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NCAA Conference Realignment: How Does This Change Lacrosse?

The landscape of the NCAA has been in shambles for multiple months now due to 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 compared the move to Texas and 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 joined in 1928. This was a long-term relationship, and like when many long-term relationships end, this one can have some serious consequences.

Many in the media speculate that the next move in this development will come from South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame is being courted by both the Big Ten and SEC to give up their independent status in football and join their conference.

Notre Dame has cache. Love ‘em or hate ‘em. Notre Dame brings money and eyeballs. Notre Dame brought their 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 Texas, Oklahoma, USC, or UCLA’s decisions combined. This is where some ACC fans should be nervous. Looking into my crystal ball, Notre Dame will announce their intention to join USC and UCLA in the 2024 season in the next two weeks.

Let’s take a look at the new-look Big Ten and what could happen to the rest of the men’s and women’s ACC teams.

(Potential) 2024 Big Ten Men’s Lacrosse Teams 
NCAA Conference Realignment

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 heighten the level of play and recruiting in the conference. The Irish have the potential to disrupt Maryland’s stranglehold on the Terp’s regular and tournament championship success. 

The road to the Big Ten tournament or NCAA tournament becomes that much more difficult for Michigan, Penn State, and Johns Hopkins. Penn State and Johns Hopkins have backslid in the last two years and Michigan has been left fighting out of the bottom spot in the conference since going D1.

Neither USC nor UCLA have a men’s Division 1 lacrosse program. The Trojans and Bruins both currently compete in the MCLA. The move to the Big Ten would represent an opportunity to see men’s lacrosse grow into California. With club programs like West Coast Stars, California has surfaced as an emerging lacrosse hotbed.  Larken, I hear you have influence.


(Potential) 2024 Big Ten Women’s Lacrosse Teams 
NCAA Conference Realignment

Notre Dame and USC would give the Big Ten nine women’s lacrosse teams. USC was one of the top 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 overall conference depth in the Big Ten. 

Can the ACC Conference Continue to stand?

If Notre Dame leaves for the Big Ten, the ACC could face disaster. With rumors swirling about Notre Dame’s flirtations, lawyers for the ACC schools are looking at their contracts and seeing how they can buy their way into the Big Ten or SEC.  

The ACC currently has a grant of rights contract that currently binds the ACC schools together until 2036. The contract doesn’t apply to the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame has a special relationship with the ACC. They aren’t affiliated with the conference for football, but are for men’s and women’s basketball and lacrosse amongst other sports. Their hockey team plays in the Big Ten.

The current contract significantly underpays ($36.1 million) for each ACC school. Compare that to 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 get left behind. So, what happens to the schools that are left? Let’s take a look at the Crystal Ball. 🔮

ACC Teams to the Big Ten
NCAA Conference Realignment

North Carolina and Virginia will both be considered hot commodities if the ACC starts to collapse and is forced to fall to the NCAA conference realignment. Both are prime state universities outside of both the Big Ten and SEC footprints. I am giving the nod to the Big Ten for both of these schools because of their academic prowess.

Both teams have elite men’s and women’s lacrosse teams that have won a number of recent national championships. With Notre Dame, UNC, and UVA in the Big Ten, not many would have to be outraged or worry about the RPI.

Future Undecided
NCAA Conference Realignment

For the men, the question of where to put Duke and Syracuse is uncertain. Both have the potential to be asked to join the Big Ten, but I’m not sure it would move the media or marketing needle enough to warrant the invitation.

The most likely spot 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 league in the men’s game. Still not quite the same as being in the ACC.

For the women’s teams, the AAC seems to make the most sense. Syracuse, Boston College, Pitt, and Louisville are all former members. Clemson could join potential future SEC conference partners Florida and Vanderbilt, who already compete in the AAC. Duke could have their choice of joining the Big East or Atlantic 10.

Epitaph

College football is the sacred cow. It is what funds most of the 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 enjoy the NCAA conference realignment ride. Wherever it may take you.