the preceding discussion and considerations, it is the unanimous recommendation of this Committee that the University pursue a conference membership for the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program.

In addition, the Committee highly recommends that if the University decides to proceed with conference alignment, it should take measures to ensure the stability of the program during this period of transition. Specifically, the Committee identifies four criteria it believes would be important in any agreement to join a conference:

  1. An initial membership term of five years
  2. An opportunity to evaluate Johns Hopkins’ position in the conference after three years, at which point the option would exist to either extend the initial agreement or to part ways at the conclusion of the initial agreement
  3. A guarantee that a decision by an existing full member of the conference to sponsor the sport of men’s lacrosse or the addition to the conference of a full member that sponsors men’s lacrosse will not jeopardize Johns Hopkins’ affiliation with the league
  4. The ability for Johns Hopkins to maintain its existing television broadcasting relationship with ESPNU

The Committee recognizes the significant changes occurring in intercollegiate athletics, and we see those changes impacting the sport of men’s lacrosse. We believe joining a conference at this time will ensure that the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program will remain at the forefront of the sport for years if not decades to come. This move will help to preserve Johns Hopkins’s legacy in college lacrosse and to maintain the tradition of excellence that distinguishes the men’s lacrosse program and The Johns Hopkins University.

The biggest things that stand out from the four criteria are that:

  • Specific criterion imply that Johns Hopkins wants short-term evaluation rights in an agreement while couching these desires in a report that continually speaks to long-term stability for the Blue Jays' program. This isn't necessarily a logical contradiction in light of continuing conference realignment, but it may be a hard leverage point for Johns Hopkins to get in its various conference alignment discussions with various leagues.
  • The desire for Hopkins to maintain its ESPNU deal is a significant factor for the university (and the conference alignment committee). How will this desire play in any potential Big Ten discussions (e.g., will the Big Ten permit Hopkins to keep broadcast rights for its home games -- including home games against Big Ten opponents -- while the Big Ten Network is permitted to only broadcast Hopkins road games?)? How will this impact potential discussions with the ACC (the league has a relationship with the four-letter network)? As for the Big East and ECAC, which have contracts with Fox Sports, Hopkins' ESPNU deal is a weird point of parliamentary procedure. We are all beholden to furniture that shows moving pictures.
  • Again, Hopkins is very aware of the movement occurring throughout the country and wants a home with relative stability. The membership term and agreement evaluation criteria are provisions that keep the Big East, ECAC, and other leagues that are potentially in membership transition on a short leash with the Blue Jays. Johns Hopkins is painfully aware of the landscape and where things stand.
  • The note about Hopkins' membership position not eroding if a conference full-member sponsors lacrosse seems directed -- most notably -- at the Big Ten or ACC (but primarily the Big Ten). With rumors about Minnesota sponsoring Division I men's lacrosse lingering (and Michigan State's past foray at the Division I level) and the Big Ten's historic reluctance for single-purpose membership a concern, Hopkins doesn't want to join the pot luck dinner only to have its seat pulled away when it uses the bathroom. The rumors of Louisville, Florida State, or another ACC school currently not sponsoring Division I men's lacrosse looking to play in what is going to become the most ridiculous lacrosse conference ever assembled is also a consideration point if Hopkins is winking at John Swofford's league.

Hopkins hasn't received a formal invitation (or invitations) at the moment, but the process is officially underway to see what's out there for the most decorated men's lacrosse program in the country. If this is going to happen, Dave Pietramala believes that the 2015 lacrosse season would be the preferred year to start conference play.