Why Penn State Didn't Join The Big Ten

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This is a couple of days old but I want to examine it, not just because it is Penn State related, but also because it involves conference shake-ups and those are always a good time. 

Penn State, who first fielded a lacrosse team in 1913, has for eight year been playing in the ECAC along with often-very-good-Georgetown and usually-decent-Loyola and UMass, amongst others.  Penn State has made several tournament appearances but has never been able to compete with the true upper tier programs.

The usual suspects in lacrosse have always been Syracuse (Independent), Johns Hopkins (Independent), Virginia (ACC), and Princeton (Ivy).  One of these four schools has won the national championship 21 of the last 22 years.  North Carolina (ACC) is the one exception in that span.  Maryland (ACC) is also usually in the mix but has not won the thing since '75.

Well with the increased popularity of the sport, the Big East has decided to start sponsoring their member schools beginning in 2010.  This represents a rather large shake-up of the sport's landscape.  For starters, reining national champ Syracuse will now be playing in a conference.  Additionally, the league will be poaching (oh, the irony*) Georgetown (ECAC), Notre Dame (Great Western), Providence (Metro Atlantic), Rutgers (ECAC), St. John's (ECAC) and Villanova (Colonial).

As you can see, that's three of the eight teams in Penn State's conference that will be out the door.  The Nittany Lions, along with UMass, have therefore decided to jump ship and will join the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in 2009.  This seven team converence will lose Nova (as mentioned above) and, in addition, be without Sacred Heart and Robert Morris, who will move to the Northeast Conference.  This leaves a six team conference that includes Penn State, UMass, Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra and Towson.  The league will have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

So could a Big Ten lacrosse conference exist?  Probably not.  By that I mean "no".  The only other program to field a varsity team is Ohio State.  While they've shown success in recent years, they appear to be a loser in this whole shake up and just this week lost their head coach to North Carolina.  Their Great Western Conference is reduced to five member now that ND will leave, and really only OSU and Denver can compete on a national level.  There are rumors that OSU, Denver and Air Force may fill the void that PSU and UMass will leave in the ECAC, but that creates logistical problems that most low-budget ECAC members might not be able to overcome.

What about other Big Ten schools?  Michigan recently won their club level championship and was even mentioned on this message board as a possible candidate for upgrade.  The suggestion was quickly shot down, however, by those pointing to the funding issue and, more importantly, the Title IX implications that make it impossible to upgrade without doing the same to your women's team.  Besides that, it appears as though another Michigan school, The University of Detroit Mercy, will be going big time in 2009. 

Northwestern has a dominant Women's team, but a quick search for a competitive men's club yielded no results.  Besides, the funding issues still apply.  After that there is really nothing that even hints at potential varsity lacrosse in the Big Ten.

While the sport seems to be growing very rapidly in non-traditional places such as Ohio, Florida and Colorado, it's not even close to being mentioned in the same breath as the traditional states (MD, NJ, NY and to some extent eastern PA).  With the growing cost of travel and facilities, the talent disparity at the high school level, and the always looming Title IX, the Big Ten Lacrosse Championship Game isn't coming to the BTN any time soon.

 

*I understand that it's debatable whether stealing your own schools from lacrosse-unique conferences constitutes "poaching", and you can't really compare it to the whole ACC-Big East debacle, but it's at least fun to mention

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