The Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program plans to surrender its status as an independent and join a conference, the university announced Friday.
The Blue Jays have competed independently for 130 years, winning nine NCAA championships and qualifying for 41 consecutive NCAA tournaments before getting left out of the postseason earlier this month.
In a letter to the Johns Hopkins community and posted on the school’s website, president Ronald J. Daniels said he accepted the recommendation of a seven-member special committee that proposed that the program pursue a conference affiliation.
“I agree with the committee’s analysis and have accepted its recommendations,” Daniels wrote. “[Athletic director] Tom Calder and [head coach] Dave Pietramala are also in agreement.”
The committee’s recommendation also included several criteria for pursuing conference alignment — an initial membership term of five years, an option to extend membership after the first three years, a guarantee that the university’s affiliation would remain unchanged despite movement within the conference, and a guarantee that the school’s agreement with ESPNU would not be impacted.
Calder said there is no timetable for finding a conference, but Pietramala said he would like the program to begin conference play in 2015.
Pietramala declined to reveal which conferences have reached out to the Blue Jays and said university officials have to conduct their own research.
“There is a host of things that I think we need to look at to make an educated and appropriate decision, and obviously, we haven’t done all of that just yet,” he said. “There are a number of conferences out there that offer a lot of these things. We just have to figure out which one is best. Additionally, we have to figure out which ones want us. That plays a role in this as well.”
While the committee’s report said the athletic department wants to maintain traditional rivalries with Maryland, Navy, Loyola, Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina, Calder conceded that longstanding series with other opponents may be in jeopardy once the school joins a conference.
“It’s going to be hard to keep some of these people on our schedule,” he said. “We really want to, but there could be things that — as things develop — are out of our control between playing in a different conference, championships at a certain point. That will all play out later, and we want to do everything we can to continue to play those schools.”
The Blue Jays’ planned move is the latest in conference realignment in men’s lacrosse.
Loyola, which won the national title last year, said three months later that it would switch from the Eastern College Athletic Conference to the Patriot League for the 2014 season. In November, Maryland and Rutgers announced that they would join the Big Ten.
ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who had previously advocated for Johns Hopkins remaining independent, said he had recently changed his stance.
“I always thought and looked at them almost like Notre Dame football and that their independent status had tradition to it and had a certain type of unique feel,” Calcaterra said. “However, the landscape of college lacrosse has drastically changed. With all of the increased [automatic qualifier] conferences, there are so few at-large opportunities for Hopkins, compared to what it was in the past, that they don’t really have a choice.”
Although a Big Ten Conference for men’s lacrosse has yet to be formed, the Terps and Rutgers would join Michigan (a member of the ECAC), Ohio State (ECAC) and Penn State (Colonial Athletic Association) as schools that compete in men’s lacrosse.
A league requires six teams to get an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament, and the addition of Johns Hopkins would satisfy that requirement.
Another possible destination is the Atlantic Coast Conference, which will consist of Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia. The ECAC, which could be left with Air Force, Bellarmine, Denver, Fairfield and Hobart if Michigan and Ohio State depart, could also seek to add the Blue Jays.
And the Big East, which is losing Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse, could make a play for Johns Hopkins.
By joining a conference with at least six teams, the Blue Jays increase their chances of making the NCAA tournament due to the possibility of an automatic qualifier.
Carcaterra pointed to Towson as an example of a school that had little chance of earning an at-large bid but still qualified for the postseason after upsetting Penn State to win the CAA tournament and the accompanying automatic qualifier.
“They had an opportunity to play and earn the right to play in the NCAA tournament, and they did,” Carcaterra said. “Hopkins wasn’t even an option heading into that last week of the season. It just gives you some flexibility where, if things don’t go as planned during the course of the regular season, there’s still hope for the players and coaching staff to continue play.”
The proposed move involves only the men’s lacrosse team. The women’s lacrosse team, which is currently a member of the American Lacrosse Conference, will become a Division I independent for next season, and the rest of the athletic squads will remain in Division III.