June 28, 2013

Air Force, Bellarmine Seeking Spots in Atlantic Sun

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

Air Force appears to be on the brink of becoming the next team to leave the ECAC, seeking a move to the Atlantic Sun effective for the 2015 season.
© Marc Piscotty 

The conference realignment wheel keeps on spinning — but could be close to stopping.

Air Force and Bellarmine are both seeking membership in the newly-formed Atlantic Sun men's lacrosse league, according to an Air Force official and other sources, respectively.

The pair represents two of the three lacrosse programs that are scheduled to be left in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) by spring 2015. Hobart is the other. It doesn't look like the ECAC will survive past next spring, once Fairfield, Ohio State and Michigan leave for the CAA and Big Ten. Denver and Loyola (Md.) are headed out a year earlier than that, going to the Big East and Patriot League, respectively, next season.

The Atlantic Sun, whose offices are in Macon, Ga., begins play next season with six teams: start-up programs Furman and Richmond and second-year program High Point, along with Jacksonville, Mercer and VMI, all Southern schools. High Point and Mercer were previously independents while Jacksonville and VMI are coming from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).

Air Force, with its Colorado location, is an outlier in the Division I men's lacrosse landscape and in a tough predicament when it comes to selecting a preferred league to join, but feels the Atlantic Sun may be the best fit.

"I have reached out to the Atlantic Sun commissioner [Ted Gumbart] in an effort to join the Atlantic Sun as an affiliate member for lacrosse," said Air Force associate athletic director George Nelson, the administrator for lacrosse at Air Force. "They have not approached us but there has been discussion among some of the coaches. We would love to be members of the conference beginning in 2015 and our next step may be to call the athletic directors for support."

Meanwhile, Bellarmine is in serious talks with the Atlantic Sun and an official announcement on its membership could come in the next two weeks, sources said. The move to the Atlantic Sun would make sense for Bellarmine with its location in Louisville, Ky., and the fact that the new league already has six teams and is immediately eligible for an automatic qualifying berth to the NCAA tournament. The berth will go to the winner of the conference championship.

Another source said Hobart has been approached by the Northeast Conference (NEC) and America East about possible lacrosse membership. With Quinnipiac leaving the NEC for the MAAC and Monmouth starting its first men's lacrosse season in the MAAC in 2014, the NEC is down to five teams for next season, one short of the six needed to remain eligible for an NCAA tournament automatic qualifier. The America East is scheduled to have as its men's programs in 2015: Albany, Binghamton, Hartford, Stony Brook, UMass Lowell, UMBC and Vermont.

Hobart is also looking for a new head coach after T.W. Johnson decided to leave the program.

Once decisions are made on Air Force, Bellarmine and Hobart, the current conference realignment cycle could cool for now, unless Hobart chooses a path other than the NEC, leaving the remaining teams in that league — Bryant, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, Mt. St. Mary's and Wagner — without a chance to grab a prized NCAA tournament AQ berth, and possibly questioning their conference affiliation.

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