(Photo Courtesy of Robert Morris Athletics)
Robert Morris is exploring options to leave the Northeast Conference (NEC) for the Horizon League, according to reports. The MAAC has also been cited as a potential landing spot for the Colonials, but there seems to be more smoke surrounding them potentially joining the Horizon League.
Update (June 11th, 3:21pm): Robert Morris will be leaving the NEC for the Horizon League.
If they do end up joining the Horizon League, which does not have lacrosse but has two lacrosse schools as members (Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy), that leaves some questions about what the Colonials’ men’s and women’s lacrosse programs will look like from a conference affiliation perspective.
On the men’s side, the Colonials have won the NEC tournament twice in a row (2018,2019) and looked to be capable of pulling off a three-peat as conference champs before the Coronavirus outbreak shut down 2020 season in mid-March.
Going independent would certainly be an option, but is it feasible? The Colonials are a fairly established program among mid-majors and have had tremendous success over the past few seasons. Going independent could hinder their growth as a program and competitiveness, as being independent in lacrosse has proved to be very difficult over the years, unless you are a big name school. Also, the only three independent programs in the sport right now are Cleveland State, Hampton, and Utah, which are all newer, developing programs.
If they have the option to stay in the NEC for lacrosse, that would be the best option, especially since they already have a proven track record of success in the conference. The only drawback is that it might not be in the best interest of the NEC to allow it. Besides wanting to keep the conference at 10 teams for lacrosse to uphold the new conference structure, which includes divisions, that they established ahead of the 2020 season, keeping Robert Morris as an affiliate member in lacrosse wouldn’t make much sense and could be seen as bad optics for the conference.
Outside of going independent or trying to stay in the NEC, the other option for Robert Morris, lacrosse wise, would be to join another conference as an affiliate member. And in that case, the Patriot League and the MAAC seem to make the most sense.
The Patriot League, which currently has nine men’s lacrosse members, makes a ton of sense from both a travel and school fit situation. The conference has three other member schools in the state of Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh) and Colgate, Loyola, and Navy are all relatively easy road trips. Holy Cross would be the longest and most taxing trip for a conference game.
Additionally, Robert Morris would give the Patriot League ten teams and would likely make the conference split into two divisions. The Colonials could also join the conference as an affiliate in football, so they knock out two birds with one stone essentially.
The biggest question mark would be competitiveness. Going from the NEC to the Patriot League is a step up. And while Robert Morris has put together some tremendous seasons as of late, is their success sustainable on a year-to-year basis, and will it translate into a conference that features perennial top-20 contenders in Army, Loyola, Navy, and others? They could certainly make the jump and compete with the lower and middle tear teams in the conference, but competing at the top of the Patriot League consistently could prove to be a tall task.
Joining the MAAC likely makes the absolute most sense for Robert Morris. First off, the conference has been mentioned as a possible landing spot if they do leave the NEC. But if they go the Horizon League route, joining the MAAC for lacrosse makes a ton of sense.
Like the Patriot League, many of the schools in the MAAC have a similar profile as Robert Morris as far as financial abilities, academics, and sports are concerned. Also, the MAAC already has Detroit Mercy, who is a Horizon League school, as an affiliate member for lacrosse. So adding another affiliate from the same conference would make sense.
Lacrosse wise, the MAAC is closer to the NEC competition-wise than the Patriot League is. So it would be a lateral move instead of a step up. Also, the power structure in the conference is always in flux, which could allow Robert Morris to come in and compete at the top of the conference right away. The Colonials would literally just fit right in like a missing puzzle piece.
The CAA and SoCon could also be potential landing spots for Robert Morris lacrosse if they do leave the NEC. Both conferences would give the Colonials a landing spot in lacrosse and football as affiliate members and would allow them to compete at a very similar level to what they have been doing in the NEC.
However, the CAA would be a bit of a step up with tradition-rich schools like Delaware, Hofstra, and Towson already members of the conference. So there could be a bit for a dropoff in how competitive they can be right away and consistently.
In the SoCon, they would fill the void left by Furman dropping lacrosse and could walk right in and be seriously competitive. But they don’t fit from a geographical standpoint, as they would only be one of only two teams, along with Air Force, not in the South.