Conference realignment has made college athletics like that car ride to a family reunion when your child sarcastically asks, “All right, who are these people and how am I related to them?”
The family gatherings will be larger this spring in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, as it’s up to 10 members for men’s lacrosse through the 2023-24 season. It is tied with the ASUN for most members, but the ASUN wins the prize for geographical spread, as that league includes, among others, Robert Morris, Jacksonville and Utah.
The natural result of this is that Siena will start its conference schedule earlier than it perhaps would like to, but head coach Liam Gleason realizes it’s for a limited time.
When last we left the 2022 MAAC men’s season, the league consisted of Siena, Canisius, Quinnipiac, Marist, Manhattan, Monmouth and St. Bonaventure. Monmouth left for the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Atlantic-10 formed a men’s lacrosse league, taking member St. Bonaventure with it. Suddenly, that put the MAAC at five schools, and you need six in order to get an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
Then several things happened at almost the same time – the Southern Conference and Northeast Conference both dissolved men’s lacrosse, and Mount St. Mary’s, formerly of the NEC, accepted full membership into the MAAC. So the MAAC took Virginia Military Institute from the SoCo as a two-year associate member – VMI had been a member of the MAAC for men’s lacrosse from 2003-2014 – along with NEC members Long Island University, Wagner and Sacred Heart for two years, and Mount St. Mary’s joined.
It brings to mind Sesame Street’s 10 chocolate layer cakes skit which asks the musical question, “How many is 10?”
Well, 10 is so many that it cuts into Siena’s non-league schedule. Last year, Siena had eight non-league games, seven of them starting before the first league game on March 20. This year, Siena has just four non-league games, and its MAAC slate begins March 11.
“For us as a coaching staff, it’s, ‘Oh my goodness, look at this, it’s 10 teams,’ and then you start to break down how you can make this work. Because you’re limited to 17 contests, and that includes scrimmages. Most teams play 13 or 14 regular-season games,” Gleason said.
After suddenly growing so much, the coaches had to decide whether everyone would play each other or not. They voted to do so. They also voted to expand the league tournament from four to six teams, with the top two receiving first-round byes. That’s the same as the league does for women’s lacrosse, which has nine teams.
“But we have nine Saturdays available and nine league opponents,” Gleason said, “and that would affect the non-conference schedule, so we voted to have everyone’s two closest games be Wednesdays, so for us that’s Canisius and Marist.”
To clarify, it’s more like every team’s closest game is a guaranteed Wednesday. For Siena, that’s Marist. For Canisius, it’s Siena. So even though Siena is closer to the downstate schools, it will travel to Canisius – 285 miles away – on Wednesday, March 29.
“We’re excited, but at the same time, a lot of coaches miss some of their non-league games they’d established,” Gleason said. “Like, we don’t get to play Army this year, and I enjoyed having that game.”
Gleason said all the teams will be able to see each other’s non-league games on tape before the league contests start, so that will help give a little familiarity, but he admitted it’s going to be a different year.
“You kind of get used to your conference opponents, their personnel, their tendencies, their culture,” Gleason said. “We’re going to have to get familiar with new teams a little better throughout the season. The competition will be good; I don’t think there are any teams coming in that aren’t capable. And the MAAC is usually one of the leagues with the most parity. Every year it seems like any team can win it.”
One of the reasons the MAAC set the two-year limit for its associate members is that member Iona announced it’s adding men’s lacrosse, with the goal of starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. That would bring the league to seven full-time members playing the sport; enough to have an automatic qualifier, but not so many that it turns the regular season into a gantlet.
“And that’s the song of 10.”
Contact Will Springstead at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @WLSpringstead.