September 13, 2011

ECC to Restructure, Mercyhurst Gets Bounced

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Mercyhurst became the fourth consecutive East Coast Conference team to raise the Walnut & Bronze in 2011. The Lakers found out that starting with the 2013 season, they will no longer be members of that conference.
© Lee Weissman

In the ramp-up to regional changes coming in 2013 with the expansion of the NCAA Division II tournament field, the East Coast Conference will be restructuring its membership, as well. The ECC will part ways with four associate members, including defending national champion Mercyhurst, in '13, while adding three full-membership lacrosse programs in the future, according to ECC commissioner Dr. Robert Dranoff.

Mercyhurst, Seton Hill, Wheeling Jesuit and Lake Erie – programs located on the western fringe of the current ECC footprint – will not have their affiliation renewed. Roberts Wesleyan (located in Rochester, N.Y.) and Daemen (Buffalo) College will be added as two full-time members with future lacrosse programs. The University of the District of Columbia, which became a full member of the ECC this year, is expected to add men's lacrosse in the coming years, as well, according to Dranoff.

"This obviously wasn't an easy decision, but it had been on my radar, and I would guess that of those four associate members, for a little bit," said Dranoff. "The agreement we had when we put it together was that it would be a three-year commitment that the ECC was making to those schools as associate members, and they to us. Our conference has been in a state of flux for a few years now in terms of membership, and with some recent additions and some prospective new members, our status has been changing."

Roberts Wesleyan has just started the transition process to NCAA Division II and will not be eligible for the postseason until 2014 (although they will play an ECC schedule prior to that). Daemen was denied its recent request to start the move to Division II, but they are hopeful to be approved for transition this coming June. This means that the three new conference schools will not be fully integrated into the ECC until after the 2013 season.

Dranoff felt this was the optimum time to make the decision, however.

"We wanted to give [the four associate members] time to start making plans, as well as on our end," said Dranoff. "I hate to make it sound a like business decision, but it was. How our schools were going to handle travel, in terms of the cost and missed class time, in the sports of men's and women's lacrosse was important. The reality was it was going to be difficult for those schools that are East Coast Conference full members to do all that traveling in those sports. That was the motivating factor for the future direction. I know it's not an easy thing for those schools, and it really had nothing to do with them as institutions. They are good members, but it came down to how do we move forward to help our schools operate their programs and keep sponsoring those sports?"

The move comes before the imminent announcement about the revamping of the entire structure of NCAA Division II men's lacrosse in the wake of the division's move to an eight-team postseason tournament starting in '13. While nothing has been announced officially, it is assumed that NCAA D-II will be switching from its current three-region format to a North-South concept. If this is the plan that is adopted, the ECC will likely be in the North, and the four former programs, including Mercyhurst, will compete for one of the South's four regional bids.

That was not a factor in the decision, according to Dranoff, who is also on the committee that submitted the new regional plan to the NCAA management committee.

"It may impact that, but our membership decisions are finalized by our presidents with input from the athletic directors, so the reality is they were looking at a bottom-line issue [and not solely lacrosse]," said Dranoff. "The welfare of the student-athletes and the concerns about the extensive travel and the finances were the key issues. This move may also lead to other kinds of changes for us in regards to doing our own postseason tournament."

The by-laws of the ECC mandate that only the presidents of full member institutions may vote on league issues, so Mercyhurst, Seton Hill, Wheeling Jesuit and Lake Erie, did not have a say in the final decision. As of now, the ECC will start the '13 season with seven teams - C.W. Post, Chestnut Hill, Dominican, Dowling, Mercy, Molloy and NYIT.

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