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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Big East opens in 2010, but no conference tournament

Next year will be the first year of the Big East lacrosse conference. It will immediately be a lacrosse power conference to rival the ACC, but with seven members, the conference will most likely be awarded an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. The teams in the new Big East will be Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Boston College, Notre Dame, Providence and Rutgers.

Anchored by the heavyweight Syracuse and Georgetown programs, the others should benefit from the competition and recruiting immediately. However, one of the typical benefits of conference membership will not be afforded these teams by the new formation. Usually, the top team during the regular season in a conference with an automatic bid is good enough to merit an at-large berth, but if they lose during their conference tournament -- the postseason predecessor to the NCAA tournament -- the upset team gets the auto-bid. Therefore, two or more teams from that conference get to participate in the postseason. It's not always the fairest procedure but it's the way automatic bids work.

The Big East is opting not to hold a postseason Big East tournament to award the NCAA inclusion. Instead, the winner of the regular season will take the automatic bid. This is primarily because both Georgetown coach Dave Urick and Syracuse coach John Desko don't want a postseason tournament. Their reasons are sufficient, but not so obvious as to be self-evident or universally agreed with certainly. Each of them plays a traditional schedule of opponents that they don't want to give up. Syracuse might have to drop a team like Johns Hopkins, which is one of the top games in college lacrosse every season or even their longtime rival Hobart, a game which is cherished by the players and fans and awards the historic Kraus-Simmons trophy to the winner. It's named after two legendary coaches at the respective schools and represents bragging rights for upstate New York. The game was started when Hobart was a Division III school, but is such a great rivalry that the school won its fair share back then, even with no scholarships. Georgetown would have to drop the Navy game, perhaps, which now honors my good friend Scott Boyle, the referee that passed away after a heart attack while working the April 2, 2005 game between these two top programs. Georgetown also, coincidentally, has a nice rivalry going with Hobart, where the Hoyas coach won 10 straight NCAA Division III championships before taking over the Georgetown program 18 years ago.

Would the other members of the Big East like to play a conference championship? Of course they would. Joining a conference like the Big East will essentially ensure that they do not get in the NCAA tournament if Georgetown and Syracuse keep up their strong traditions, as it is unlikely that with only 16 teams invited that a conference will get more than two bids. The small four-team ACC conference often does, but they are all anchor teams -- Maryland, Virginia, Duke and North Carolina. That said, there are certainly years where all four or at least three of those ACC teams deserve to be in but only three or two get invites because the impression of favoring a conference might be perceived. That sentiment will play against all of those lesser Big East squads for years to come.

Now, if Rutgers or Villanova started beating Georgetown and Syracuse on a regular basis, that might change, but that is not likely soon. So, as the third or fourth team in the conference, with Syracuse usually getting into the NCAA tournament as a high seed and Georgetown getting in most years as an on-the-bubble entry or better, getting a bid without accessing the automatic berth through a conference tournament will be difficult.

So why do Syracuse and Georgetown get their way, when a majority of teams in the conference would be better off with a conference tournament figuring out the berth into lacrosse's postseason? Because, in this power conference, there are certainly haves and have-nots and the haves call the shots. It has been rumored that the two power schools would not opt to join the conference if a postseason conference tournament was part of the deal. And without Georgetown and Syracuse there would be no conference, because of the appeal and respect they garner and the simple fact that a conference needs a certain number of teams to even qualify for the automatic bid to the NCAAs.

Perhaps after the conference has been established and a few decades have passed, the games between Georgetown and Rutgers or Syracuse and Providence might have a similar or greater sentimental value than the traditional matchups they now value. At such time they may change their mind about using the postseason conference tournament to pry an extra team into the NCAA every so often.

The quicker way for the lesser Big East teams to affect change and get the two big dogs to subscribe to the postseason play plan would be to beat them enough that the Orange and the Hoyas sat out more tournaments than they participate in. My guess is that if this occurs, the two celebrity coaches, if they still have their jobs, will sing an

March 22, 2009
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