April 15, 2014

Tuesdays w/ Corey: Maryland-Hopkins Rivalry Benefits Big Ten, Vice Versa

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

The Big Ten has the Maryland-Johns Hopkins rivalry to thank for helping the formation of the conference's first men's lacrosse league, and the programs should benefit from added exposure once Big Ten lacrosse debuts next year. (John Strohsacker)

In this era of growth and the conference-ization of NCAA Division I college lacrosse, it's important to document these moments. Saturday's blood feud between in-state rivals Maryland and Johns Hopkins, on a beautiful spring day at a sold-out Homewood Field in Baltimore, was the 111th meeting of the programs and the last before both head to the new, six-team Big Ten men's lacrosse conference next season.

The longest running rivalry in the Division I men's game heads to a conference that's actually been around just as long — to the year, in fact.

Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Agricultural College first played in 1895, a 10-0 Hopkins' win before the sport was an official one at Maryland.

The earliest incarnation of the current Big Ten occurred the same year, when then-Purdue president James H. Smart and leaders from the University of Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin convened at a Chicago hotel with the goal of organizing and developing guidelines for the regulation of intercollegiate athletics. One of the first orders of business was to restrict athletic eligibility to full-time students that were actually going to class.

Indiana and Iowa were admitted to what was then commonly called "the Western Conference," in 1899. Ohio State was incorporated in 1912. Michigan briefly withdrew its original membership but re-joined in 1917, and the name "Big Ten" was first born.

Nearly 100 years later, a lot has changed, in all walks of life.

For our purposes, let's start with this: The Big Ten, now B1G for branding purposes (and with more than 10 teams), is starting both men's and women's lacrosse leagues next year.

The Big Ten broke tradition and admitted Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse as the conference's first-ever affiliate member last summer, giving the conference six men's programs to go with six women's programs, reaching the minimum number for an NCAA tournament automatic qualifying bid to the conference champions.

"It’s a world-class institution with an iconic sport, playing Division I," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in announcing the plans at a press conference at Johns Hopkins' Cordish Lacrosse Center. "We have a lot of Big Ten grads living in D.C, and Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. We think they’ll follow it naturally."

Things happened quickly. Only about four years ago, around the time Penn State hired Jeff Tambroni as coach, I was chatting with then-Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, now infamous in the eyes of many for actions, or inactions, related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and asked Curley about the potential for Big Ten lacrosse. It was more of a throwaway question than anything. At that time, Ohio State and Penn State were the only Big Ten schools with men's lacrosse programs. Curley noted as much in a brief answer, and I filed the thought away for a rainy day.

Then Michigan went varsity for spring 2012. The athletic director there, Dave Brandon, called lacrosse "a sport of the future," while talking about it in his Ann Arbor office, citing trend lines of all kinds. Big stuff from the former Domino's Pizza CEO.

Then the tectonic shifts of conference realignment registered on the Richter scale.

The University of Maryland, and all of its lacrosse connections, was announced in November of 2012 as leaving the ACC and headed to the Big Ten with the rest of the Terps' athletic programs. Then Rutgers was headed there, too, from the Big East. Still, the Big Ten had only five men's programs and needed one more, but now had six women's teams with Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State in place as well.

Which brings us back to the Johns Hopkins-Maryland rivalry. As much competition, contention and bitterness may have developed over 100-plus years, the bond between the programs, as well as their own storied histories, is eventually is what led to Big Ten lacrosse happening next spring.

Maryland was a boat without a harbor after this year's ACC mega-conference campaign. Of what lacrosse conference would Terps lacrosse be a part? Who would they play year-to-year? It was all in question, but Maryland coach John Tillman talked about maintaining traditional rivalries in any event.

The most traditional was Johns Hopkins. Not long after the Terps' Big Ten move was official, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson reached out to both Johns Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder and Delany in December 2012 to gauge the interest and the possibility of Hopkins joining the Big Ten as a sixth men's lacrosse member. No ice-breaker needed. These two teams knew each other quite fine, and Johns Hopkins was considering a future conference home after being an independent for its entire history. Delany got up to speed quickly, after realizing affiliate membership was the only route.

