Pac-12 Pipe Dreams
D-I men's lacrosse on the West Coast? It wouldn't be as hard as you'd think.
In October, the Pac-12 announced it will sponsor women's lacrosse starting in 2017-18, great news for the western and college lacrosse communities. The move came after Arizona State said it would add a varsity women's team, giving the conference six NCAA Division I programs, enough to qualify for an NCAA tournament berth automatic qualifying bid.
That got us thinking — er, more realistically, dreaming — about a Pac-12 men's conference. What could it look like and what would need to happen?
First things first, the Pac-12 would need at least six men's teams. There are 12 already playing at the MCLA level, but we want to be somewhat realistic and not greedy. Here are seven candidates:
Started a varsity women's program in 2013 that has already made the NCAA tournament, and has at least discussed the men's possibility internally.
Has an elite MCLA program and added women's lacrosse in 2014. The school has only five men's sports, the lowest of any Pac-12 school.
The private school with a second-to-none academic reputation seems like a perfect fit. Its women's program has been successful for a long time.
You would think if ASU really wanted men's lacrosse, they would have found a way to add it with its women's program. But we said this is a dream.
Football coach Jim Mora is a huge lacrosse fan. His son, Ryder, is committed to play at Maryland. If the Bruins had a team, he could stay home.
A place to look at for all the kids playing in the Pacific Northwest.
Already has a women's program and would have the coolest Nike uniforms on the left side of the Mississippi River.
It might take some thinking, but not much, to craft regular season schedules that don't break the bank and jetlag players and coaches all spring long to games in traditional East Coast hotbeds. A full conference schedule played in the West definitely helps, meaning not having one or two Pac-12 teams playing as affiliate members of another league, like Denver's situation with the Big East now.
Pioneers coach Bill Tierney, the wizard in the West, knows travel. His Pac-12 idea:
"They would have 5 or 6 conference games plus play Air Force and Denver," Tierney said. "If you were smart in your scheduling, you could then say we'll go cross-country on our spring break to play three games, take another long weekend and play Thursday-Sunday, and maybe do a home-and-home. You're only going across country twice, and you're looking at 13 games. That's all you need."
Non-conference opponents could include Notre Dame, Air Force, Ohio State, Michigan, Marquette and Cleveland State. And how about eastern teams going west for their own spring breaks? Denver, Maryland, North Carolina and Notre Dame have done so in some combination in the last three Pacific Coast Shootouts in California.
NCAA Tourney Access
Startup Division I men's programs can find it hard to get quality opponents on the schedule. The RPI metric is so important for NCAA tournament selection and seeding that top teams don't want to take a numbers hit. That's why a conference affiliation is huge to guarantee games and the league champion access to the NCAA tourney. College athletic directors are judged, too, and love to boost their school in the less-publicly-followed Directors' Cup, which ranks a school based on the performance of all of its teams. Things like 50 points for a league championship don't hurt. Stanford has finished first every year since 1995.
Another sponsored sport means more content for the Pac-12 television and digital networks. See what the Big Ten Network did with men's and women's lacrosse last year?
The reality is Division I men's lacrosse has a very low ratio of scholarships to roster size. Schools are getting a financial deal for the most part in the lacrosse world, but still program funding has to come from somewhere. There are Title IX requirements to consider, too. With football in the gender-equity equation at all Pac-12 schools, adding men's lacrosse would be hard unless men's and women's varsity lacrosse are added simultaneously, or a men's sport is cut. We don't see Pac-12 baseball going anywhere, though.
When big-time schools go in on any sport, they go all-in. Former Michigan AD Dave Brandon said after the Big Ten Wolverines added varsity men's lacrosse, "We're not going to add lacrosse and put them in a tent." This approach is good news for all. "You talk about a face lift to our 100-something-year-old game," Tierney said. "You start talking about major universities that play major league football in major league conferences, it changes everything." One can dream.
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