ACC expansion provides Duke lacrosse with national championship flashback
Duke won’t have to wait long to revisit its path to the 2013 national championship.
The Blue Devils fought their way through Notre Dame in the quarterfainls en route to upending Syracuse for Duke’s second national championship in program history. Both the Orange and Fighting Irish officially joined the ACC July 1, stocking the conference even deeper with lacrosse superpowers.
“The ACC has always had a proud history where all four members have been extremely competitive over the years,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “One could argue that this will be maybe the toughest lacrosse conference in the history of the sport.”
The ACC has been at the pinnacle of college lacrosse since its inception. Last season, three of the ACC’s four teams made the NCAA tournament and were seeded fifth, sixth and seventh. Throw the top two seeds—including the NCAA’s all-time winningest program in Syracuse—into the mix for the 2014 season, and the sport’s most dangerous conference has just become more competitive than ever.
Next season, the ACC’s six lacrosse members will own a combined 26 national championships.
“We’re extremely excited about the quality of play and competition,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “Now the ACC is going to be a bit more represented in the North and the Midwest. It’s going to be an adjustment for us in terms of some travel, but we’re excited to be on some new campuses.”
But playing in a revamped ACC slate will force more adjustments for ACC members than traveling farther distances and playing a tougher conference schedule. Having six teams in the ACC will allow for an expanded ACC Tournament, which will be played for the first time at PPL Park in Chester, Penn., home of the MLS’ Philadelphia Union.
In addition to providing a more centralized, northern location for ACC lacrosse and taking advantage of the modern, 18,500-seat arena in lacrosse-crazy Philadelphia, the conference’s coaches decided to feature a matchup between the ACC’s No. 5 and No. 6 teams. Because that matchup will not technically be a part of the ACC Tournament, it will count towards each program’s allotment of 17 scrimmages and regular-season games.
The conference’s coaches have yet to make a final decision about whether the matchup will be played at PPL Park or on the campuses of one of the participating schools.
ACC members will not know prior to the season whether they will be playing in one of the ACC Tournament’s semifinals—which does not count as a regular season game—or in the matchp between the fifth and sixth seeded teams, causing all six programs to schedule one fewer game as a precaution.
“There’s no way in predicting that, so it’s going to change how we schedule,” Danowski said. “We like to play a lot of games. So it’s going to impact either what we want to do preseason or what we want to do during the season.”
Another luxury ACC members will enjoy next season is an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament for its conference champion—something that only leagues with six members are granted. When Maryland departs for the Big Ten for the 2014-15 academic year, the ACC will be reduced back to five lacrosse members. Danowski said there is a possibility that the ACC’s automatic qualifier could be grandfathered in for a second year, but an NCAA ruling has not yet been made.
In June, lacrosse powerhouse Johns Hopkins announced it would join the Big Ten as the conference’s first lacrosse-only member, which would ensure the conference would remain at six teams. Denver announced a similar move to the Big East a week before.
The ACC has made no push to secure an automatic qualifier in recent years, simply because most—if not all—of its members receive NCAA Tournament at-large bids perenially. Danowski said that it is very unlikely the ACC would puruse a lacrosse-only member to maintain its automatic qualifier past this season.
“I don’t see why the Atlantic Coast Conference would want an outside school hoisting their trophy. To me, that just doesn’t make sense,” Danowski said. “Why would you want a school who’s not all in in your conference be the champion of your conference at the end of the year? I don’t think there’s any reason for discussion.”
Duke’s men’s lacrosse program will likely have an advantage in its transition into the new ACC when compared to other Blue Devil teams. Duke women’s soccer, for example, has never played a game against ACC newcomers Syracuse or Pittsburgh in the history of its program. The Blue Devil men’s lacrosse team, however, has faced Notre Dame in the regular season each of the last four years and in the postseason in three of the last four campaigns. Duke and Syracuse have squared off five times since the 2009 season, including twice in NCAA Tournament play.
“For us, there are no surprises here,” Danowski said. “We are familiar, and it doesnt seem like it’s a huge jump to us.”