"It would be an unprecedented move for us, but it sounds right to me," Delany said of his initial reaction. "We want to be here. It's a great sport. We want to be in this region and build relationships. I went and had a few discussions with the schools that sponsor the sport, the Presidents and ADs. They were all open. Then I went to the faculty, because we have a lot of different rules and regulations. I said let's not make this more complicated than it is. They'll follow their academic rules, they'll have their ESPNU [deal, which runs through 2017] and they'll be in part of the infrastructure making schedules and format, but other than that lets make it simple as possible."

On Saturday, two representatives from the Big Ten's New York office, which opened just last week, were at Homewood Field as Johns Hopkins beat Maryland 11-6 in front of nearly 10,000 sun-splashed spectators, including former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Hopkins alum, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a friend of Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala's.

"Can you imagine a Big Ten Game of the Week and Hopkins-Maryland, the 111th anniversary of the rivalry? I just think it brings instant credibility to the conference."

— Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala on the future Big Ten lacrosse conference

One of the Big Ten reps worked in championships — of which the Big Ten dates for 2015 are already set (Men's: April 30-May 2 at a site to be determined; Women's: April 30-May 3 at Rutgers) — and the other in branding and marketing.

Pietramala said the Blue Jays' coaching staff talked with players during the week of preparation for the Maryland tilt about it being a Big Ten game, as it has with any matchup against a future opponent this year. There was a February scrimmage against Penn State, the home-opener against Ohio State and another game against Michigan.

The only thing missing were bright blue B1G signs on the sideline.

"What a great day for us to have representatives from the Big Ten here at Johns Hopkins. Everybody did a great job to make this an electric atmosphere. That's what's coming to the Big Ten," Pietramala said. "This rivalry is tremendous for the conference. Can you imagine a Big Ten Game of the Week and Hopkins-Maryland, the 111th anniversary of the rivalry? I just think it brings instant credibility to the conference. It brings a competitiveness and a standard to the conference."

And what will the Big Ten give lacrosse? For starters, more exposure, to fans old and new, and mainstream conference infrastructure. Even things as simple as a well-run digital media stream of games through the Big Ten Network's digital platforms. On Saturday, BTN aired live Ohio State's 15-6 win over Michigan at the Horseshoe in Columbus, another deep-rooted, built-in conference lacrosse rivalry of its own. More than 17,641 watched at the 'Shoe before the Buckeyes' spring football game. Earlier this year, Maryland's game at the Big House was shown live via pay stream as was a Penn State home game against Villanova, but an more comprehensive broadcast schedule won't be rolled out until next year. The Big Ten Network has the right of first refusal for any home Big Ten sporting event.

The Big Ten's traditional footprint has been the Midwest, which is already a growing lacrosse area, but the league's geography now stretches from the East Coast to Nebraska. With ongoing questions about how the future of the NCAA in general will shake out, Delany has his conference positioned well no matter how you slice it.

"It's something that's good for the sport," Tillman said. "The growth of the sport is important to all of us. We want this thing to get bigger and better and create more opportunities for other people. It's exciting for the game."

And the game will give the Big Ten the longest-running rivalry in the sport. That's as good a start as any.

Three Stars

Duke sophomore midfielder Myles Jones has scored 24 goals this season, with the last four coming against Virginia on Friday night. (Peyton Williams)

Top performances from the week that was:

Tom Schreiber, Princeton, Sr. M
The Tewaaraton Award contender slip-picked his way to glory last Tuesday night, delivering the overtime winner in a big moment against Lehigh.

Myles Jones, Duke, So. M
The ultimate X-factor, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, has shown major improvement in his sophomore season, already with a career-best 24 goals and seven assists and an improved 33.8 shooting percentage compared to 29.1 in Duke's national title season last year. Jones scored four goals with two assists and had no turnovers in Duke's 17-15 win over Virginia on Friday. Jones is really more of a junior, having spent a prep year at Salisbury School (Conn.), where the former three-sport star at Walt Whitman (N.Y.) re-discovered a love for basketball and waffled between pursing hoops at the next level or remaining committed to Duke lacrosse.

