Do you read this site's fancy pants links post every day -- "Lacrosse the Internet"? You should; it's kind of the most important thing ever written on the Internet. There are all kinds of good stuff in that daily piece, and rather than watch it exist on the periphery, I'm going to make it even more important than it already is: Every day I'll pull out a story from the links post and expand a little upon it. It's called "Did You See That?!" and it'll happen as long as I remember to write it.
Link Post: June 12, 2013
Story: "College lacrosse's makeover likely isn't finished yet," Baltimore Sun
Ed Lee put together a hell of a piece the other day, touching upon all kinds of stuff surrounding the development of college lacrosse. The lede sets the table nicely:
The dust has settled in the wake of Johns Hopkins' announcement that the men's lacrosse team will join the Big Ten for the 2015 season. But that does not mean that the sport's makeover is complete.
"Things are going to continue to shuffle, things are going to continue to evolve," ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon said. ". . . Expect the unexpected. You just never know what is going to take place. Everyone is looking out for No. 1, and you have to. You have to take care of your own, you have to take care of your situation, and that's what these schools are doing."
From there, Lee explodes from the launch pad: the moves in conference realignment; the ramifications of realignment; the impact to the NCAA Tournament based on the growth and genesis of leagues; the importance of conference tournaments in this new era of college lacrosse; the potential dissolution of established and long-standing rivalries; and the potential for more schools to join the ranks of Division I. It's all there, man. It isn't a lot of words, but it covers a lot of ground very quickly.
There are two aspects of this that are most interesting to me at the moment: The impact to the size and approach of the NCAA Tournament and the potential development of new Division I programs. I don't know what the NCAA is going to do about its situation in 2014 -- assuming that the Atlantic Sun and ACC can earn "flash" automatic invitation status (the Atlantic Sun just kind of announced that it would receive an auto-bid despite not languishing in the usual two-year waiting period; the NCAA hasn't, at this point, officially confirmed or denied that the Atlantic Sun -- or any other league -- will earn an auto-bid for the 2014 season) -- but something is going to need to be done as the at-large and automatic invitation pools are unbalanced. Expansion to 20 teams? Play-in games? Something else, like sending 25 teams out into the ocean and allowing the first 16 to return to shore -- with all limbs attached, naturally (shark-bitten teams are a no-no) -- to play in the tournament? These are good problems to have, and it's one of the more positive residues from conference realignment. Automatic qualifications are good for lacrosse, regardless of the particular strength of a league that earns the free pass to The Big Barbecue. What the NCAA decides to do may drive how other potential leagues and affiliations go about their business.
As for the second aspect -- schools looking to have some fun at the Division I level, continuing the growth of the sport at the college game's highest level -- this is a continuing interest but one that earns greater concern with the continuation of realignment. The NEC started sponsoring lacrosse, in part, to provide its members with a more straightforward path to the NCAA Tournament. Will the Atlantic Sun or any other league assume new programs that want a steeper trajectory to The Big Barbecue? The game continues to grow in the south, and the Atlantic Sun is a nice starting gate for new programs. Consistently, will other leagues spur internal growth due to their auto-bid status or otherwise due to the construct of their conference -- will Louisville look to get some hot, barely legal ACC lacrosse action on its campus? will Minnesota or Michigan State look to cash in on the potential of Big Ten lacrosse? will the existence of the Big East drive schools to join that league? will the potential demise of the ECAC drive schools to sponsor Division I men's lacrosse, in part, to resuscitate that conference? Conference realignment provides opportunities for new schools to enter the fray, and that fact is an underestimated residue of this continuing reconfiguration of the game.