• Chris Jastrzembski

Realignment Roundup: Latest news & rumors involving college lacrosse schools

Updated: Nov 2


Realignment has ramped up in the last few weeks.


This recent phase began back in late July when Texas and Oklahoma announced their move to the SEC. And it has been a trickle-down effect from there.


It hasn't affected lacrosse that much, outside of Cincinnati, who sponsors women's lacrosse, making the move to the Big 12.


But with the trickle-down effect finishing up going through the Group of 5 conferences, it's going to start to affect lacrosse as we start to go through FCS and non-football schools.


The triggering move revolves around James Madison, a member of the CAA. The Dukes, who sponsor women's lacrosse, have been setting their eyes on moving up to the FBS level and specifically the Sun Belt Conference. JMU's Board of Visitors approved the move on Friday, but Virginia's gubernatorial election on Tuesday is the reason why a move hasn't been made official just yet. That should be settled later this week by the Virginia General Assembly's Intercollegiate Athletics Review Commission.


What could this mean for James Madison women's lacrosse?


So assuming everything goes to plan and James Madison becomes a full member of the Sun Belt, that is going to affect their women's lacrosse program. The Sun Belt doesn't sponsor women's lacrosse at the moment and Coastal Carolina (ASUN) and Old Dominion (AAC) are the only other conference members who have women's lacrosse.


It would be surprising if the CAA lets James Madison stay for women's lacrosse. When Robert Morris moved to the Horizon League in 2020, the NEC did not let the Colonials stay in either men's or women's lacrosse. The CAA also would still have six members and keep their automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.


The Dukes, who won a national championship in 2018, will probably be looking for a new conference home. The easiest choice is to be an affiliate member of the American Athletic Conference. And that would benefit both the Dukes and the conference.


Similar to what I expect will happen with JMU and the CAA, Cincinnati's move to the Big 12 will make it tough for the American to keep the Bearcats for women's lacrosse. Cincy's departure means there would be five teams in the conference, one off the minimum for an AQ. Enter James Madison to fill that void. It's a strong geographical fit and helps the overall strength of the conference, especially with a very strong and much-needed challenger to Florida in AAC play. And it can start a local rivalry with in-state and primary conference foe Old Dominion.


So that was the easy part. But there's more.


Report: Liberty heading to Conference USA


As the dominoes continue to fall for Conference USA, Action Network's Brett McMurphy reports that Liberty will "likely" be one of four new all-sports members. New Mexico State along with FCS members Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State are the other three schools linked to the report.


Liberty has been a member of the ASUN since the 2018-19 academic year, coming over from the Big South. The Flames have a women's lacrosse team in the ASUN, reaching the conference title game in 2019 and 2021, losing to Jacksonville on both occasions.


Conference USA does not sponsor women's lacrosse, so like James Madison, Liberty will have to find a new conference home.


Or will they?


The ASUN as it stands now has six members. If Liberty departs, that would leave the conference with five and short of an AQ. They would probably have a two-year grace period to find a sixth member (or a current member to add women's lacrosse) if they haven't found one by the start of the 2023-24 academic year. If Liberty can't stay in the ASUN, logical conference homes include returning to the Big South or an associate membership with the American.


CAA hinting at expansion?


We head back to the CAA for more potential realignment!


As the CAA prepares for the expected departure of James Madison, the conference has reportedly been exploring expansion candidates.


According to John O'Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, schools on the CAA's radar include Fairfield, Hampton, Howard, Monmouth, and UNC Greensboro. Hampton, Howard, and Monmouth all play football. The aforementioned trio, along with Fairfield, also have lacrosse programs (Hampton has men's, Howard has women's, Fairfield and Monmouth have men's and women's). Matt Brown of the Extra Points newsletter has heard Howard and UNC Greensboro gather "the most chatter."


The league is also looking at a two-division arrangement, more than likely featuring a north and a south division.


So let's look at the four lacrosse-playing schools and see how they might fit in the CAA.


