The Midwest is smiles and handshakes, deep fried everything, and Garrison Keillor telling you about a way of life that is a reality only if you have access to time travel. The East Coast is complaining about traffic, believing that anything west of the I-95 corridor is Russia, and delicious things that come from the ocean dusted in Old Bay seasoning. These are somewhat disparate experiences, and yet the two will come together as one: Abandoning 130 years of lacrosse independence, Johns Hopkins will officially join the Big Ten Conference as a lacrosse-only member, thereby giving the league – and the Midwest – an adventure it hasn’t pursued in its almost 120-year existence. It’s a different kind of relationship – one that almost sounded like nonsense six months ago – but one that will change the face of college lacrosse for, at a minimum, the near future.
The details are straightforward but the ramifications are somewhat opaque: The Blue Jays, three members of the as-constituted Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State), and two additional members of the future-constituted Big Ten (Maryland and Rutgers), are coming together to make Big Ten men’s lacrosse a thing of the future and Johns Hopkins’ independence a thing of the past:
The Big Ten Conference announced today that men's and women's lacrosse will become the conference's 27th and 28th official sports and that Johns Hopkins University has been accepted as a sport affiliate member for men's lacrosse only beginning with the 2014-15 academic year.
"We are excited to announce the launch of Big Ten men's and women's lacrosse and the addition of Johns Hopkins as a sport affiliate member," said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. "Johns Hopkins is an outstanding institution with a legacy of success in men's lacrosse that is simply unmatched in intercollegiate athletics. Lacrosse is an emerging sport among our current schools and is a long-held passion among our East Coast institutions. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers in all sports and Johns Hopkins for men's lacrosse, we will have the requisite number of institutions to make men's and women's lacrosse official conference sports, building upon our tradition of broad-based sports competition. We look forward to the start of the first Big Ten men's and women's lacrosse seasons in 2015."
Big Ten competition in both sports will feature Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers, with Johns Hopkins participating in men's lacrosse and Northwestern competing in women's lacrosse. Big Ten rules allow for a conference championship when six institutions sponsor a program in any given sport.
There are some important notes here:
- The Big Ten will sponsor men's play starting with the 2015 season. Consequently, Hopkins will continue to play as an independent in 2014, Rutgers will play as a member of the reorganized Big East,1 and Maryland (ACC), Ohio State (ECAC), Michigan (ECAC), and Penn State (CAA) will have awkward final seasons in their current leagues.
- The Big Ten will earn automatic invitation status to the NCAA Tournament, thereby giving Johns Hopkins the safety net it wanted.
- The Big Ten will allow the Blue Jays to keep their ESPNU deal, keeping Hopkins' home games on the network for, at least, the duration of the school's contract with the network.
The unknowns, however, are argably more interesting than the knowns:
- With the Big Ten forming a lacrosse concern, how will the CAA and ECAC respond to the losses of their soon-to-be formerly affiliated programs? Specifically, the ECAC is in the most dire situation: With Denver (Big East), Loyola (Patriot), Michigan and Ohio State (Big Ten) out of the fold, a four-team league -- Hobart, Air Force, Bellarmine, and Fairfield -- isn't sustainable. With the potential deathblow to the league delayed until 2015, there is time for the ECAC to try and find tentpoles, but right now the situation is pretty bleak.
- How will other leagues -- MAAC, Northeast, etc. -- respond to the potential death of the ECAC and the CAA's six-team future? Will those leagues make a push to round out their membership? Will they serve as fertile ground to sustain the CAA or ECAC? These are crazy times down at Costello Music. The formation of the Big Ten lacrosse league was the biggest realignment issue out there, and its effects are ill-defined.
1 There hasn't been an official announcement as to Rutgers' lacrosse affiliation for 2014 (it wasn't even mentioned in the school's release today about the Big Ten forming lacrosse), but all signs point to the Scarlet Knights participating in the Big East next season with Denver, Marquette, Providence, Villanova, Georgetown, and St. John's.