Yesterday it was reported that the Denver Pioneers will be moving from the ECAC to the Big East in a lacrosse only move, a move that seriously changes the landscape of college lacrosse. Denver, whose program has been on the rise, is a big prize for any conference.
Denver joins a conference that is losing two of its best lacrosse programs in Syracuse and Notre Dame to other conferences, though they likely would have lost them anyways with the split between the American Athletic Conference and the new Big East (Catholic 7). Denver joins Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, and Marquette as solid members of the conference. What will happen to Rutgers (who is moving to the Big Ten in most sports) is still yet to be seen.
Rutgers or no Rutgers, Denver will be the best team in the conference right away. Villanova, St. John’s, and Georgetown are all historic programs, but they have underachieved as of late and aren’t exactly national championship threats. St. John’s is probably the best of them, as they finished the season with a 9-4 record. Providence and Marquette are both still growing their programs, with Marquette only entering their second season. Denver joining does give the conference an automatic qualifier, something the Big East certainly wanted to hold on to.
This move has more than just an effect on the Big East Conference; it changes many other teams’ mindsets as well. It most directly affects the ECAC obviously, who now has lost two of their best programs (Denver and Loyola) in two years. The ECAC was a conference on the rise, but one many worried was incredibly unstable.
The ECAC is left with Air Force, Bellarmine, Fairfield, Hobart, Michigan, and Ohio State. If everyone would stay put, that would be a decent lacrosse conference. Ohio State would obviously lead the way, but Hobart, Fairfield, and Bellarmine are all solid as well. However, if the idea of a Big Ten lacrosse conference gets more traction, the ECAC could be all but done.
Currently there are five active programs among teams from the Big East. Those include Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State. The Big Ten has said that they do not want to add any sports that would not have an automatic qualifier, so the conference would have to convince another school to start a program or bring in a team like Johns Hopkins.
If the Big Ten becomes a reality, the ECAC would lose two more schools in Michigan and Ohio State. They’d lose their AQ , their real strength, and any real geographic connection. How does a conference that has four schools, one in Kentucky, New York, Connecticut, and Colorado sound?
The ECAC would likely not stay together if that were to happen. Fairfield would most likely join the MAAC, a conference they already are a member in and play most sports in. Bellarmine can join the newly formed Atlantic Sun Conference with Jacksonville, Mercer, Furman, VMI, High Point, and Richmond in a move that would make more sense geographically. It would also allow them to be in a conference with an automatic qualifier.
Then you have Hobart and Air Force, who would have to feel a bit hung out to dry. Hobart would have to join another conference as an associate member. What Air Force would do is incredibly up in the air. Air Force has always been a bit on their own because they are so far away from any other program besides Denver. With Denver leaving, they’ve lost their closest and their most cost efficient rival. Air Force could become an independent, or they could try and find another conference whose teams would be interested in traveling all the way out to Colorado Springs every once and while. The Fighting Falcons have got to be crossing their fingers that more western schools start joining the crowd.
This also does have an effect on the previously mentioned Johns Hopkins. JHU announced just recently that they are in fact looking for a conference affiliation, and Denver joining the Big East may halt any interest on either side to form an agreement between the Big East and Hopkins. Even if the Big Ten lacrosse conference did form, it’s not a shoo-in that Hopkins joins. This could eliminate another option for them, and might point them further towards the ACC.
It’s funny how much fallout could come from one little move, but it’s not to be overlooked. This could just be the first domino to fall, or it could be Denver seeing what is inevitable for the ECAC. Losing Denver and Loyola has to make the conference nervous just a year after signing a television deal with Fox Sports. One of the up and coming conferences has taken a big hit, one that could seriously affect the lacrosse landscape in the coming years.