ECAC fights to survive amid desertions

Automatic bid in danger with league in turmoil

Men's notebook

College Lacrosse

April 23, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Eastern College Athletic Conference is men's college lacrosse's strongest league - and its shakiest.

When the NCAA policy of conference champions receiving automatic qualification for a postseason tournament was applied to men's lacrosse, some strange bedfellows got together in 2000 and formed a league under the auspices of the ECAC.

Next month's 16-team NCAA tournament could include four from the conference, but instead of a celebration, this spring is last call for the ECAC as we know it.

UMBC's planned move to America East has come to fruition, and the Retrievers will be favored to win that conference in 2004. Navy is an all-sports member of the Patriot League and figures to play there next spring, which will heighten its rivalry with Army.

Minus those two charter members, the ECAC will lose the automatic NCAA bid that is its reason for being.

The ECAC has attempted to shore its ranks, but independent Loyola has declined an invitation. The ECAC could try to add Hobart, which is being cast out of the Patriot League, and Fairfield, the Connecticut college that is a geographical misfit in the Great Western Lacrosse League.

In the interim, other ECAC members are being pursued. Massachusetts might be headed to the Colonial Athletic Association, which includes Delaware, Hofstra and Towson, whose football teams are affiliated with the Minutemen in the Atlantic 10 Conference. There have also been discussions between the CAA and Rutgers.

The other members of the ECAC are Penn State and Georgetown, and if the Great Western were to lose Fairfield, it might make a run at the Nittany Lions.

Disregard any rumors about Georgetown going to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Several times in the 1990s, the ACC explored adding associate members, specifically Johns Hopkins and Loyola.

Among the six major conferences that steer Division I athletics, the ACC is the only one that sponsors men's lacrosse, and the powers that be in the league had no interest in seeing an outsider carry the banner of ACC champion.

Nonetheless, the ACC could expand beyond four teams, and it isn't talking about adding just anybody. To strengthen football, the ACC wants to raid the Big East Conference; overtures have been made to Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech and none other than Syracuse.

As for the ECAC this season, No. 4 Massachusetts and No. 5 Georgetown stand as good a shot as any of joining the big three of Hopkins, Princeton and Virginia in the final four.

No. 7 Rutgers registered nonconference wins at Towson and Syracuse. UMBC will finish in a fifth-place tie with Navy, but its 6-0 nonconference mark includes victories over Towson and North Carolina.

The Retrievers are the only team to win at No. 15 Penn State in the past two months.

Orange streaks

Any designs on a crowd of 40,000 at Ravens Stadium on Memorial Day weekend include the presence of Syracuse. It has been to 20 straight final fours, but that's not the Orange streak the sport is talking about.

Syracuse has lost its past two games, to Rutgers and Hofstra, and it has to play at Massachusetts on Saturday. The Minutemen last beat the Orangemen in 1981, which is when Syracuse happened to lose three in a row.

Michael Powell wasn't born until 1982. The ace attackman was limited to an assist by Hofstra in an 8-6 loss April 17 that was Syracuse's lowest output since 1991.

After Massachusetts, the Orangemen must go to Georgetown. Everyone is waiting for Syracuse to turn on a switch like it did in 1999, when the Orangemen entered the NCAAs with a 9-4 record and ran off three straight wins before losing to Virginia in the final.

Almost in

Some will have to sweat out the at-large selection process May 4, when the NCAA tournament field is announced. Others can take care of business by wrapping up conference titles and automatic berths.

In the Patriot League, Army can earn its first bid since 1996 with a win at lowly Lafayette on April 29. Ohio State can clinch its first berth, out of the Great Western, with a win at Butler on Saturday. If the Buckeyes lose in Indianapolis for the fifth straight time, however, Notre Dame would reign, thanks to its earlier victory over Denver.

Closer to home, Towson has the home-field advantage for the CAA tournament, which will be conducted April 30 and May 3. A win over VMI on Saturday would give Mount St. Mary's the top seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Associate members can't serve as host to the MAAC tournament, so the Mountaineers will have to win in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on May 2 and 4 to earn their first trip to the NCAAs.

The week ahead

Team (W-L) Schedule Paul McMullen's skinny

Johns Hopkins (9-1) at Towson, Saturday, 7 p.m. The nine points Kyle Barrie collected against Navy were the most by a Blue Jay since Dan Denihan had 11 against Towson in 1999.

Loyola (6-5) at Hobart, Saturday, noon A visit to the Statesmen should be a tonic for the Greyhounds, who have averaged 17 goals in four straight wins over the Patriot League team.

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