How the MAAC could reach 10 men's teams and be just fine
A few days ago, I wrote about NJIT and Robert Morris' conference moves and how a new conference could come out of it. The Colonials would be one of the six teams in that new conference.
Monday's official announcement from Robert Morris did not mention anything about the men's and women's lacrosse teams. The Horizon League does not sponsor lacrosse. The only other sport affected by the move was football, but they'll become an affiliate member of the Big South in 2021. Football will spend 2020 as an independent.
AD Chris King said the university is still looking for conference affiliations for both programs and hopes to have an answer soon. Multiple sources told me shortly after Monday's press conference that Robert Morris was looking for an affiliate membership with the MAAC for at least men's lacrosse. Any chance that the Colonials stay in the NEC are very slim.
With all of this, the NEC would be at eight teams. They could still do a division format, but it probably would be best to eliminate that entirely, especially with Merrimack still three years away from achieving full Division I status. Chances are they'll go back to the format they had last in 2019 (top four teams advance to conference tournament).
For the women's program, the MAC would be their best option as an affiliate member and it comes at a perfect time. The MAC will begin sponsoring women's lacrosse in time for the 2021 season with full members Akron, Central Michigan, and Kent State being joined by affiliates Detroit Mercy and Youngstown State. Both affiliate members are also members of the Horizon League. Eastern Michigan will join for the 2022 season. But if the MAC wants an AQ right away, the Colonials are an easy fit for that conference.
On the men's side, the MAAC is the best option currently available for the Colonials. They would have opponents such as Canisius, Detroit Mercy, and St. Bonaventure that are closer to them geographically. If Robert Morris is added, there would be nine teams in the conference, tied with the Patriot League for the most in Division I lacrosse. Especially with the current situation with COVID-19, it might be a little risky to take another team that's away from the group of Tri-State area programs.
But there's a possible way to make this a little easier for everyone, and that's by adding rather than subtracting.
Cleveland State has been an independent program for their entire history dating back to their first season in 2017. They've tried to get into a conference as well but to no avail, including the MAAC on at least two occasions. But this time could be the way to get in.
One of the big problems facing Cleveland State is that it's a public institution. The rest of the MAAC are all private schools. But the MAAC currently has a couple of public schools as affiliate members, with Albany in women's golf and VMI in women's water polo. So they shouldn't be completely shut out because of that.
Now for the positives. Adding Cleveland State would not only give the Vikings a solid conference home and some program stability, but it could also give the MAAC some help.
The addition of both Cleveland State and Robert Morris would result in the opportunity for the MAAC to create two divisions, one in the east and one in the west.
The eastern division would consist of Manhattan, Marist, Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and Siena. The western division would consist of Canisius, Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Robert Morris, and St. Bonaventure.
Conference play would consist of six games, four of them against the other division rivals. Two of them would be against teams in the other division, with a game at home and on the road. The top two teams in each division would face off against each other in the conference semifinals, with the winners playing each other in the MAAC title game. It sounds very ideal.
One potential problem that could arise with the division model is the number of affiliate programs in the west division. All five east division programs are full MAAC members, while four of the five west division teams would be affiliate members, with Canisius being the only full member.
But if the SoCon can have more than half of their members affiliate members, some of them because of a partnership with the Atlantic Sun, this shouldn't be a problem whatsoever.
Adding both Robert Morris and Cleveland State would give the winner of the MAAC Tournament a better chance to avoid the play-in game prior to taking on the top overall seed. The MAAC champion has been in a play-in game every year since 2014, including the last three seasons when there was only one play-in game. The MAAC and NEC have usually played in the play-in game, but the America East could be participating more.