Move to Big Ten leaves Maryland lax teams without a conference

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Sports,Campus Confidential,Kevin Dunleavy

Maryland women’s lacrosse coach Cathy Reese was settling in for a relaxing vacation at Disney World. Then came news of her school’s move from the ACC to the Big Ten. Welcome to a wide ride in TomorrowLand.

“I couldn’t have picked a worse week to go away on a family vacation,” Reese said on a Tuesday conference call. “I’m standing outside a pool right now in Florida.”

Reese is one of several coaches at Maryland who were blindsided by the news. She and men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman guide teams in the nation’s most competitive lacrosse league. In the last five years in the NCAA final four, 11 men’s and nine women’s teams from the ACC have filled the 20 slots.

The move to the Big Ten leaves both teams without a conference in which to play. There aren’t enough schools in the Big Ten that field men’s or women’s lacrosse teams. Tillman is taking the news in stride, pointing to the changing landscape in college sports.

“If you reflect back to the (2012) final four, of the four teams left playing championship weekend, three of them are no longer in the same conference,” Tillman said referring to his team, Notre Dame, and Loyola. “My gut says a lot more is going to change. What we want to do is anticipate some of that change and as that change happens, figure out what that means for us and our schedule.”

Tillman said he isn’t leaning toward joining a conference or becoming independent. Arch-rival Johns Hopkins has long been the NCAA model for remaining independent and achieving success.

The only schools that play men’s lacrosse in the Big Ten are the three easternmost – Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Rutgers, which also joins the league in 2014, also fields a team. None of the schools’ however, can approach the tradition and success of Maryland.

In the ACC, Maryland faced perennial top-10 men’s powers Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina. With Syracuse and Notre Dame set to join the league, the ACC was building a lacrosse super conference. Now there is one missing.

Tillman hopes to keep as many ACC teams on his schedule as possible and doesn’t sound apprehensive about being able to schedule those games.

“Those kids love those games. They look forward to them. They’re games that are televised,” Tillman said. “Having Maryland on your schedule has never been a bad thing. I think it’s something that if we go to someone else’s campus and the University of Maryland is playing, it’s probably a good thing.”

In women’s lacrosse, with seven NCAA titles in the last eight years, Northwestern is the strongest team in the nation. Ohio State and Penn State have competitive, top-20 teams, but those are the only Big Ten schools that field teams. All play in the American Lacrosse Conference, which also includes Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and Florida.

By 2014, however, when Maryland is set to join the Big Ten, the league will have six schools playing lacrosse including Michigan and Rutgers, which joined the Big Ten the day after Maryland.

“I would love to see the Big Ten go toward a lacrosse conference,” Reese said. “But I have no idea what’s going to happen. All of this has come down so quickly.”

Although there is much uncertainty, there are few apprehensions for Reese who called the move to the Big Ten a “great opportunity” especially considering the exposure provided by the Big Ten Network, which broadcasts games in many sports aside from football and basketball.

Reese is buoyed by Maryland’s status as a national powerhouse. Her program draws recruits from all over the country and beyond.

“We’re Maryland lacrosse and we’ve been a program that’s been strong based on our tradition,” Reese said. “The success we’ve had hasn’t happened from being part of a conference.”

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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