Maryland’s lacrosse schedule is changing as the Terrapins keep an eye on RPI and strength of schedule implications. And that could mean the end of some long-running local rivalries.
While the Terps add Hartford and Villanova this spring and will add Stony Brook (in 2013 and 2014) and Syracuse (when the Orange eventually begin ACC play), they’ve dropped Towson from their schedule. UMBC, a Friday or Saturday game for most of the last two decades, will be played on a Tuesday in March.
“We really need to play a national schedule in terms of getting to different areas strategically and geographically so we get seen by certain recruits and alums and our fanbase and get the exposure we feel like we need to help our program continue to grow and be where we want it to be,” coach John Tillman said.
There are also postseason implications as well. Maryland advanced to the national title game last year, but did so as an unseeded team even after winning the ACC tournament. The Terps were forced to play a first-round game on the road, largely because of a weakened RPI and strength of schedule.
Three of Maryland’s in-state opponents – Navy, Towson and UMBC – endured losing seasons. Towson went 3-10 to tie a school record for non-forfeited losses in a season, while Navy lost nine games in a year for the first time.
In a sport when schedules are rarely changed on a large scale, Maryland’s change of direction is notable. The Terps lead their series with Towson 28-5 (including 10 straight wins), and the schools have played every year since 1990 and all but one year since 1981.
“I think it’s just a great game for the state of Maryland,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. “Them down in College Park, us up here in Towson. It’s two in-state schools being able to battle against each other. We have always played each other, and they’re very competitive, very tough games. I just think it’s ironic when someone loses that amount of seniors, he starts changing things around.”
Maryland started five seniors, plus two fifth-year defensive midfielders, in the national title game. But the timing of the decision – Nadelen said he was informed in October that Maryland would not play his team – also rankled the Towson coach.
“That was something I wasn’t happy about,” said Nadelen, who has not found a replacement for the Terps on his schedule. Maryland will face Marist this year in place of Towson, which still lists a March 10 trip to College Park on its website.
Maryland’s situation is a function of various factors. Conference realignment, the demands of television, finances and missed class time (Tillman said the prospect of playing a team an hour’s drive away during the middle of the week was more appealing than a trip of three or four hours) all play a role.
The Terps aren’t the only school with a national profile facing a scheduling crunch. Johns Hopkins considered dropping Towson in recent years, but found a place for the Tigers in the season-opening slot. Hopkins has some flexibility as an independent, though coach Dave Pietramala believes a healthy local schedule (the Blue Jays face five in-state teams in 2012) is important.
“We could kick a rock and hit them and vice versa,” Pietramala said of Towson. “We should play them. A team could be better one year and a little down the next and really great the next. Those rivalries bring emotion, bring excitement. In our opinion, it’s worth having them. … There’s a bigger picture than winning or losing games. We want to promote the sport nationally, but also promote it in the community.”
While Maryland’s ACC games and its rivalry with Johns Hopkins figure to remain intact indefinitely, there might not be the same guarantees for other series. That includes Navy, which has faced Maryland every year since 1946. Maryland-Navy is typically one of the area’s best-attended games each spring.
“With certain alums, that game has meant a lot to them, so there’s some sensitivity to that,” said Tillman, a former Navy assistant. “Those are conversations we’re going to have to have with our administration, with Navy, see where they want to go. That’s another game that maybe playing midweek may make sense just because it’s 30 minutes away. Maybe that can be a midweek game and that might be a good compromise.”
Regardless, it’s clear Tillman believes Maryland must adapt to his sport’s changing landscape and look beyond state lines while doing so.
“I think we would try to look at any team we played for a while and see if there is a way and make it work for both teams,” Tillman said. “Obviously, we’re going to try to keep UMBC, we try to keep Towson, we try to keep Navy – if the dates work for everybody. We’ll certainly have those conversations. I would say if we could try to do it, we will.”