Well, this happened:
Multiple sources have indicated to Inside Lacrosse that Denver is preparing to announce it will join the Big East for men's lacrosse.
Whether they join for the 2014 or 2015 season remains unclear, as is the future of the women's lacrosse team, which currently competes in the MPSF.
Denver obviously emboldens a league that will lose Notre Dame and Syracuse next season. The Pioneers -- under the glare of Bill Tierney -- are establishing themselves as a consistently nationally-relevant program with a foundation for continued success. Denver is building things the right way, with sustainable program growth and purpose, and should remain among the nation's strongest programs. The Pioneers can serve as a cornerstone for the Big East as Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John's continue to build their programs and Providence and Marquette engage in continued program development. The Big East becomes more dangerous and competitive with the Pioneers running under the league's flag, and that's an important development for a conference that looked wayward on the lacrosse side of things as realignment unfolded.
The ramifications of the Pioneers' move to the Big East -- notably indicated as a lacrosse-only relationship -- is somewhat clear and opaque at the same time:
- With Denver in the fold, the Big East will have achieved its magic membership number of six. The league's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament is secure, although the road to the league's free pass to The Big Barbecue becomes a little more difficult with the Pioneers throwing hands with the Catholic schools. Does the Big East stop here or do they continue to pursue Johns Hopkins (are the Blue Jays interested in a Big East with Denver on the membership roll?) or another school -- Fairfield? Richmond? -- to increase the league's lacrosse playing count? With an established membership roll, will other Big East Conference full-time members to try their hand at Division I lacrosse? It's unclear at this time, although the likelihood of Johns Hopkins joining the party isn't high given the ever-present Hopkins-to-the-Big-Ten refrain.
- The ECAC is now in a tough spot. The losses of Denver to the Big East and Loyola to the Patriot League have gutted a conference on the rise. With the rumors of the Big Ten looking to sponsor lacrosse (potentially subject to Johns Hopkins' affiliation decision), the league could be looking at a situation where its membership constitution is just Fairfield, Bellarmine, Air Force, and Hobart upon Michigan and Ohio State's departure. That's . . . that's not what keeps a television deal with Fox Sports on the table. Would Fairfield really want to stick around that league, the conference's eastern-most outpost, when the MAAC, NEC, or Big East is in its backyard (if given the opportunity to join any of those leagues)? Would Hobart, a Division III school in all other sports, want to assume the expense of jetting its lacrosse team around the country in a watered down league? Is this the impetus for Bellarmine to pursue the Atlantic Sun and affiliate with the "Southern" schools? What the hell is going to happen to Air Force if the ECAC can't hold itself together and eventually get to six teams? (The Falcons are, with Denver, Division I's hardest destination to get to and an odd duck in this entire mess.) Life as an independent -- a potential route for the Falcons (or any other team in the ECAC that doesn't find a landing spot) -- is a lonely road to travel (and a dangerous one at that). Or does the ECAC look to poach from the CAA, MAAC, America East, or NEC to keep its membership roll at six and the league's overall competitiveness strong? Or maybe the ECAC becomes a landing spot for a new program looking to enter Division I lacrosse that doesn't already have a conference that sponsors the game? It's unclear.
- Any further speculation is built on internal and external forces. The Big Ten potentially moving into the men's lacrosse arena is the most earth-shaking ramification, as it directly impacts the ECAC and CAA. Then the same questions that have been floated in the past reemerge. Stony Brook and Albany are playing football in the CAA and have eyes at doing college athletics at a big time level; what does that mean for their America East memberships? How does the MAAC respond to all of this after gobbling up Quinnipiac and Monmouth from the Northeast Conference? The Northeast Conference has a nice chip in Bryant, but that league is in search of a member or two to fill out its conference membership. Connectedly, what will Bryant do? How does the CAA respond to the potential loss of Penn State? Blergh, this is all too messy. This is why I love the Ivy League and its rampant "No Anyone Else Allowed" policy.