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  • Chris Jastrzembski

How schools potentially considering reclassification could affect college lacrosse

The next wave of conference realignment has arrived.

It all started with Texas and Oklahoma accepting invitations to join the SEC, followed by BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF accepting invitations to join the Big 12.

Unless the Big 12 or another Power 5 conference stirs the pot some more, the trickle-down effect has begun. The American is reportedly in deep discussions with Air Force and Colorado State to join from the Mountain West. What happens with the other Group of 5 conferences will probably be figured out in the coming weeks and months.

It's also underway at the FCS and non-football program levels with Austin Peay moving to the ASUN and Belmont joining the Missouri Valley Conference. Unlike the scheduled or potential moves at the FBS level, these two moves will happen in time for next season.

There's also another layer of realignment going on, and it also goes outside of Division I. This is what we call reclassification.

Recently, Division II Texas A&M-Commerce announced their move to the Southland Conference and to also begin a four-year transition period in Division I beginning July 1, 2022. And it sounds like more schools will be exploring this option in the coming months.

According to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, the ASUN is exploring more potential candidates that are at the Division II level. Thamel's list includes lacrosse schools Lincoln Memorial University (Tennessee) and Queens University of Charlotte (North Carolina), both schools I have also heard. The University of New Haven (Connecticut) has begun the process of becoming a D1 school. Augustana University (South Dakota), who just announced a new women's lacrosse program for the 2024 season, has a strategic plan in place that sees their athletic department transition to Division I by 2030. Matt Brown of the Extra Points newsletter has noted a few schools that have at least "considered" reclassification, including lacrosse schools Lindenwood University (Missouri) and Grand Valley State University (Michigan). None of these schools should be considered as imminent to join a D1 conference.

If a Division II school moves up to Division I, they have to meet sport sponsorship requirements (either at least seven men's and seven women's or six men's and eight women's), contest and participation minimums per sponsored sport, minimum financial aid requirements, minimum attendance requirements (only for FBS schools), and potentially other requirements from their new conference. As mentioned, transitioning schools will have to go through a four-year period that includes being ineligible for postseason play until the period is complete.

Overall, realignment and reclassification is a very complicated game of chess. One school might be publicly happy with the conference they're at, but could privately be looking at other options to help their athletic department be the best that they can.

For this piece, let's look at the six D2 schools previously mentioned that could move to D1 and what it could mean for college lacrosse.

Augustana University

Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Nickname: Vikings

Division II Conference: Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC)

Number of teams: 20

Lacrosse school: No (Adding women's lacrosse for the 2024 season)

Football school: Yes

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,662

Endowment: $91.1 million

Augustana announced their intention to transition to Division I in December, 2018. They were hoping to receive an invitation to join a conference by 2020. However in May of that year, the Summit League, whose headquarters are in Sioux Falls, did not extend an invite to the Vikings. The Summit League did extend an invite to then-Division III University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), who joined this year.

South Dakota's two Division I schools are the University of South Dakota (Vermillion) and South Dakota State University (Brookings). Both are members of the Summit League, as are the two Division I schools in North Dakota (University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University). Sioux Falls is the most populous city in South Dakota.

What's the lacrosse implication?

Augustana will be home to the first collegiate lacrosse program in South Dakota, regardless of division or affiliation. So it's already a historic feat in that sense.

For a potential D2 conference, two other NSIC schools sponsor women's lacrosse (Concordia-St. Paul and Upper Iowa). Both schools are in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and would seem like a fit for Augustana's program.

What about a D1 move? Finding a conference might be more difficult as an affiliate member. The best case scenario is joining San Diego State and UC Davis in what hopefully starts a reinvigorated MPSF. The creation of a Pac-12 women's lacrosse conference, Denver leaving for the Big East, and St. Mary's and Fresno State dropping their varsity programs have made the MPSF an afterthought.

Perhaps adding Augustana could provide a home for other western teams not in the Pac-12 to add women's lacrosse. Could Air Force add a women's program? Any other Mountain West teams or teams from the Big West or West Coast Conference? With Xavier adding a women's program and joining the Big East for the 2024 season, it might give Denver more incentive to head for a conference that better fits their geography if the MPSF can get to five total members before the Pioneers.

Grand Valley State University

Location: Allendale, Michigan

Nickname: Lakers

Division II Conference: Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC)

Number of teams: 20

Lacrosse school: Yes (women's)

Football school: Yes

Type: Public University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,112

Endowment: N/A

Grand Valley State is one of the largest Division II schools in the nation and roughly one of 10 D2 schools with around 20,000 undergrads. Since 2002, they have won 23 Division II national championships in seven different sports, including six each in women's soccer and women's cross country.

Allendale is just outside of Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in Michigan.

What's the lacrosse implication?

Grand Valley State's women's program has been successful since 2012. Beginning in 2013, the Lakers won four straight GLIAC regular season and tournament championships and made their lone NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016. They won the GLIAC regular season and tournament titles in 2021 with a 12-2 record.

If GVSU makes the jump to Division I, the easiest option is becoming an affiliate member of the MAC. Five of the seven current MAC members are also public/state universities. GVSU would benefit from in-state rivalries with Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Detroit Mercy.

