In a move that was on the horizon for over a year, the Big East announced on Wednesday that women’s lacrosse would go from ten teams to six teams beginning with the 2019 season.
After one final season at its current 10 team configuration in the spring of 2018, the Big East will have a six team league the following season. Core Big East members Butler, Georgetown, Marquette, and Villanova will be joined by current affiliate member Denver and incoming affiliate member Old Dominion. Cincinnati, Connecticut, Florida, Temple, and Vanderbilt will depart the Big East to form a new league under the banner of the American Athletic Conference, along with core AAC member East Carolina, who will play their first season of Division 1 women’s lacrosse as an independent in 2018.
Both conferences will have six teams in their league, and as such, both conferences will have automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in 2019 and going forward.
Old Dominion went 9-9 in 2017 to move their all-time record to 244-332. The Monarchs made their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2016 by winning the Atlantic Sun tournament and will compete in that league for one final season in 2018.
At first glance, I believe that this reconfiguration will end up being a net benefit to Marquette.
Now, yes, Marquette has gone just 3-10 in five seasons against the teams that will make up their future league while going 7-13 against teams that are departing for the AAC. It certainly seems like that’s a step backwards. However, with a 10 team league, Marquette is required to play nine of their allowed 17 regular season matches against Big East teams. With that conference slate dropping to just five games, that’s four games that head coach Meredith Black can use to build non-conference rivalries. MU has played Johns Hopkins, Louisville, and Northwestern in four of their five seasons in Division 1, as well as squaring off against Notre Dame in each season. Those foes have been nationally ranked in 15 of the 17 matches, so it’s clear that Black wants to challenge her team against the best in the country. Having more free space on the schedule will allow Marquette to have the flexibility to make sure that these kinds of teams are on the slate every season and it also allows Marquette the ability to make sure they can find a spot on the schedule for everyone that they want to play.
In terms of pure mathematics, the realignment does move Marquette ever so slightly closer to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. In the past, the Big East has operated a four-team conference tournament to determine the automatic bid to the national championship tournament. Through four seasons of competition in the league, Marquette has yet to finish with one of the top four spots in the Big East and earn one of those conference tournament berths. With just six teams in the league, it should be easier to get into the Big East tournament for Marquette, and from there, it’s just a matter of winning two games to get into the Big Dance.