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Maryland-Johns Hopkins lacrosse matchup makes Big Ten look good for adding Blue Jays

When Maryland announced in November, 2012 that it would be joining the Big Ten Conference, there was some consternation among the school's coaches — at least behind closed doors — about losing the long-standing rivalries in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Taking the hardest hit was the perennially ranked men's lacrosse team, which was leaving behind a league deep in talent for one that barely could scrape together enough programs to qualify under NCAA guidelines.

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A move to help Maryland keep its recruiting base and its fan base strong came a few months after the initial announcement, when Johns Hopkins was added to the Big Ten for men's lacrosse.

On Saturday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will preside over the second NCAA tournament semifinal game in Philadelphia like a proud parent, when the Terps and Blue Jays meet at Lincoln Financial Field.

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"For year one, it's been a great year," Delany said in a telephone interview. "Hopkins has been a great addition to our lacrosse program. We knew of Maryland's tradition. …We're in a new area in the country and we know how important lacrosse is there.

"When we thought through the quality of Hopkins academically, their location, their history and tradition with lacrosse, we wanted to explore it. It's worked out as well as we could have imagined. You don't see too many games where the two teams have all those national championships between them [11]."

Considering that the Maryland women's lacrosse team also reached the final four, Delany said, "It's an auspicious start for us."

Delany compared the Maryland-Johns Hopkins rivalry to North Carolina-Duke in basketball or Michigan-Ohio State in football.

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"Call it what you will, that's one heck of a tradition when Maryland and Hopkins play," Delany said.

Still, Maryland coach John Tillman said on a conference call this week that having different teams and conferences in the national semifinals is important for the growth of the sport. He isn't surprised that the Big Ten is well represented in its first year as a lacrosse league.

"I think it was inevitable. You just have all these great institutions that are attractive to young people, and you have great coaches, and they're getting a lot of support," Tillman said. "I think if you look at the schools that have been going to the final four, you're always going to have those traditional teams that will be there. Yet when you go out and you hire great coaches like [Denver's] Bill Tierney and [Notre Dame's] Kevin Corrigan and you have great brands and then you support them, it's inevitable that you are going to have these schools in the conversation and at the table. So it forces everybody to work harder and everybody to really step up their commitment. I think it's a great thing for lacrosse in general."

With the popularity of the sport growing nationally, talk of Big Ten schools without lacrosse programs adding men's and/or women's teams is starting to percolate.

"I think typically our schools have pretty good balance, male and female," Delany said. "If they were to go that way, they would have to add two. They know how popular the sport is. Without betraying confidences, there are schools that don't have it that would like to have it if it can be put together in a way that makes sense from a fiscal and Title IX perspective."

Delany said that there have been "some discussions" about adding the Johns Hopkins women's team, currently playing as an independent, to the Big Ten. Delany described the interest as "mutual".

How long it will take both the school and the Big Ten to get there is being determined.

"They would have to be willing and we would have to be willing, but they've got a great communication there and we will have [more of] those discussions," Delany said. "We'll have to see how it all plays out. It's a function of their interest, timing and getting all the ducks in a row. We said, 'Let's talk when you're ready to talk.'"

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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