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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Who's Winning Conference Realignment?

There are new leagues, dead leagues, and teams in different leagues. How have these changes impacted Division I's conferences?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Division I lacrosse has not been immune from conference realignment's dark magic. Since 2011, the following happenings have impacted college lacrosse's highest level of play:

  • Syracuse and Notre Dame left the Big East for the ACC.
  • Denver left the ECAC for the Big East.
  • Ohio State and Michigan left the ECAC for the Big Ten.
  • Bellarmine left the ECAC for the Southern Conference.
  • Hobart left the ECAC for the Northeast Conference.
  • Fairfield left the ECAC for THUNDERDOME!
  • Penn State left THUNDERDOME! for the Big Ten.
  • Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten.
  • Rutgers left the Big East for the Big Ten.
  • St. Joseph's left THUNDERDOME! for the Northeast Conference.
  • Loyola left the ECAC and joined the Patriot League.
  • The ECAC died and Air Force became an independent.
  • Johns Hopkins erased its independence and joined the Big Ten.
  • Jacksonville and VMI left the MAAC for the Atlantic Sun/Southern Conference.
  • Mercer and High Point erased their independence to join the Atlantic Sun/Southern Conference.
  • Quinnipiac left the Northeast Conference and joined the MAAC.
  • Monmouth, which was supposed to join the Northeast Conference for its first season of play, left the NEC before ever playing a game and joined the MAAC.
  • Marquette "joined" the Big East (the Eagles were technically an independent in their first season).

And none of that even considers new programs that joined leagues in the last few seasons: Massachusetts-Lowell will enter the America East for their first season of competition in 2015; Boston University started its deal in the Patriot League; and Furman and Richmond helped start the Atlantic Sun/Southern Conference. So, which leagues are coming out ahead in all of this nonsense?

There are two focuses to that question: (1) Which leagues -- on an as-played basis and on a hypothetical basis -- have gained or lost strength; and (2) Which leagues -- on an as-played basis and on a hypothetical basis -- have gained or lost internal competitiveness. Those are the driving factors, at least in a lacrosse context, in conference realignment -- generating additional power and creating a more interesting product. The examination, accordingly, took the form of comparing a league's attributes as it was actually constructed to its attributes as if it always played in the form it will take in 2015. (The Big Ten, ECAC, and Southern Conference are not considered in this analysis. The Big Ten and ECAC are on the opposite ends of genesis and the Southern Conference is too new to include in the examination.)

Which leagues have gained the most strength?

With all the movement that has gone on in recent seasons, it would be pretty reasonable to assume that some league -- any league! -- would have made a significant move in either a positive or negative direction. As it turns out, conference realignment has not propelled conferences forward or in reverse in major ways. Rather, the movement it has created has been measured in its atmosphere. The following table illustrates this idea:

"LEAGUE STRENGTH": CHANGE IN AVERAGE CONFERENCE ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUES AND RANKING: 2011-2014
LEAGUE "AS PLAYED" AVG. APYTH. "AS IF" AV. APYTH. +/- RANK "AS PLAYED" AVG. APYTH. RANK "AS IF" AVG. APYTH. RANK +/- RANK
ACC 74.62% 73.98% -0.64% 6 1.00 1.00 0.00 4
America East 45.38% 45.38% 0.00% 4 5.75 5.75 0.00 4
Big East 52.78% 50.81% -1.97% 7 3.75 4.50 -0.75 7
THUNDERDOME! 52.81% 56.30% +3.48% 1 3.75 3.00 +0.75 1
Ivy 59.56% 59.56% 0.00% 4 2.00 2.75 -0.75 7
MAAC 35.57% 37.55% +1.98% 2 8.00 7.50 +0.50 3
Northeast 39.63% 37.47% -2.16% 8 7.00 7.50 -0.50 6
Patriot 50.72% 52.54% +1.82% 3 4.75 4.00 +0.75 1

The big winner -- at least in this analysis -- has been THUNDERDOME!, the nation's deadliest burn unit masquerading as a lacrosse conference. The league shed St. Joseph's and Penn State from its roster and added Fairfield to its cacophony of endless pain. The Nittany Lions-Stags swap is arguably an even trade, but it's the Hawks' decision to abandon its murderous intents and join the Northeast Conference that ultimately gave THUNDERDOME! pop in its realignment ascension. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Big East -- the league lost Syracuse and Notre Dame, tent pole programs that provided shelter for much of the conference, while adding Denver and Marquette to its deal. When one considers that the Big East almost folded, though, the league's drop in stature is less important than the fact that the conference has the opportunity to improve its current standing.

Which leagues have gained the most internal competitiveness?

League races in April create momentum toward college lacrosse most important moments in May. Conference tournaments are still a relatively new features to Division I lacrosse, and the relevance of league races building into those events are gaining steam as the years pass. Based on realignment activity, a couple of conferences have compressed competitive balance or experienced a greater performance disparity between the top of the league and the bottom:

"INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS": CHANGE IN STANDARD DEVIATION IN LEAGUE MEMBERS' ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUES AND RANKING: 2011-2014
LEAGUE "AS PLAYED" AVG. APYTH. "AS IF" AV. APYTH. +/- RANK "AS PLAYED" AVG. APYTH. RANK "AS IF" AVG. APYTH. RANK +/- RANK
ACC 0.0499 0.0589 +0.0089 8 1.00 1.00 0.00 3
America East 0.1328 0.1328 0.0000 4 2.75 3.25 +0.50 4
Big East 0.1722 0.1732 +0.0009 5 5.00 6.50 +1.50 8
THUNDERDOME! 0.1649 0.1055 -0.0594 1 6.50 2.75 -3.75 1
Ivy 0.1485 0.1485 0.0000 3 4.50 5.25 +0.75 5
MAAC 0.1422 0.1328 -0.0095 2 3.75 3.25 -0.50 2
Northeast 0.1890 0.1909 +0.0019 6 5.75 6.50 +0.75 5
Patriot 0.2038 0.2059 +0.0020 7 6.75 7.50 +0.75 5

THUNDERDOME! has built a reputation as the wildest battle in the land and its current structure only accelerates that characterization: There is no league that has become as tight as THUNDERDOME! in the most recent round of conference re-affiliation. The Big East, contrastingly, has experienced the opposite effect: A wider gulf now exists in the league between the top of the table and the bottom after the departures of the Irish and Orange and inclusions of the Eagles and Pioneers. Every other league has basically assumed a similar league competitiveness profile to what it exuded prior to football and basketball making choices on lacrosse's behalf.