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Big East Women's Lacrosse Could Be Headed For A Breaking Point

And it's all East Carolina's fault.

Will we still see Marquette vs Florida in lacrosse in two years?
Will we still see Marquette vs Florida in lacrosse in two years?

Yesterday, as I was meandering through the Twitters, I caught sight of this retweet from our friends over at College Crosse.

(Aside, if you're not following @SexyTimeLax, the official Twitter for College Crosse, well, then you're doing your college lacrosse Twitter wrong.)

Expansion of the sport that has just 107 Division 1 squads right now is never a bad thing.  Then I remembered that East Carolina is a member of the American Athletic Conference for their other sports (regardless of what @NoEscalators will try to tell you), and that reminded me that Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Temple have parked their women's lacrosse squads with the Big East because the AAC doesn't sponsor the sport.

Let's go read the East Carolina press release on this, shall we?

Yes. Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple each field teams and currently compete in the Big East Conference along with Florida, Georgetown, Marquette, Vanderbilt, Villanova and Butler (beginning in 2017). We will explore our options for joining a conference over the next year with the intent of playing in the same conference as our sister (AAC) schools.

You'll note two things in that paragraph in the FAQ section of the press release.  1) Butler is joining the ranks of Division 1 lacrosse next spring and will be a part of the Big East, which we already knew, and 2) East Carolina is quite obviously not announcing that they're going to play in the Big East.

This is where we start to get into some problems.

There are 13 conferences that sponsor women's lacrosse.  Of those leagues, 11 of them have either seven, eight, or nine members right now.  The outliers are the Big Ten, who has six members, but they'll bump up to seven next year when Johns Hopkins stops being an independent and joins their men's program as an associate member, and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, which is an invented amalgamation of teams on the west coast that don't have a home for sports that aren't sponsored by the Pac 12, and they have 10 teams.

The Big East currently has eight members: three core members (Georgetown, Marquette, & Villanova), two SEC teams with no other home (Florida & Vanderbilt), and the three aforementioned AAC teams.  Butler will move the league to nine teams next spring.  In theory, the Big East could absorb East Carolina as well to move to 10 teams in 2018.  That starts to make things a little awkward, though, since teams only have a certain number of games that they can schedule every season and nine of them would be taken up by league contests.

The question becomes this: what would the SEC teams want to do going forward?  With four core Big East members and four AAC associate members, Florida and Vanderbilt become the teams that are holding the league together.  You need to have six members in the conference in order to have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  If UF & Vandy decide that regular trips to Storrs, CT, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Greenville, NC, make more sense for them than Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C, and Indianapolis, then it's possible that the AAC could end up deciding to sponsor women's lacrosse with their four core members and two SEC associate members.  If other AAC teams are exploring the possibility of adding the sport, then it would make even more sense for them to get in the game.

That would leave the Big East with only four members.  That would be bad.

There would be options to keep the Big East at a sustainable level.  Detroit plays as an associate member in the eight team Atlantic Sun, and they really don't fit in with the geographical profile of teams like Jacksonville, Mercer, and Stetson.  Old Dominion is also an associate member in the Atlantic Sun, but given that they're in Norfolk, Virginia, that does fit the A-Sun slightly better.  ODU is an associate member in the Big East for women's field hockey already, so it's possible that they could be persuaded to join the league for lacrosse, too.  Denver is part of that slightly unwieldy MPSF group for women's lacrosse, but they're a men's lacrosse associate member in the Big East.  If the MPSF is nearing an end because they have five members that are Pac 12 schools and say, UCLA or Arizona is looking at starting a team, then the Pioneers might be interested in aligning their lacrosse teams in the same league.  Kent State was mentioned in that tweet way at the top, and KSU, as a full time member of the MAC, doesn't have a home for their team or an announced plan on where they're going to play.

Or maybe the AAC doesn't want to add a sport because it would be something new to add to their plate.  Maybe a 10 team Big East will be just fine.  Maybe there are other core Big East schools that are getting close to announcing women's lacrosse teams to make this a moot point.  Maybe there are other schools without an sponsoring conference that are considering women's lacrosse and will need a home.  We'll have to see how this plays out.