November 21, 2012

Tillman on Maryland's Conference Future: We'll Wait and See

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter

Maryland to Big Ten

Will Maryland and coach John Tillman one day play in the same league as Bill Tierney's Denver Pioneers? Conference realignment has shuffled the lacrosse landscape so much that's it's a possibility.
© Charles Mauzy

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Maryland coach John Tillman and the Terrapins men's lacrosse program are taking a "wait-and-see approach" to determining the Terps' conference future, Tillman said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

The Terps, as the national conference and lacrosse landscapes stand now, would be left without a league to play in when the university moves from the ACC to the Big Ten for the 2014-15 school year. The Big Ten, even with Rutgers also joining, only would have five men's programs and conference rules stipulate the Big Ten will not sponsor a sport unless it has six members.

But a lot can change between now and 2014, Tillman said. Lacrosse appears to be along for the ride with football and financial considerations driving conference realignment. That's how one of lacrosse's most storied programs is now left without a home.

"My gut is a lot more is going to change. What we want to do is anticipate some of that change and then, as that change happens, figure out what we want to do with our schedule," Tillman said. "There's so much that can happen that we've really kind of taken a wait-and-see approach to everything."

The Terps seemingly have a few options, as Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said at a press conference in College Park, Md., on Monday announcing Maryland's conference shift.

Maryland can remain independent, like its archrival Johns Hopkins, and continue to put together the type of strong schedule that results in a glowing NCAA tournament resume come May Madness selection time. The ACC has never been guaranteed an automatic qualifying bid to the national tournament anyway, and the Terps have made the NCAAs for 10 straight seasons. Tillman said Wednesday that he would try to "maintain that schedule" and traditional rivalries in any case.

The Terps could also become an affiliate member of a conference like the ECAC, which sponsors lacrosse and includes Big Ten teams Ohio State and Michigan and new national power Denver, but will be losing Loyola (Md.) when the Greyhounds move to the Patriot League for 2013-14.

And Maryland could and likely will, like the rest of the lacrosse world, sit back and see if another Big Ten school is prompted to add a varsity men's lacrosse program or see if, via expansion, the Big Ten grabs another school that already has a varsity program — giving the conference the six teams needed for sponsorship in either case.

"What we wouldn't want to do is make an impulsive decision," said Tillman, who has guided the Terrapins to two straight NCAA championship game appearances in his first two seasons as head coach in College Park. "Right now I don't really have a strong feeling of where we should go, where we should stay."

Other Big Ten men's coaches, Penn State's Jeff Tambroni and Michigan's John Paul, on Monday told Lacrosse Magazine that they didn't think the Big Ten would make an exception and sponsor a sport with just five teams. Tambroni also said it wouldn't be beneficial for the Nittany Lions to leave the CAA and its AQ status behind moving to a five-team non-AQ conference, and Paul spoke in the same terms for the Wolverines and the ECAC.

But both spoke about the potential benefits a Big Ten men's lacrosse conference would have for their programs and the sport in general. Tambroni said the creation of a Big Ten men's conference would create more parity and break up the power of the ever-strong ACC, which has Syracuse slated to join for next season and Notre Dame in a season to be determined. Paul reinforced that Michigan is deeply associated with the Big Ten. "Internally and externally, it would be welcomed here at every level," Paul said.

Maryland women's coach Cathy Reese on Tuesday said she hopes a Big Ten women's lacrosse conference would form. There will be six Big Ten women's lacrosse programs when the Terps join for 2014. Maryland could also just as easily join the American Lacrosse Conference, which already includes Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan, along with Florida, Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins, although the Blue Jays will become independent in 2014.

Where Maryland's men's program ends up is not as clear. For now, the Terps only know they will be part of the ACC this spring and for one season after that. What will the scene look like in 2014 or '15?

"I don't think any of us know," Tillman said.

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