The Big Ten finished last season with three teams ranked in the top 20 in RPI – the second-highest number by a league trailing only the Atlantic Coast Conference's five representatives.
The Big Ten's newest program – Johns Hopkins' women's lacrosse team, which finished with the No. 17 RPI – would have given the league four teams in the top 20, and the addition of the Blue Jays was welcomed by Big Ten commissioner James A. Delany, who visited the school's campus on Friday morning.
"I think it's another quality program," Delany said as he stood on a balcony at the Cordish Lacrosse Center overlooking Homewood Field. "I think the competition between Maryland and Hopkins is strong, and I think it will grow with Penn State and Rutgers and Ohio State and Michigan. Northwestern has had a great deal of success, and there's competition there. So I think that anytime you can add quality student-athletes, quality programs, you're going to build that sport."
When Johns Hopkins announced June 17 that the women's team would join the conference as an affiliate member beginning in the spring of 2017, the announcement was accompanied by a statement from Delany. Friday's visit was his opportunity to meet the women's and men's teams in person.
The impromptu visit forced Blue Jays women's coach Janine Tucker to cut short a breakfast with some alums in New York, but she was grateful for Delany's decision to wait for her and then meet the coaches and players.
"It demonstrates his commitment to adding Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse and men's lacrosse to the Big Ten," Tucker said Friday afternoon after she had returned to Baltimore and talked to Delany. "He is extremely interested in our student-athletes and the university, our program. Taking the time to meet with us and our girls and our staff and our administration just really speaks volumes about how dedicated he is to growing the Big Ten, which is such a premier conference. We really appreciated spending time with him and meeting him."
The Johns Hopkins men's team began play in the Big Ten this past spring and captured a share of the regular-season title and the league's inaugural tournament championship. Previously, the program had competed as an independent.
Three men's teams and four women's programs qualified for the NCAA tournament in May, and Delany said the conference hopes to build on that success.
"For us, we had a tremendous inaugural year on the men's side, and we've had some success on the women's side," he said. "I think we really couldn't have asked for more. I think it enhances the experience for our athletes, I think it enhances the experience for Hopkins' athletes. I think it's a growth sport. It's very established here, but it's growing in the Midwest, and I think the Big Ten Network has been committed and will continue to be committed. I'm hoping that between the quality of play and the visibility and the Big Ten brand, we'll really be able to over time make it better than it already is."
The Blue Jays have scheduled regular-season games against Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in 2016, but Tucker emphasized that the program has one more year as an independent before joining the Big Ten.
"So frankly, we're not focused on the Big Ten," she said. "We're focused on this season and what our seniors are trying to accomplish as we wrap up our independent status. So I think that's something that we're really trying hard to be honored and respectful of the opportunity that the Big Ten represents, but also be realistic that it's not for another year. So we're really trying to focus on what this year will bring for us as an independent."