NCAA Conference Realignment: How Does It Change Lacrosse?
The NCAA landscape has been in shambles for several months now due to the NCAA conference realignment. USC and UCLA set off their own fireworks when news broke that they were leaving the PAC-12 for the Big Ten conference.
Some have compared the move to Texas to Oklahoma’s surprise announcement to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference (SEC). But it’s not the same at all. Not even close.
The Big 12 was formed in 1994. USC joined the PAC-12 in 1922 and UCLA in 1928. It was a long-term relationship, and like when many long-term relationships end , this can have serious consequences.
Many media speculate that the next stage of this development will come from South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame is being courted by both the Big Ten and the SEC to give up their independent status in football and join their conference.
Notre Dame has a cache. Love them or hate them. Our Lady brings money and eyeballs. Notre Dame brought its own Brinks truck when the football team joined the ACC for the 2020 COVID-19 season.
Notre Dame’s decision will have a far greater impact than the decisions of Texas, Oklahoma, USC or UCLA combined. This is where some ACC fans should be nervous. Looking into my crystal ball, Notre Dame will announce plans to join USC and UCLA in the 2024 season within the next two weeks.
Let’s take a look at the new Big Ten and what might happen to the rest of the ACC’s men’s and women’s teams.
(Potential) 2024 Big Ten Men’s Lacrosse Teams
The addition of Notre Dame would add a seventh team to an already deep and competitive lacrosse conference. Notre Dame is a perennial Top 10 team that would increase the level of play and recruiting in the conference. The Irish have the potential to disrupt Maryland’s stranglehold on regular and tournament success at the Terp.
The road to the Big Ten tournament or the NCAA tournament becomes all the more difficult for Michigan, Penn State and Johns Hopkins. Penn State and Johns Hopkins have slipped over the past two years, and Michigan has been battling for the conference’s last spot since moving up to D1.
Neither USC nor UCLA have a Division 1 men’s lacrosse program. The Trojans and Bruins currently compete in MCLA. A move to the Big Ten would represent an opportunity to see men’s lacrosse grow in California. With club programs like West Coast Stars, California has become an emerging lacrosse hotbed. Larken, I hear you have influence.
(Potential) 2024 Big Ten Women’s Lacrosse Teams
Notre Dame and USC would give the Big Ten nine women’s lacrosse teams. USC was one of the best teams in the PAC-12 in 2022 and fell to Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. If added, Notre Dame would add to the conference’s overall depth in the Big Ten.
Can the ACC conference continue to be held?
If Notre Dame leaves for the Big Ten, the ACC could face disaster. As rumors swirl about Notre Dame flirtations, ACC schools’ lawyers look at their contracts and see how they can buy their way into the Big Ten or SEC.
The ACC currently has a rights grant contract which currently binds ACC schools until 2036. The contract does not apply to the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame has a special relationship with the ACC. They are not affiliated with the conference for football, but for men’s and women’s basketball and lacrosse, among other sports. Their hockey team plays in the Big Ten.
The current contract significantly underpays ($36.1 million) for every ACC school. Compare that to the Big Ten ($47.8 million and that number is growing with their new contract) and the SEC ($45.3 million and their number will also grow with their new TV deal with ESPN).
Schools will not want to leave money on the table and be left behind. So what happens to the remaining schools? Let’s take a look at the crystal ball. 🔮
ACC teams at the Big Ten
Both North Carolina and Virginia will be considered hot commodities if the ACC begins to crumble and is forced to fall in the NCAA conference realignment. Both are top-notch state universities outside of the Big Ten and SEC footprints. I am giving the Big Ten the green light for these two schools because of their academic prowess.
Both teams have elite men’s and women’s lacrosse teams that have recently won a number of national championships. With Notre Dame, UNC and UVA in the Big Ten, few people would have to be outraged or worried about the RPI.
For men, the question of where to put Duke and Syracuse is uncertain. Both have the potential to be invited to join the Big Ten, but I’m not sure that would move the media or marketing needle enough to warrant the invite.
The most likely place to see them go would be the Big East Conference. A conference with Duke, Syracuse, Georgetown and Denver could rival and surpass the Patriot League as the third-best men’s league. It’s not quite the same as being in the ACC.
For women’s teams, AAC seems to make the most sense. Syracuse, Boston College, Pitt and Louisville are all former members. Clemson could join potential future conference partners SEC Florida and Vanderbilt, which already compete in the AAC. Duke could have the choice of joining the Big East or the Atlantic 10.
College football is the sacred cow. This is what funds most universities and allows us to have lacrosse teams. The decisions of Notre Dame, the Big Ten and the SEC will shape the future of ACC lacrosse. My advice to fans is to try to take advantage of the NCAA conference realignment round. Wherever that may take you.