Lincoln Memorial University

Location: Harrogate, Tennessee

Nickname: Railsplitters

Division II Conference: South Atlantic Conference (SAC)

Number of teams: 26

Lacrosse school: Yes (men's and women's)

Football school: No

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,817

Endowment: $41.4 million

Lincoln Memorial began in 1897 as what was a living memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. LMU has been to three national championships in three different sports in the last 15 years, but failed to win a title.

Harrogate is a town in eastern Tennessee with less than 5,000 residents.

What's the lacrosse implication?

After falling to Wingate in the SAC semifinals in 2018, Lincoln Memorial's men's program hasn't seen much success, going 6-23 since 2019. That also includes a winless 0-9 mark in 2021 in Joe Wilson's first year as head coach. But he has a lot on his hands in a conference that includes Lenoir-Rhyne, Limestone, Queens (NC), and Wingate.

As for the women's program, it's a similar story. The Railsplitters went 12-6 in 2019, falling to Lenoir-Rhyne in the SAC semifinals, for their only season above .500 since the program began in 2015. They went 4-8 combined in 2020 and 2021 and had last season cut short due to COVID-19 complications within the program. Similar to Wilson, Alyssa Shaver took over the program prior to the 2021 season.

As Thamel mentioned in his tweet, LMU could be a member of the ASUN if invited. If they are, both lacrosse teams would more than likely be members of that conference. The men's team could also join the SoCon to start with teams like Hampton and VMI also in the conference.

Lindenwood University

Location: St. Charles, Missouri

Nickname: Lions

Division II Conference: Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC)

Number of teams: 27

Lacrosse school: Yes (men's and women's)

Football school: Yes

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,822

Endowment: $160.4 million

Lindenwood has been continuously building or upgrading many of their sports facilities. They moved from the NAIA to Division II beginning in 2012 and have continued to progress. Lindenwood has added gymnastics earlier in the decade and announced their men's club hockey program will become a varsity program while also adding beach volleyball. The Lions' women's lacrosse program took home Lindenwood's first ever NCAA national championship last year.

St. Charles is a northwest suburb of St. Louis with its population close to 70,000.

What's the lacrosse implication?

The Lindenwood men's lacrosse program hasn't had the same success as the women's program, but has been consistently competitive since becoming a full fledged Division II member. They made their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, but have been qualifying for the GLVC Tournament.

The women's program is consistently a top 10 program in D2, qualifying for every NCAA Tournament since 2014. Lindenwood's women's program and Denver's men's program are the only two schools west of the Mississippi River to win lacrosse national championships.

If Lindenwood were to move to Division I, the men's program would be best fit for the ASUN as a middle ground between the midwest members and the western members. The women's program could see good fits in either the Big South or the ASUN. Perhaps an affiliate member with the Big East could also work with Butler, Marquette, and Xavier close by? It feels like Lindenwood is not as west as other schools, but it might be just a bit too far for some conferences.

Queens University of Charlotte

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Nickname: Royals

Division II Conference: South Atlantic Conference (SAC)

Number of teams: 24

Lacrosse school: Yes (men's and women's)

Football school: No

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,670

Endowment: $142.5 million

Recently, Queens has been very successful in Division II. The Royals have finished in the top 10 of the Division II Learfield IMG College Directors' Cup in the last four years. They have been a dominant force in men's and women's swimming and diving for the past seven years.

Charlotte is a fast growing city in the southeast and is currently home to UNC-Charlotte at the Division I level.

What's the lacrosse implication?

Outside of a couple of appearances in the NCAA Tournament, Queens' men's program has seen moderate success. They've been above .500 every year since 2009 and have been constant qualifiers of the SAC Tournament. Queens also brought in former Mercer head coach Kyle Hannan as an associate head coach to Chris Panos.

The women's program has also seen moderate success until 2019 when the Royals took a big step forward by advancing to the national semifinals where they lost to West Chester. After a 5-0 shortened season in 2020, Queens made it to the national championship game where they fell to Lindenwood. Head coach Clare Short has done an exceptional job leading the program since returning to Charlotte prior to the 2017 season.

Similar to LMU from Thamel's tweet, Queens could be a member of the ASUN if invited. If they are, both lacrosse teams would more than likely be members of that conference. The men's team could also join the SoCon to start with teams like Hampton and VMI also in the conference.

University of New Haven

Location: West Haven, Connecticut

Nickname: Chargers

Division II Conference: Northeast-10 Conference (NE10)

Number of teams: 17

Lacrosse school: Yes (women's)

Football school: Yes

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,097

Endowment: $70.3 million

The only school on this list that's in the northeast. That's a good thing, by the way. Along with New Haven, West Haven borders right along the Long Island Sound.

As previously mentioned, New Haven is probably the furthest behind in terms of moving to Division I. They are putting together a staff to prepare themselves for a move to Division I, but it's unknown how long that process will take.

What's the lacrosse implication?

New Haven only has a women's lacrosse program in the very competitive NE10 conference. And despite having to play the likes of Adelphi, Bentley, Franklin Pierce, Le Moyne, and Pace, the Chargers hold their own in the conference. The Chargers typically make the NE10 Tournament as well as some appearances in the NCAA Tournament, which shouldn't be a big surprise.

If New Haven makes the jump to Division I, the most logical decision is the NEC, where former NE10 members Bryant, Merrimack, and LIU Post (who merged athletic departments with LIU Brooklyn who was already in the NEC) currently reside. New Haven could also be a potential spot for the MAAC.

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