Blogs and Commentary

posted 01.27.2014 at 9.13 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: Which Way Will Westminster Go?

In the wake of a recent report by KFBB-TV in Montana divulging that Westminster College, an NAIA institution in Salt Lake City, is expected to start the transition to the NCAA sponsorship this summer and is being courted by two NCAA Division II conferences, the Griffins have quite a choice to make.

And that choice will have a significant impact on the arc of Division II lacrosse in the west.

It's a decision that will be coming very soon, as well. The deadline for transitional applications to the NCAA is Feb. 1 (this Saturday), and due to NCAA D-II's stipulation that a school must have a conference affiliation prior to making the jump, Westminster doesn't have a whole lot of time to nuance its conference decision.

Which way will Griffins go?

The two suitors for Westminster – the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and the PacWest Conference – both have pros and cons for the Griffins. The RMAC is a league that geographically makes the most sense with a majority of conference foes located within bus-ride distance, alas, it's also comprised primarily of public schools that have football. Westminster is a private school without football.

The institutional make-up of the PacWest is far more in line with Westminster's academic ethos, but it has a massive geographical footprint that includes four schools in Hawaii. That's not a big deal for lacrosse, but for programs like basketball, soccer, etc., it's a kick in the budget.

My initial instinct was that Westminster's lacrosse team would play a bit role in the decision-making process, but I've reconsidered. The sport is important on the Westminster campus and is definitely in the equation. It's why the Griffins will almost certainly be heading to the RMAC when the decision becomes final.

What will be the lacrosse fallout if/when Westminster does indeed choose the RMAC? Here's the likely timeline:

- Westminster officially declares its intention to join the RMAC when it completes its transition period in 2016.

- South Dakota Mines will announce that it is adding men's lacrosse for the 2016 season and will be added to the RMAC.

- Dominican (Calif.) and Notre Dame de Namur – both full-time members of the PacWest – along with Rockhurst (Mo.) will be named associate members of the RMAC lacrosse league.

- Men's lacrosse will be adopted as a sponsored sport by the RMAC and will boast eight programs – Adams State, Colorado Mesa, CSU-Pueblo, Dominican, Notre Dame de Namur, Rockhurst, South Dakota Mines and Westminster – for the 2016 season.

- The 2015 season will officially mark the final campaign for the Western Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WILA).

This is will obviously be a great step forward for western D-II lacrosse, but conference affiliations in Division II aren't nearly as lucrative as the other two NCAA divisions. First, there are no AQ conferences, so there is no free pass to the tournament, although the budgets might be helped with access to nearby opponents. Second, for the top western teams with aspirations of vying for the NCAAs, cohabitating with tenderfoot programs is akin to shacking up with an SOS/RPI grim reaper. This will be an uncomfortable reality for the likes of Dominican, Colorado Mesa and perhaps Adam State for the next couple of seasons.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Westminster – a team that lost in the MCLA Division II championship game last spring and will play this year at the MCLA-I level against the likes of Colorado State, Colorado and BYU – is joining the NCAA Division II ranks. For this, we should all be happy.

We'll welcome – and analyze – all the rest as it comes.