Fairfield Stags

Location: Fairfield, Connecticut

Primary conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

Number of teams: 20

Lacrosse school: Yes (Men's in CAA, Women's in MAAC)

Football school: No

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,354

Endowment: $350.8 million


Fairfield is the only one of the four lacrosse schools that doesn't have a football program. They had one from 1996 until 2002. Their endowment would be in the middle of the league (but higher than JMU's $116.7 million).


Currently, men's lacrosse is in the CAA after the ECAC Lacrosse League folded after the 2014 season. They have been linked to joining the CAA in all sports previously. Fairfield left the MAAC in men's lacrosse after the 1999 season and were an independent for a season before joining the Great Western Lacrosse League in 2001. Five years later, they made the jump to the ECAC Lacrosse League before landing where they are today in the CAA.


A complete move to the CAA would benefit Fairfield overall with better competition and the potential to develop rivalries with the CAA's northern members of Northeastern and Hofstra. Fairfield doesn't have a rival in the MAAC, that's even with Quinnipiac residing in Hamden. The travel for some teams will increase with the CAA's footprint spanning from Boston to South Carolina rather than the MAAC's Connecticut to Western New York to New Jersey footprint.


Hampton Pirates

Location: Hampton, Virginia

Primary conference: Big South Conference

Number of teams: 19

Lacrosse school: Yes (Men's in SoCon)

Football school: Yes (Big South)

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,063

Endowment: $282.5 million


Hampton is one of three Division I HBCU schools that are not in the MEAC or SWAC for their primary conference (Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley Conference, North Carolina A&T also in the Big South).


Beginning with the upcoming 2022 season, Hampton's men's lacrosse team will be part of a conference for the first time, joining the SoCon as an associate member. They haven't gotten completely off the ground since beginning play in 2016 and did not play in 2021. New head coach Chazz Woodson has a ton of work to do, but has long-term goals to further development and bring success to the program.


As with all of these rumored candidates, going to the CAA will increase the competition that Hampton would face. Hampton won't be losing rivalries with a move, but they would leave fellow HBCU NC A&T. In terms of lacrosse, they would be at the bottom of the CAA for a longer time than if they would stay in the SoCon.


Howard Bison

Location: Washington, D.C.

Primary conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)

Number of teams: 21

Lacrosse school: Yes (Women's in NEC)

Football school: Yes (MEAC)

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,857

Endowment: $712.4 million


Howard's women's lacrosse program is joining the NEC as an associate member in 2022 after spending time in the ASUN. Similar to the Hampton men, Howard did not play in 2021 and have a new head coach in Karen Healy-Silcott. The program has been around since 2006 and had some success in the early part of last decade, but they haven't defeated a Division I school since 2014 when they beat Delaware State.


Between Howard and Hampton, the Bison would be a better fit for the CAA than the Pirates thanks to a better overall athletic program. Howard's endowment of over $700 million is the largest amongst all HBCUs. The MEAC's footprint goes from the DMV to the Carolinas. Moving to the CAA would increase travel with the CAA's going as north as Boston for most sports (as north as Maine for football).


Monmouth Hawks

Location: West Long Branch, New Jersey

Primary conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

Number of teams: 23

Lacrosse school: Yes (Men's & Women's in MAAC)

Football school: Yes (Big South)

Type: Private University

Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,263

Endowment: $108.5 million


Monmouth has both men's and women's lacrosse in the MAAC since 2014, which was also the inaugural season for the men's program. Previously, the women were in the NEC and won five conference championships, but haven't won a MAAC conference title. The men have won two MAAC championships in 2017 and in 2021.


Surprisingly, the CAA does not have any presence in New Jersey and never had a full-fledged member from the Garden State. The Hawks would be the first, and also bring their football program into the fold which is the best out of the overall group of candidates. Their men's basketball program led by King Rice would also be a great fit. Their endowment of just over $100 million would be on the low-end for the league, but similar to James Madison's.


This could be meaningless in a few weeks or it could lead to more moves across college athletics. Every day brings a new wrinkle. But as schools and their athletic directors look to align with other schools based on profile and geography, this new round of realignment might not be over for quite some time.

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