(Photo Courtesy of Loyola Athletics)
Ever since the SEC and the ACC decided to go straight conference-only or only allow one non-conference game with heavy restrictions attached for college football this fall, there has been much discussion about what scheduling could look like for college lacrosse this spring.
Will conferences only play within their conference? Could we see two or more conferences strike a deal to only allow non-conference games in between those conferences only? Or, perhaps, we see a normal schedule just like every other year?
Ultimately, it will be up to each individual conference or school to decide what their scheduling situation looks like for the 2021 season. And most likely, not every conference will be doing the same thing. In fact, that is pretty much the closest thing to a guarantee you will see in this crazy year.
But what exactly will these schedules look like? We already know that the America East has released their conference schedules for the spring and Stony Brook has that part of their schedule posted up already. However, the conference hasn’t sent out the official release yet, so it isn’t exactly clear what their plans or protocols are, especially considering non-conference games.
One area where we can look for a bit of guidance on what schedules might look like this spring is obviously the football and basketball schedules that conferences and programs have put together, and the protocols that surround them. And in particular, lacrosse fans might want to look at the Patriot League’s basketball schedule.
While basketball is a different sport, is inside, and has a much longer season than lacrosse, the Patriot League’s recently released schedule has some interesting nuggets that could hint at what conferences, particularly smaller conferences, may do for lacrosse.
First and foremost, the Patriot League is playing a conference-only basketball schedule, outside of Army and Navy who have been given permission to play non-conference games, this season. The majority of conferences are allowing non-conference games in winter sports and that should be the case for most conferences in the spring, too.
The real intriguing piece about the Patriot League’s basketball schedule is how they have split up their 10-team conference into three regional mini-conferences (North, Central, South) with teams playing four games against each opponent. Additional League games will be played outside of the mini-conferences to complete the 16-game regular-season schedule. They have also put in two weeks on the back end for makeup games and will have a normal conference tournament.
In an effort to cut down on travel and hotel stays, schools will face off on back-to-back days, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays. Teams are also not permitted to fly to any games.
While this kind of schedule wouldn’t necessarily work with every conference in lacrosse (ie. Big East with Denver as a member), an exact replica or something very close to it could take shape in multiple conferences this spring, especially larger ones.
Currently, the two largest lacrosse conferences are the Patriot League with nine teams and the NEC and MAAC with eight teams in each conference. The ACC is the smallest with five members, while most other conferences have either six or seven members.
The Patriot League could essentially do the same exact thing with lacrosse that they have done for basketball. Boston U., Colgate, and Holy Cross could make up the North mini-conference, while Army, Lafayette, and Lehigh make up the Central, and Bucknell, Loyola, and Navy make up the South. In this format, each team could play each opponent in their mini-conference three times and then play three of the other teams in the conference or in-state non-conference teams to complete a 12-game schedule. And they could have a conference tournament just like normal with quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship game.
As far as other conferences are concerned, a similar schedule could be drawn up in pretty much every league except for three (ACC, Big East, and SoCon). However, other conferences that could pull off a similar schedule would have to split into two divisions with some having uneven divisions. The NEC, MAAC, CAA, and the Big Ten are the only two conferences that could split into two even divisions.
The ACC can’t do this kind of conference split because they only have five teams, and the Big East and SoCon both have teams in Colorado that make a conference-only or conference-centric schedule extremely difficult, especially when you are talking about possibly play conference opponents twice.
We don’t know for certain what the 2021 lacrosse schedule will look like, but it will certainly be different in some respects. And if some conferences do indeed go conference-only, something similar to what the Patriot League has done for basketball could be a likely solution that some conferences choose.