Lindenwood reclassifying to Division I: What's next for men's and women's lacrosse?
Division I men's and women's lacrosse saw another team added thanks to Lindenwood University. The St. Charles, Missouri school announced Wednesday that they accepted an invitation to join the Ohio Valley Conference and begin a four-year transition period to Division I. The OVC currently does not sponsor men's or women's lacrosse. Lindenwood is currently a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Lindenwood has had a quick rise to Division I. They were an NAIA school less than a decade ago when they completed the transition to Division II in the summer of 2013. The Lions support 29 different sports and have won four NCAA National Championships, with women's lacrosse winning their most recent in 2021. The campus will host the Division II Women's Lacrosse National Championship in May.
The addition of Lindenwood to the Division I lacrosse ranks also means another lacrosse school that's west of the Mississippi River, albeit it's the eastern-most school out of that group. The Lions join Marquette and Northwestern (women's only) as schools located inside the Central Time Zone. They are also the lone Division I lacrosse school in the state of Missouri.
It's always great to have another school join the D1 lacrosse ranks, especially on the men's side which hasn't had many schools add the sport compared to the women's game. Lindenwood will be the 75th D1 program with men's lacrosse, but that number could decrease to 74 with Hartford potentially reclassifying to Division III. Lindenwood will be the 123rd women's program with Eastern Michigan, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Xavier also starting in 2023. That number could decrease to 122 depending on Hartford's reclassification plans.
With the OVC not sponsoring lacrosse, Lindenwood will need to find conference homes for those programs. On the men's side, the ASUN makes the most sense. They'd be joining a midwestern cluster that includes Bellarmine, Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, and Robert Morris with Air Force and Utah out west. Membership could continue to change with the Atlantic 10 reportedly considering (and more than likely) sponsoring men's lacrosse starting next year. The SoCon might be might be in serious jeopardy with Hampton moving to the CAA and Richmond and High Point likely going to the A10 if it happens. Jacksonville, a primary member of the ASUN, would move to the ASUN and give that conference eight members. Mercer and VMI would be without conference homes, but hopefully the A10 or ASUN bring one or both programs in.
On the women's side, the MAC seems like a logical choice.
Shifting the focus to the men's side, Lindenwood will be the third consecutive new D1 lacrosse school to enter via reclassification. Both LIU and Merrimack moved up from Division II prior to the 2020 season, with the Warriors set to become a full D1 member in the 2023-24 academic year. With the addition of Lindenwood, the gap between the western-most school in the Central Time Zone to a Colorado school decreases from 1,038 miles (Marquette to Denver) to 816 miles (Lindenwood to Air Force). It's still a flight, but a shorter one. The same can be said on the women's side.
The more new faces in lacrosse, the better. Especially at the Division I level. What makes this move important is that it starts to bridge the gap between the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains. It's also an addition in a region where the sport is still growing. Rather than adding a school closer to the Pacific Ocean, it's a small step toward the west and should help the schools in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones with travel.
The women's game has had no problem adding new schools recently, with Clemson, Rhode Island, South Florida, and Xavier being notables that will take the field within the next few years. But the men's game hasn't had the same luck in recent years. Utah and St. Bonaventure were the last two schools to add (or reinstate) the sport back in 2019. Both of those announcements came in 2017, roughly five years ago.
So who could be the next school to add within their athletic department rather than reclassify? It's tough to pin point who could add lacrosse and especially when. In recent months, I've heard murmurs about Creighton, Minnesota, and Northwestern adding men's lacrosse, all of which are located in the Midwest and have conferences that sponsor the sport. We could see others add the sport soon, but it varies between each institution.
More reclassification could occur within the next few months, which could also increase the number of D1 lacrosse schools. On the latest episode of the Going for Two podcast, Matt Brown named Lincoln Memorial (Tennessee), Grand Valley State (Michigan), and the University of Indianapolis (Indiana) as potential schools to move up and join the Ohio Valley Conference. All three schools have lacrosse, but Grand Valley only has women's lacrosse.
Reclassification could be big up in the northeast as part of a domino effect. The America East will lose Hartford (who won't be with the conference after this year) and Stony Brook (CAA). Brown notes they could target schools in the MAAC and the NEC. With Monmouth going to the CAA, the MAAC could also target schools from the NEC or somewhere else.
And then comes the NEC, which has been one of the conferences that has yet to be affected by this recent wave of conference realignment. If the Northeast Conference is affected in some way, they could look toward a familiar friend in the Northeast-10 Conference. Bryant, Merrimack, and former member Quinnipiac (now in the MAAC) were all plucked by the NEC from the NE-10 this century. LIU-Post's athletic department merged with NEC member LIU-Brooklyn's athletic department prior to the 2019-20 academic year. Schools mentioned by Brown that could get looks were New Haven (Connecticut), Le Moyne (New York), and Adelphi (New York).
A focus toward gradually expanding the sport's footprint at the D1 level in the Midwest and the South might be better off than hoping for a group of schools out west to add the sport. States like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee are prime areas to hone on in the southern part of the country.