BALTIMORE --- Maryland needed a new lacrosse home. Johns Hopkins wanted one for the first time.
It turns out the answer to both schools’ desires were tied partially in the other.
The Big Ten will sponsor lacrosse for the first time in 2015, and Hopkins will be a part of it as the conference’s first associate member in more than a century. Maryland will be one of the five full Big Ten members to participate as well. All of it formally unfolded Monday after about six months of discussion.
And just like that, one of the country’s most recognizable conferences is in the lacrosse business thanks largely to two schools part of one of the sport’s grandest rivalries.
“The people at Maryland are the ones that suggested this to us,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “Immediately the light went off because of the academic standing of Johns Hopkins University, because of the standing of their lacrosse program, the location of the university and the fact we’re going to be in this region for decades. To us, it was an opportunity.”
Yes, this makes sense for the Big Ten. Regardless of attendance numbers at last month’s final four, lacrosse still has growth potential. Few schools can invest as much in improving their programs as Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and they’ve already started doing so. Rutgers, if it ever figures things out, also possesses considerable upside.
Ohio State made its second quarterfinal appearance since 2008 this spring. Penn State hosted an NCAA tournament game for the first time last month. Michigan just completed its second season after elevating from club status, but history suggests the Wolverines aren’t in the game simply to have a program.
This will not be a breeze for Hopkins, which chose to affiliate with a group of schools that figure to get better rather than stagnate in the years to come. The gleaming Cordish Lacrosse Center is a magnificent building and symbol of the Blue Jays’ commitment to the sport. But there’s no guarantee it’s enough.
“We stood up at the top of the mountain and said ‘Lacrosse is important here,’ and it is,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “Playing against and competing with and being associated with programs that have those fiscal resources that will probably continue to pour some money into their programs, I think that forces us --- as we’re a part of that --- we want to continue to maintain and exceed.”
However it works out, Hopkins will always have its rival 35 miles to the south to thank for helping to ignite this possibility. Maryland needed to find a men’s lacrosse home (since six current or soon-to-be full members sponsor women’s lacrosse, that program was always in a less anxious place), and athletic director Kevin Anderson called his counterpart at Hopkins in December.
“It was intriguing,” Blue Jays athletic director Tom Calder said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think much about Ohio State and Penn State except when we play them in lacrosse. When you think about it, they’re pretty nice institutions.”
Hopkins’ decision to forego independence changes the course of its own program, but it solves some things for Maryland as well. The Terps won’t face the awkward scheduling situation of an independent, will have access to an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament and will maintain their most prominent rivalry.
Maryland will have a home, in part because of its own assertiveness in the weeks after it announced it would bolt the ACC.
“There were a lot of questions about Maryland lacrosse and Kevin said ‘This would be good for us,’” Delany said. “And I said ‘I think it would be good for us, too. How do we make it happen?’”
Ultimately, that meant saying yes to all of Hopkins’ concerns. Could the Blue Jays keep their ESPNU deal? Yes. Could they maintain some of their traditional rivals (though which ones are still to be determined)? Yes.
The Big Ten did its part. Then Hopkins, with that early assist from Maryland, did the same.
“It’s been the Hatfields and McCoys for years, but if you ask us, we have tremendous respect for the University of Maryland and make no mistake, that’s always been an important game to us. …,” Pietramala said. “The fact that they were the ones that maybe kicked this into gear, I think the feeling is mutual and it’s good to know is as important to them and their history as it is to ours.”
--- Patrick Stevens