The Big East lacrosse family got a little bit bigger this past week.
Back on Sunday, Xavier announced that they would be adding a 19th Division 1 sport to their list of sponsored teams as they made it public that the Musketeers will begin playing women’s lacrosse in the spring of 2023. Women’s lacrosse will be Xavier’s first new Division 1 sport since adding track and field in 2005.
The Musketeers will take the 2021-22 school year to hire a coach and do all that kind of thing to get the program up and running and then begin fall practices and their first official season in the 2022-23 school year. They will remain an independent team for that season, which I suspect is a decision largely stemming from a “we don’t want to get our heads caved in while still figuring out how to get on and off the bus” mindset. This will allow Xavier to schedule a full availability of games, but also not get forced into contests where they will just be completely over their heads. Their first season of Big East competition will be in the spring of 2024.
As for what the Big East looks like at that point, that’s up for a tiny amount of debate. The NCAA requires conferences to have six members in order to receive an automatic berth to the national championship tournament. Xavier would be the seventh member of the league in 2024, joining Butler, Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, and affiliate member Denver. Because you can do math and read, you’ve already figured out that maaaaaaaybe the Big East doesn’t need affiliate member Denver any more to get to the required six teams. However, Xavier’s press release on their new team mentions the Pioneers as part of the league, so I’m presuming that means that the Big East has no interest in pushing Denver out the door. There is also the issue of the Big East membership on the men’s lacrosse side, where the conference does need Denver as an affiliate member to get to six teams. I presume this will be a “if you have one, you may as well host the other” situation going forward and the Big East will just expand to a seven team format in 2024.
Ultimately, I think that Xavier starting a program is long term good news for Marquette’s program. It’s not a secret that the hot bed for lacrosse, both men’s and women’s, is in the northeast and the Atlantic seaboard area of the country. Southwestern Ohio is definitely not in either of those parts of the country, so any new Division 1 programs closer to Milwaukee is a positive development for the Golden Eagles. While Xavier might have been inspired to make this move because the state of Ohio has been sponsoring the sport at the high school level since 2017, the fact of the matter is that this will help grow the game even further in Ohio. Growth in Ohio means a deeper pool of potential recruits, and it’s perfectly reasonable for the Golden Eagles to easily dip into said pool of Ohio-based recruits since they will be league rivals with Xavier.
There is, of course, a question to be asked about how soon Xavier will be able to field a competitive team. Butler just finished their fifth season of competition at the Division 1 level this spring.... and they went 1-11 with a 0-10 record in the Big East. And their win was against a non-Division 1 opponent. Overall, the Bulldogs are 11-59 in their five seasons and 0-32 in Big East contests. Butler did jump feet first into playing a Big East schedule in Year 1, something that Xavier will not do. We’ll see how much that impacts the Musketeers’ ability to start showing positive results on the field.
After all, the “Independent for a year, then into the Big East” program is what Marquette did. We don’t know who Xavier’s coach will be, but Meredith Black has shown constant steady progression in building her team over the last nine seasons. It took a minute for Marquette to start assembling a winning record, but it was clear that the Golden Eagles were going to get out there and scrap with people. Can Xavier do the same thing? Well, we’ll have to wait til 2023 to see what they can do, maybe 2024 for an up close look.