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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

All Champions Conference

I've posted before about how Hopkins to the ACC as a lacrosse-only member could be an interesting power play that no one is thinking of. It has remained on my mind for a bit, and this weekend, watching future conference game UVA-Syracuse, I continued to think about just how much sense it could make.

First of all, I know that the only thing that would lead either the ACC or Hopkins to even consider this would be money. To oversimplify things, the addition would have to be more than six times more lucrative than Hopkins' solo TV deal, or, for the ACC, add more than 1/5 the total value of the league with Duke, UNC, UVA, UMCP, and Syracuse. This doesn't get into anything more complicated or nuanced about the way the league splits revenue, but you get the picture. But with the impending addition of Syracuse and hypothetical addition Hopkins, the ACC in lacrosse would likely become the single most dominant conference in any collegiate sport.

Some may argue that ACC lacrosse is already that, and poised to solidify that position with the addition of Syracuse. But four teams do not a conference make, even if they try to justify it by holding the tournament of redundancy tournament each season, and even at five teams they fall short of the minimum to earn the AQ that has been unnecessary for the teams assembled. But at six members, there would be no question to their conference status.

While there would be no need for any sort of divisional structure in a six team conference, things do put themselves into neat little packages. The six teams consist of three rivalry pairs: Carolina-Duke. College Park-Hopkins. UVA-Syracuse. Each pairing is public vs. private, and save for UVA-Syracuse, driven by geographic proximity.Rivalries extend beyond that as well. Hopkins and Syracuse are the two programs with the most titles, and until the advent of Big East lacrosse a couple years ago, were both high-powered independents. Hopkins already regularly schedules UVA and has had tilts with Duke and Carolina as well. And based upon basketball success, Syracuse has oft-unrequited natural rivalries with Duke and Carolina that will likely come to a head with conference membership. Syracuse will also carry the banner of upstate NY lacrosse into Maryland when facing the Jays and Terps.

But the most key piece of this partnership is the level of competition, and this would be the reason it could prove lucrative for all parties involved. ESPN has already shown that they value the Hopkins program with an exclusive TV deal with ESPNU. They also televise Syracuse-UVA on ESPN proper while most lacrosse is relegated to ESPNU or ESPN3. The conference games you'd add, plus conceivably a tournament for the ages--a four team tournament prestigious enough to leave out two of the league's powerhouses--would make ACC lacrosse quite attractive. And, of course, there's the NCAA tournament, which routinely outpaces nearly every other NCAA tournament. If you consider that this league would likely occupy six of the 16 spots in the tournament and has always to this point been represented (often twice) in the championship game, I think both parties stand to gain from the association. In a landscape where ACC football has seen better days, the conference may very well be able to parlay lacrosse into an additional revenue sport.
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