May 17, 2013

Johns Hopkins to Pursue Conference Affiliation for Men's Lacrosse

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Related: Full Committee Report

Johns Hopkins announced Friday it will seek a conference affiliation in men's lacrosse.

updated 05.17.2013 at 2.51 p.m.

The Notre Dame of college lacrosse is looking for a conference home.

Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels announced as much Friday in a letter to the university community. The Blue Jays' independent Division I men's lacrosse program will pursue a conference affiliation.

In a 10-page report from The Blue Ribbon Committee to Study Conference Alignment for the Men's Lacrosse Team dated May 10, the decision is described as a move that "could well represent the single greatest change in Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse in more than a century."

The announcement comes a little more than two months since Daniels appointed a special seven-member committee to study conference alignment, and less than two weeks after Johns Hopkins' NCAA tournament fate this season was officially sealed — missing the tournament for the first time in 41 years.

"The important thing for us is to win a national championship and how do you do that?" Johns Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder said during a media conference call on Friday. "You give yourself two options: play a strong schedule... and another would be to play in a conference championship. We wanted a second chance to get into the NCAAs."

The committee — co-chaired by Johns Hopkins alumni Jerry Schnydman ('67) and Chris Watson ('05) and including Chuck Clarvit ('78), David Cordish ('60, '69 (MLA)), Tristan Davies ('87), Mary Ann McGuire Dickson ('97) and Alan Fish — unanimously recommended to seek a conference membership, with four criteria that would be important in any agreement:

1) An initial membership term of five years

2) An opportunity to evaluate Johns Hopkins' position in the conference after three years, at which point the option would exist to either extend the initial agreement or to part ways at the conclusion of the initial agreement

3) A guarantee that a decision by an existing full member of the conference to sponsor the sport of men's lacrosse or the addition to the conference of a full member that sponsors men's lacrosse will not jeopardize Johns Hopkins' affiliation with the league

4) The ability for Johns Hopkins to maintain its existing television broadcasting relationship with ESPNU

Calder and men's head coach Dave Pietramala were also active with the committee, participating in several meetings with its members. Both addressed members of the media in a conference call Friday afternoon.

Pietramala said that ideally the Blue Jays would be in a conference by the spring 2015 season. He also said "several" conferences have reached out about their interest, but he did not delve into specifics. Both mentioned the importance of continuing the Blue Jays' relationship with ESPN and Calder said the school just signed a new four-year conract with the broadcaster.

This announcement only means that Johns Hopkins is seeking a conference, not that it has recieved a formal invitation to join one. As for possible destinations, three men’s leagues — the ACC, Big East and a potential Big Ten — each need one more school to earn or keep NCAA automatic qualifying berth status in the future.

"In the state of athletics and that lacrosse is in, this was the best decision to secure the future of Hopkins lacrosse and put this program in a position where we can continue what we've done for 130 years, which is to compete for the national championships," Pietramala said.

At the same time, with Maryland and Rutgers heading to the Big Ten in 2014-15, the conference has been in discussions with women's coaches at Big Ten programs about a future league, according to sources, and an official announcement could come early this summer. Six Big Ten schools will have women's programs by the spring 2015 season, and thus be eligible to form a league with NCAA AQ status.

However, the Johns Hopkins committee report released Friday applies only to the men's program. The women's program has previously announced its leaving the ALC to become independent in 2014, and those plans have not changed.

Calder said if the opportunity came for the women's program to align with a conference, "then fine, but we're not ready go into finding a conference for the women."

Also of note: the report states that the Johns Hopkins athletic department says "it has every desire to maintain traditional rivalries with institutions such as Maryland, Syracuse, Virginia, Navy, North Carolina and Loyola. These are not only meaningful rivalries, they are excellent lacrosse programs. Continuing to play against them is not only important to JHU lacrosse fans, it would help Johns Hopkins maximize its own strength of schedule."

Johns Hopkins has played as an independent for the entire 130-year history of the men's program, and Pietramala said the program always has the option of remaining with that status. But for all of the effort and circumstances surrounding Friday's annoucement, it seems that it's conference-or-bust for the Blue Jays.

"It's a monumental decision," Pietramala said. "The next decision is equally as big because you want to continue to move in a positive direction and find the right place. We’ll now continue to do our homework."


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