Conference Realignment Hits Division I Men’s Lacrosse

It’s been a very busy spring in Division I lacrosse as multiple D-I schools will join new conferences next season, as the Atlantic 10 has just added lacrosse as a sponsored men’s sport, forcing two other conferences, the Northeastern Conference (NEC) and the Southern Conference (SoCon), to drop lacrosse for men for next season, as both conferences lost members to the A-10.

The new Atlantic 10 lacrosse conference will create a new NCAA auto-bid. Atlantic 10 full members Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) University, (last year’s Northeastern Conference (NEC) champ), the University Massachusetts-Amherst, from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University, from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ( MAAC ) and the University of Richmond from the Southern Conference (SoCon) already have D-I men’s lacrosse programs.  They will be joined by two new A-10 affiliate members, High Point (N.C.) University (former SoCon) and Hobart (N.Y.) College (from the NEC). Early media reports had indicated the possibility that Fairfield (Conn.) University joins the A-10 as an affiliate, but that has not been the case to date  The Stags are a full member of the MAAC and an affiliate of the CAA in men’s lacrosse.

With the demise of the NEC in lax, Long Island (N.Y.) University, Sacred Heart (Conn.) University, Mount St. Mary’s (Md.) University and Wagner (N.Y.) University, all former NEC members, all found homes in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) for 2023, as will Virginia Military Institute (a former SoCon member) as a new MAAC affiliate member.

“In this period of significant conference realignment, the MAAC aims to provide a transition process for regional lacrosse programs that need temporary league affiliation,” commissioner Rich Ensor said on May 3.

Former NEC member Bryant (R.I.) University found a soft landing in America East next year.  

In other conference  news, Queens (N.C.) University and Lindenwood (Mo.) University will both be elevating men’s lacrosse from D-II to become D-I programs and will be joining the Atlantic Sun (ASUN) conference, which will also add Mercer (Ga.) University and Jacksonville (Fla.) University, both fleeing from the SoCon.

Hampton (Va.) University (SoCon), Monmouth (N.J.) University (MAAC ) and Stony Brook (N.Y.) University (America East) will join all the Colonial Athletic Association in lacrosse next season, and former NEC member Merrimack (Mass.) College  also looks to find a new conference home in the coming weeks.

All in all, with two conferences leaving the sport and one entering, there will be a net loss of one NCAA auto-bid next season. That reality could help the Denver Pioneers, as there will now be one more at-large bid available to those programs who don’t win their conference AQ.

Currently, there are only nine D-I men’s conferences slated to play next season – the A-10, America East, ASUN, Big East, Big Ten, CAA, Ivy League, MAAC, and Patriot League. 

With only nine AQs, the NCAA Tournament will likely return to the one play-in game format that was in place from 2016 to 2019.

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