Maryland’s decision to join the Big Ten last year prompted plenty of speculation about how the school’s most popular sports – football and men’s basketball – would fare in a new conference.
But it also prompted this important question: What about lacrosse?
Given Maryland’s impressive lacrosse history, the future course of the Terps – who would Maryland play? – was among the most important unresolved questions raised by the conference shift.
“We sat down and went through a lot of different options,” Maryland men’s coach John Tillman said Monday. “We really left no stone unturned.”
For years, the Maryland men’s and women’s teams prospered in the potent Atlantic Coast Conference. At the time Maryland announced its Big Ten decision – November 2012 – the Big Ten did not field the required number of lacrosse-playing members to qualify for a conference championship on the men’s side. It left Tillman saying in December that he was taking a “wait-and-see” approach. There was little else for him to say.
That all changed with word that Maryland rival Johns Hopkins has agreed to become the sixth Big Ten men’s lacrosse member as an affiliate beginning in 2015.
The move not only provides Maryland a home, it also pairs the two prominent state rivals – the Terps and Blue Jays – together along with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
“Seeing the success that some of the Big Ten teams had this year -- most notably Penn State and Ohio State being seeded teams in the NCAA tournament -- those teams have done a very good job, are well coached and are really good programs,” Tillman said. “Those teams you know give your conference some formidable programs that are tough teams that going to help your RPI and strength of schedule.”
The women’s Big Ten will be comprised of Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and Northwestern. The alignment will match two dominant programs – Maryland and Northwestern -- in regular games. Maryland has won 10 national championships. Northwestern has seven NCAA titles, including five straight from 2005 to 2009 and most recently in 2012.
“We have some rivalries currently,” Maryland women’s coach Cathy Reese said. “We play Penn State currently and have played them for years, and we have the opportunity to develop new rivalries with different teams.”
We know how much the Big Ten wanted Maryland -– badly enough that its package included a a subsidy in the range of $20 million to $30 million to offset Maryland athletic teams' anticipated higher travel costs. The Big Ten was eager to gain a larger footprint in the Baltimore-Washington television market.
But how about the chance to use Maryland’s entry as a catalyst to begin offering fast-growing lacrosse as a conference sport? The Terps men and women will be anchors of the new alignment, along with the Johns Hopkins men and Northwestern women.
“I think part of our goal is to help expand the game and help the game grow,” Tillman said. “On top of a very competitive league and a league that will challenge us to be our very best, it is an opportunity to help the sport of lacrosse grow and get to more and more areas and that’s something we’re excited about.”