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The Atlantic Coast Conference once dominated Division I lacrosse, but the Big Ten is closing the gap.

Some say the Big Ten has already arrived.

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"Past history tells us that the ACC was by far the dominant conference along with the independents, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose team is now a member of the Big Ten. "When our sport became exclusively conference driven, the ACC remained at the top. Three years ago, the Big Ten added men's lacrosse as a conference sport. The goal was and is to be the best lacrosse conference in the country.

"In three short years the Big Ten has made unbelievable strides and has positioned itself to be in the conversation as potentially the best conference in lacrosse."

I'd still give the ACC the nod because five of the past seven NCAA champions have come out of the conference including three-time champion Duke. North Carolina and Virginia were the other ACC teams to win the title.

But the Big Ten is charging hard because the commitment and resources allotted to the sport are paying off. In the latest USILA/Nike poll released this week, both conferences had five teams ranked in the Top 20.

The Big Ten was represented by No. 1 Penn State, No. 6 Maryland, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 11 Hopkins and No. 12 Rutgers.

The ACC had No. 2 Syracuse, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 10 Duke, No. 14 Virginia and No. 20 North Carolina. You can get into all of these non-conference records where Big Ten teams were 44-8, and the ACC was 26-10, but that all will be played out in the end.

"To come out and say one conference is clearly better than the other would be premature given there is still much lacrosse to be played and the playoffs will perhaps provide greater clarity as both conferences have a chance to be well represented and will face premier teams," Pietramala said.

The Big Ten has made the most gains from having football heavyweights. Stadiums and facilities in places like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State draw blue chip recruits. The revenue also helps improve other sports.

Michigan is building a lacrosse-only facility and Penn State is spending $8.5 million for lacrosse stadium renovations that include additional seats and a state of the art press box with complete broadcasting capabilities. Ohio State is investing in a $40 million facility to be used by the lacrosse team.

"In the Big Ten you have a lot of schools rich with football tradition and you are seeing more of those resources going to lacrosse," said ESPN analyst Mark Dixon. "Hopkins and Maryland gave the Big Ten respectability but both conferences now have excellent teams, players and coaches. Which conference is better? Wow, that's a tough question."

Maryland and Hopkins gave the Big Ten pedigree, but the ACC is still deep in tradition. Syracuse and North Carolina are two of the most storied programs in college lacrosse and the brand at Notre Dame is unmatched in college sports when it comes to marketing.

Plus, college recruits like to escape south to get away from the cold weather. That can't happen at Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan.

The ACC will always have its charm.

"Both conferences are strong from top to bottom," said North Carolina coach Joe Breschi, who was head coach at Ohio State from 1998 until 2008. "I m not sure about the cross-over records and who plays who, but this all goes in waves. It really tells you where our sport is right now. There is a lot of talent out there and it is all spread around. It's good for the game."

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Michigan coach John Paul said: "We're playing catch-up. As a new program, we're trying to do our part in the Big Ten and catch up to everybody else. I think we've come a long way here and the next few weeks will, I hope, bear that out. But the league is outstanding."

Michigan will get there eventually. The Wolverines have too many resources. But for this season, there is serious doubt about Rutgers and Ohio State being major contenders. Penn State has an explosive offense, but the Nittany Lions' defense is questionable. The Terps are the most balanced team in the Big Ten which makes them the favorite to win the conference title and Hopkins is No. 2.

In the ACC, Norte Dame appears to be the most solid, but Syracuse keeps finding ways to win and Duke has played well lately. It will be interesting to see if Blue Devils coach John Danowski can find some late May magic again.

But in the end, Denver of the Big East might be best team.

"As of right now, I still don't know who is going to be in Foxboro [at the Final Four]," Dixon said. "I have an idea but I don't know."

Agreed. But the ACC will be represented. It's still the best. Barely.

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