June 19, 2013

Fairfield AD Doris Talks Stags' CAA Move, ECAC's Murky Future

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Fairfield announced Tuesday it will join the CAA in men's lacrosse for the 2014-15 year. The move leaves the ECAC with only three schools for that season, leaving its future in doubt, says Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris.
© Greg Raymond

Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris is also president of the ECAC Board of Directors, so he's a good guy to talk to about two things: 1) the future of the Stags men's lacrosse program, which it was announced Tuesday will join the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) as an affiliate member for the 2014-15 year, and 2) the future of the ECAC lacrosse league, which after Fairfield's move out of the conference and other previously announced defections by Denver, Loyola, Ohio State and Michigan, leaves the ECAC with only three lacrosse-playing schools by the 2014-15 year.

It's all part of the changing college athletics landscape. Doris said Bellarmine, Air Force and Hobart, those final three ECAC schools, will likely look to join another conference by 2014-15, as to make sure they are part of league that is eligible for an NCAA tournament automatic qualifying berth.

LaxMagazine.com caught up with Doris on Tuesday, shortly after Fairfield announced its intentions to join the CAA in men's lacrosse. The Fairfield women's program will continue to play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), which the Stags are a member of in all other sports.

Why the need to make this move to the CAA, and how did you end up making this decision?

"Unfortunately, the ECAC, which I think arguably could have been considered one of the top lacrosse leagues in Division I over the last three or for years, has fallen victim to the all-sport conferences deciding to sponsor the sport, which had never been the case.

"When the ECAC was formed many years back, it was formed mainly from independents. There weren't really lacrosse leagues around. The ECAC actually kind of spurred the whole idea of lacrosse being in a conference. Even the ACC, which sort of sponsored the sport, only had five schools so they weren't considered a real league because they didn't have the minimum number of six [for a conference AQ berth to the NCAA tournament]. The ECAC became really what I would consider the first league that developed.

"Originally, we started out by being in the MAAC in the burgeoning state of our program, and we weren't fully funded in scholarships and we weren't staffed to the level of the national lacrosse programs. The decision was made back in 1999 to really go after it, and go for lacrosse at a higher level. We were very fortunate at that time to be invited into the GWLL, which had Notre Dame in it at that time. It was really a good position for us to take our program to the next step. And then, two years ago, the Big East started lacrosse, which was the first of the major conferences deciding to start it. That took a toll on the ECAC and the GWLL. The two leagues merged under the ECAC name.

"We're used to playing lacrosse on what I consider a national platform. The ECAC is not looking like it can survive, realistically speaking, with Denver going to the Big East and with the Big Ten starting, that would have left the ECAC lacrosse league with four members going into 2014-15. Getting one member, if that's all we need, maybe it could have been accomplished. The chance of getting two, with no more independents out there, with the Atlantic Sun having formed, just wasn't feasible. Not in our mind, anyway. To keep the program at the level that it's at right now, we welcomed the opportunity to get into a conference that also established the fact that they were playing on a national platform and looking for more than just the automatic qualifier.

Why the CAA?

"The CAA has been of interest to us because of the schools that are involved: Hofstra, Drexel, Delaware, Towson, all very established long-term programs, and UMass, which had actually been in the ECAC with us at one point. St. Joesph's is another Jesuit school. Penn State opened up the opportunity for us because of the formation of the Big Ten."

Why not the MAAC, which Fairfield is in in all other sports?

"This is no slight against the MAAC. The MAAC is making strides to becoming better, but if you look at where leagues are ranked, there's no question about where the CAA is in comparison to where the MAAC would be ranked. It would have appeared, for all of us, that moving the program in that direction would have sent the wrong message to where we want our program to be, and that's at a national level. We don't think that we're that far away from getting into the NCAA tournament, and getting into the NCAA tournament and actually winning games. We're close, and we've been close for the last few years. We lost in the ECAC championship, to both Loyola and Denver, two out of the last three years. We're pretty much that close to getting to that next step. We kind of feel that the CAA gives us the opportunity, where if we don't win the conference regular season, we have an opportunity to get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large."

How does the move help your scheduling?

"It helps us with our non-conference schedule, too, because when you're trying to get schools out of conference, schools want to play people whose RPI is going to help them. If they don't make the tournament with the AQ, they're going to be able to make it because they've had a good non-conference schedule, which helps them to getting an at-large."

You're breaking ground on a new lacrosse stadium next spring. What are the plans for that?

"We've been gradually expanding. We put a new lacrosse locker room in three years ago. The stadium becomes the crown jewel, because it's going to be state-of-the-art with really terrific lighting, VIP suites. The capacity I believe is going to be somewhere around 3,000, which for us is a good capacity. If it starts selling out, I'll be very happy with our ability to expand it."

What do you think of the future of the ECAC, with only three teams set to be in the league by spring 2015?

"The ECAC members that are remaining are all being approached by other conferences, all-sport conferences to come in as affiliate members. I don't think the landscape allows the ECAC to continue because I don't see the possibility of members of all-sport conferences leaving where they are that are going to come in. So, unless the sport were to have grown where you have independents looking for something, it's just not feasible. It's no fault of anyone at the ECAC. It's just the landscape of college athletics itself has changed, and in particular the all-sport conferences. The one that changed the landscape a lot was the Atlantic Sun starting lacrosse because they took just about every independent that out there, that would have joined the ECAC."

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