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June 8, 2009

SCAC Setback? League Presidents to Decide Fate

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Five schools ready to play men's lacrosse in 2010 and three more on the way? Yup, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) has automatic-qualifying league written all over it in 2011.

Or does it?

As solid as the eight-team SCAC seems at this point, there might be some cracks showing in its edifice. And not just when it comes to our sport.

Depending on who you listen to, the conference president's summer meeting, which is scheduled for June 11 in Atlanta according to the league calendar, could result in one of three results for the burgeoning men's (and soon to be women's) lacrosse league.

1. Status quo with the conference holding its current form;

2. A transition to a divisional structure, with the conference broken into East and West entities in order to mitigate rising travel coast for a league that stretches from Georgia to Colorado;

3. The league collapses under the weight of its travel burdens, its member institutions splintering into newly formed conferences or joining existing leagues, dooming the eight lacrosse programs to independent status for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, the second option appears to be the likely choice for the presidents.

There is angst among some of the SCAC presidents and athletic directors, especially those in the Southeast, regarding the budgeting necessities to compete in a league that stretches 1,400 miles. With 19 sports currently sponsored by the SCAC (and hopefully another coming online in '11), you can't blame school administrators for wanting to explore options to rein in costs as their endowments dwindle.

This means the first option is likely out - something's going to change - and the third is a last resort.

If No. 2 is the pick, the 12-member conference would be cut along geographic lines to form a pair of six-team divisions in sports that are sponsored by every school. For sports like field hockey, which only have five teams, they would retain sponsorships (five is the minimum for the SCAC to recognize a sport) but probably avoid divisional realignment.

Fortunately for lacrosse, when all eight teams are ready in 2011 there could be an easy split: Birmingham Southern (Ala.), Centre (Ky.), Oglethorpe (Ga.) and Sewanee (Tenn.) in the East and Colorado College, Hendrix (Ark.), Millsaps (Miss.) and Southwestern (Texas) in the West. The winner of the two divisions could then meet at predetermined location and play a one-game playoff with the bid for the NCAA tournament on the line.

The third possibility - the nuclear option when it comes to lacrosse - would rob the men's teams (and the women's teams when many of them come active in 2012) of an automatic qualifier, keeping the teams in Pool B, the realm of independents.

As drastic as it may seem, dismembering the SCAC is not implausible. In addition to the travel consequences, there is reportedly some internal consternation among the members regarding academic prestige.

Ultimately, small liberal arts colleges live and die with their reputation, and if they feel it is being compromised by a peer group, they'll make changes. As expensive and time-consuming as it is to change athletic conferences, these institutions will do it if there is enough motivation.

There doesn't appear to be enough in this case. If there is something more important than reputation to private colleges, it's money. The first and third options would be a financial hit to SCAC schools, so look for them to institute divisional realignment and hopefully give lacrosse a chance.

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