Chris Daddio, Syracuse, Sr. FO
It's hard hearing and reading things about a maligned Syracuse faceoff game when you are, in fact, the team's primary faceoff taker. Fortunes have turned around. Daddio's win percentage is up to 49.1, and during Syracuse's current four-game win streak — against Notre Dame, Binghamton, Cornell and North Carolina — he's won 57 of 98 (58.1 percent). Daddio won 18 of 26 faceoffs in the Orange's double-OT win against North Carolina on Saturday night in the Carrier Dome.

Looking ahead

Easter weekend doesn't feature as many marquee matchups as week's past, but there are still a number of games to watch:

1. No. 7 Maryland (9-2) at No. 8 Notre Dame (6-4), Noon Saturday
The Terps are still in position to finish the regular season as co-ACC champs, which is a nice thing to say, but really their goals are grander. Maryland will need to regroup after Saturday's troublesome offensive performance against Johns Hopkins, versus a Notre Dame team that is allowing 8.90 goals per game.

2. No. 20 Air Force (8-3) at Ohio State (5-6), 1 p.m. Saturday
The top seed in the ECAC tournament could go to the winner (Air Force is 3-0 and Ohio State 2-0 in the league) and either of these teams could realistically grab the league's NCAA tournament AQ bid with a conference title. Ohio State was largely forgotten after a poor start against a stronger-than-normal schedule for the program, but they shouldn't be overlooked with talent on both ends of the field.

3. No. 10 Hofstra (9-3) at UMass (7-4), 7 p.m. Saturday
As Hofstra coach Seth Tierney put it well in Eamon McAnaney's weekend recap, "It's UMass week. Sometimes when it's Hofstra/UMass the lacrosse ball doesn't really matter for the first five minutes." No matter the records heading into the game, it's usually a hard-fought battle between like-minded rivals. Just so happens Hofstra cracked the LM Top 10 after beating Cornell last Saturday in UMass is just outside the Top 25.

4. Bucknell (7-6) at No. 1 Loyola (11-1), 7 p.m. Thursday
Upset alert. Bucknell has beaten just one team with a winning record this season (Brown). But in what has been a trying year for the Bison, this is a prime opportunity to spring an upset against a Loyola team that hasn't exactly been dominant during its stay atop the national rankings and is already selling tickets to the Patriot League tournament, which it will host as the No. 1 seed. Bucknell clinched a berth in the conference postseason with a 13-1 win over Lafayette on Saturday, so they'll play loose — except, of course, when using their tight 10-man ride, which was the impetus for a big upset win over Cornell last year. This would be similar.

5. No. 16 Drexel (8-4) at Towson (8-4), 7 p.m. Saturday
I'm looking forward to seeing Drexel's resident Canadian scorer, Ben McIntosh, in person, and it's unlikely Towson will go scoreless into the final minute of a game two weeks in a row. The Dragons have won four straight, against UMass, Penn St., Delaware and St. Joseph's, and is in contention for the program's first-ever NCAA tournament berth.

Honorable mentions: Brown at Cornell, Noon Saturday; Princeton at Harvard, 1 p.m. Saturday; Villanova at St. John's, 1 p.m. Saturday; Rutgers at Duke, 1 p.m. Saturday; Syracuse at Hobart, 3 p.m. Saturday; Army at Colgate, 7 p.m. Friday; Johns Hopkins at Navy, 7 p.m. Friday; Fairfield at Quinnipiac, 4 p.m. Tuesday

End Lines

The ten conference races, for league tournament seeding and NCAA tournament AQ bids, are coming down to the wire. There are couple teams to watch down the stretch, perhaps none more than Air Force. LM's "Best Bet" for this year's Sleeper Team looked questionable early on, dropping three of its first five games, but there is renewed strength in the contention after the Falcons' 18-6 win over then-ECAC leader Fairfield on Saturday. Air Force hasn't lost since March 2 and has been building toward this season with a senior-laden group. They are also playing inspired for coach Eric Seremet, whose wife was killed in a tragic car accident in the fall.

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