Blogs and Commentary

posted 11.02.2011 at 10.11 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MJ: St. Andrews Could Be NAIA Catalyst

Last week, Matt Smith of The Laurinburg Exchange reported that St. Andrews, located in Laurinburg, N.C., and a member of Conference Carolinas in Division II, announced that, after 23 years in the NCAA, it would be moving to the NAIA. The transition was reportedly a result of the school failing the accreditation process implemented by the NCAA.

At first blush, it appears to be a blow to Division II, which has been expanding at a decent pace in the last several years and will be implementing an eight-team national tournament next season as a result of the growth. St. Andrews' move also bucks a recent trend of lacrosse-sponsoring NAIA schools heading toward the NCAA.

Lindenwood, a former NAIA team competing in MCLA-I, is playing almost a complete NCAA schedule leading into its full membership in 2013. Shorter (Ga.) begins its transition this year (the Hawks will be full members in '14) and will be playing a blend of MCLA, NCAA D-II and D-III teams this spring. Both Roberts Wesleyan (Rochester, N.Y.) and Daemen (Amherst, N.Y.) College are eyeing a move to Division II, and the East Coast Conference has already extended tentative invitations for the two to join its ranks.

There are a host of other NAIA schools that have varsity lacrosse at their respective schools, but play in MCLA-II, which is otherwise comprised of club programs. Two of the most powerful programs in the MCLA's junior circuit - Davenport and Westminster - are both fully-sponsored and each has won an MCLA national title. Tennessee Wesleyan, Indiana Tech, Missouri Baptist, SCAD (Ga.), Judson (Ill.), Southern Virginia, Reinhardt (Ga.) and Concordia (Calif.) are also NAIA varsity teams playing in MCLA-II.

These teams have utilized the club league because not enough of the 200-plus NAIA institutions sponsor the sport, although it is rumored that sponsorship may be on the horizon (Jamie Adams, the NAIA manager of championship sports, was not available for comment). St. Andrews will continue to sponsor lacrosse as a varsity sport, according to athletic director Glenn Batten, and the program will be applying to the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) of the MCLA for the 2013 season. It will likely be in MCLA-II since Tennessee Wesleyan and Reinhardt, which are in the same NAIA conference that St. Andrews is joining (Applachian Athletic Conference), play at that level. 

In the short term, St. Andrews decision is not that big of a deal for the NCAA. With no automatic qualifiers in Division II, Conference Carolinas isn't affected by the loss, especially since CC will be adding Mount Olive College in the 2013 to fill the scheduling void. While St. Andrews is not eligible for the CC or NCAA tournament this spring, its opponents will be able to use games against the Knights in the regional ranking and selection process in '12, according to Conference Carolinas commish Alan Patterson.

In the long term, St. Andrews' move could act as a catalyst for NAIA lacrosse. With the number of teams needed for provisional sponsorship by the NAIA rumored to be 25, the sport is already within striking distance. In addition, the lacrosse demographic, generally speaking, is extremely attractive for colleges and universities. The allure of both a sanctioned championship and the potential of tapping into a choice student population could prove irresistable for numerous NAIA schools.

The knee-jerk reaction is to accept St. Andrews' move to the NAIA as setback for the growth of lacrosse, but that is an NCAA-centric view. The Knights may have closed one door, but they could be the impetus needed to open another - one that could further build the sport at the collegiate level.