March 27, 2013

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What's the Future of Big East Lacrosse?

by Chris R. Vaccaro | LaxMagazine.com

St. John's and Kieran McArdle (above) will compete in a new-look Big East next year after the departures of Notre Dame and Syracuse this summer.
© Lee Weissman

In the carousel that is college conference realignment, Big East men's and women's lacrosse are facing the reality of new-look leagues and uncertain futures.

After this season, the Big East will lose Syracuse and Notre Dame, both to the ACC, in men's and women's lacrosse. The Big East will also lose Loyola, currently an associate member who will go to the Patriot League in all sports, from the current nine-team women's conference.

Rutgers and Louisville will depart for the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, after the 2013-14 year, which means for the 2014-15 season the new Big East men's conference, which would have only five teams, will most likely explore associate members.

It will be a new Big East when everything shakes out. But despite the uncertainty and the ever-changing conference landscape, Big East associate commissioner James Siedliski, who oversees lacrosse, is remaining positive.

"It's neat to see the sport grow and these are definitely some growing pains it's going through," Siedliski said. "Ultimately when its done and the dust settles, it will be a new iteration of the sport. All good will come out in the end. It will just be a different configuration."

For next season, the Big East men's conference will consist of Rutgers and five from the Catholic 7, including Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's and Villanova. The women's conference next year will have Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Rutgers, Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville and Temple, which joins the Big East in all sports this summer.

Men's lacrosse will need an additional member for 2014-15 to have the six needed to be an automatic qualifying conference for the NCAA tournament, but the women's conference will qualify.

As for associate membership schools, Siedliski said the conference will do its due diligence to make sure there is an institutional and geographic fit that also offers a competitive nature of play.

"There are going to be some conversations had in the conference with identifying associate members," Siedliski said. "There are very few independents out there. I don't know if there is a list of potential schools out there."

Adding to the conference realignment shuffle is the launching of the new Fox Sports 1 television network, which signed a 12-year deal with the Big East to broadcast various sporting events, including lacrosse.

Marquette men's coach Joe Amplo, whose Golden Eagles join the Big East as full member next season, said it's a fascinating time for the game, especially his program. The reshuffling has also made for some unique offseason banter as new horizons mean new rivalries and challenges.

"The Big East Conference stands to be one of the most competitive conferences in lacrosse," said Amplo, who cited recent strong play from Providence, St. John's and Villanova. "There is some competition to be had with those schools and it's going to be another great conference in lacrosse."

For UConn women's coach Katie Woods, not much will change except for the rivalry lost against Syracuse, which was forged mainly on the basketball court years ago.

"You're losing the traditional rivalries, which is what sports are all about," Woods said. "That's hard for the athletes across the board, it doesn't matter what the sport is.

"We still stick to what we do, and that's to play and win. It's tough to see so many schools and so many rivalries be affected by the restructuring. The most important pieces for us as UConn, no matter where we are, is always going to be competing for a championship."

Siedliski said competition, championships and rivalries will all still be in the mix for the new Big East. It's business as usual, just different looking.

"When you negotiate tens of millions of dollars, things can get a little tight at times, but everyone left on good terms," Siedliski said. "Student-athletes and coaches have not gotten lost in the shuffle. Our institutions are making exceptional commitments to the sport. The quality of lacrosse in the league as a whole is going to improve."


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