(Photo Courtesy of Hampton Athletics)
Last week, I took a look at the history of conference realignment since the ACC came into existence in 1954. So now let’s take a look at what the future of college lacrosse conference realignment could look like.
The last big shakeup in conference realignment lasted from 2010-2016. During that time, the old Big East came and went, the new Big East came into existence, the Big Ten added lacrosse, the ECAC and GWLL both folded, the SoCon was created, and many teams moved around once or multiple times.
Since then there hasn’t been any big shake- ups to the national landscape as a whole. The only real big movement besides new teams emerging has been the realignment in the NEC. Otherwise, not too much has happened.
But conference realignment talk never really stops, especially in a sport like lacrosse where there have been new teams added recently. The next wave of conference realignment will likely include those new teams that have been added over the past few seasons and possibly more in the near future. As we head into the 2020 season, Cleveland State, Hampton, and Utah all are still without a conference.
In Cleveland State’s case, it makes sense for them to join the MAAC. They are very similar to pretty much every school in that conference. Additionally, it makes geographic sense with midwest foe Detroit Mercy also being an associate member of the MAAC for lacrosse, as well.
Cleveland State could also work as a member of the SoCon, as well. But that would be much less likely considering the only non-southern team in the SoCon is Air Force, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. We have seen crazier alignments in this sport.
As far as Hampton is concerned, they are going to play eight DI opponents in 2020 and are aiming to play a full DI schedule in 2021. With that in mind, it is very likely that they will be searching for a conference this coming summer.
The SoCon makes the most sense for Hampton and will likely be their landing spot. Hampton has left the MEAC and joined the Big South for all other sports. With High Point also being a member of the Big South in sports other than lacrosse, the SoCon makes the most sense in many ways. Honestly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hampton in the SoCon as soon as the 2021 season.
Of the current independents, Utah is the most difficult as far as conference realignment goes. With Denver in the Big East and many of those schools more on par with Utah in terms of how their athletic department is run, it wouldn’t be crazy for them to join. But the Big Ten and ACC make the most sense since Utah is a full member of the Pac-12.
The only difficulty with joining the ACC or Big Ten would be travel for both Utah and the schools already currently in those conferences. But until more schools out west like Utah add men’s lacrosse, the ACC and Big Ten may be their only options for joining a conference that would make sense for them. And of those two the Big Ten might make more sense geographically with Ohio State and Michigan, but the ACC needs a sixth member to get back their NCAA tournament Automatic qualifier bid.
In terms of new conferences that could be added, the A-10 looks to be the most likely. UMass, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, and Saint Joseph’s are full members in all other sports except lacrosse and football as well for UMass. With four teams already, they just need two more to be able to have enough teams to get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The A-10 would really only need one of their current members to add men’s lacrosse because they take in Cleveland State as an affiliate for men’s lacrosse.
Additionally, the A-Sun could possibly be the next men’s lacrosse conference, as well, with Jacksonville and NJIT as current members and Bellarmine joining in 2020-21 as their entire athletic department moves to DI. Although, the A-Sun would be much less likely due to their agreement with the SoCon that splits the sponsorship of men’s and women’s lacrosse between the two conferences.
Outside of the current independents joining a conference or new teams adding men’s lacrosse to form a new conference, there could be some realignment within conferences that are already settled. History tells us that nothing stands still for too long and movement is bound to happen sooner rather than later.