July 18, 2007

July 18, 2007

by Brian Logue, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

In a development that could dramatically alter the landscape of Division I lacrosse, the Big East Conference could feature men's lacrosse as a conference sport as soon as the 2009 season, according to Rutgers men's lacrosse coach Jim Stagnitta.

"It's picked up some real momentum in the last few weeks," Stagnitta said Wednesday. "It's by no means a done deal, but the conversations are much more focused than they've been in the past. Every school has shown a level of interest."

Seven Big East schools currently play Division I lacrosse, but they play in a variety of leagues. Georgetown, Rutgers and St. John's play in the ECAC, Notre Dame plays in the Great Western Lacrosse League, Providence plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conferece, Villanova plays in the Colonial Athletic Association and Syracuse plays as an independent.

"The Big East has a national reputation and there's a lot of notoriety that our other athletic programs get from playing in the league," said Stagnitta. "I think everyone sees a real strong value."

Syracuse, long seen as a roadblock to the league and one of just two independents in Division I, appears to have had a change of heart regarding Big East lacrosse, Stagnitta said.

As reported by Lacrosse Magazine Online in April, rival coaches were hesitant to join a Big East without Syracuse, which has long fought to maintain its independence for strength-of-schedule purposes.

"At this point, Syracuse has been reluctant to give up their independence, and if somebody at Notre Dame can't understand that, then you're not trying very hard," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan told LMO. "All the arguments they have and might make are arguments we've had on the football side of the equation...but I hope in time they come to think differently of it."

That has apparently become the case, as the Orange come off a 2007 season in which it finished with a losing record and out of NCAA tournament contention for the first time in 25 years.

Even if Syracuse has changed its stance as reported, there are still other obstacles to overcome. Providence and Villanova would have to upgrade their financial commitment to men's lacrosse to meet league requirements. But according to Stagnitta, there appears to be a genuine push to get past any roadblocks.

"It wouldn't be at this level if there wasn't some real interest," said Stagnitta. "Now we have to see if it's feasible."

If the league becomes a reality, it would severely weaken the ECAC and GWLL, both of which would drop to five teams, one below the minimum of six needed for an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

The Big East has sponsored women's lacrosse since 2001 and held a conference championship tournament for the first time last spring. The Atlantic Coast Conference is the only BCS conference that currently sponsors men's lacrosse as a championship sport.

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