- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Virginia lacrosse coach Dom Starsia was surprised last weekend when he learned the Atlantic Coast Conference would invite Pittsburgh and (notably, from his perspective) Syracuse and expand to 14 schools.

The football ramifications of realignment move are obvious. The infusion of two quality basketball programs is difficult to miss. After the two major revenue generators at most schools, Starsia was a bit startled at the next topic of discussion.

“It seems the next part of it is the lacrosse part and the impact [of adding Syracuse],” said Starsia, who has led the Cavaliers to four national titles. “There’s Doug Gottlieb talking about lacrosse. I never thought I would ever hear that. Lacrosse occupies a funny little place and it captures people’s attention, especially in the Northeast.”

It is uncertain when Syracuse would begin ACC play. The Big East requires a 27-month notice for withdrawal, which could keep the Orange in their current league through 2014.

The eventual shift of Syracuse into the ACC strengths an already formidable league. The four current ACC schools with the sport — Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia — have reached the NCAA tournament in each of the past five years. Toss Syracuse in, and the ACC accounts for eight of the past 10 national champions.

The ACC’s gain could be a severe loss for the only other power conference sponsoring men’s lacrosse. The Big East added the sport in 2010, with previously independent Syracuse the main attraction of a league that also featured Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, St. John’s and Villanova. Marquette will add lacrosse in 2013.

“I felt the Big East had rallied their office to support men’s lacrosse,” ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said. “That was a positive of the last two or three years and now it’s in jeopardy.”

Clearly, that would have some impact on Georgetown, a program with prestige (11 straight NCAA appearances from 1997 to 2007) and significance both locally and nationally.

“How many leagues last year put more than one team in the tournament?” Hoyas coach Dave Urick said. “We had three: Syracuse, Notre Dame and Villanova. I think we’d still have a strong possibility for being represented by at least two teams every year.”

For now, change looms even for the ACC’s four programs, which have played a late April conference tournament for more than two decades. Considering the limited number of men’s lacrosse programs nationally, there also are scheduling concerns to sort out.

Then there’s the question of whether the ACC is done expanding. If it adds one more men’s lacrosse program, the league will be eligible for an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament - hardly a necessity, but an appealing perk nonetheless.

“What we’re trying to figure out is when we have to start getting them on the schedule, how does it impact the conference tournament and at what time they will be joining,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “Looking at five or six teams, it sure would be nice to round up to that number.”

Such a move also would silence longtime critics of the ACC’s conference tournament who argue the event is little more than a way to bolster RPI and strength of schedule numbers. Merely adding Syracuse, which already plays Duke and Virginia, would not end those annual potshots.

“Five teams doesn’t change a thing,” Kessenich said. “The only thing it adds is a regular season North Carolina-Syracuse game and a regular season Syracuse-Maryland game. To me, it’s really plus two games. If Syracuse then drops Georgetown or Notre Dame or Villanova, it’s a slight [net] positive.”

Yet if the addition of Syracuse prompts ACC schools without the sport to consider adding lacrosse (despite the usual financial and legal hurdles), it could be an important step for the game.

“This is an exciting development,” Starsia said. “It’ll be interesting what the ramifications are long-term. If some big program adds lacrosse because they want to be a part of this, then it’s another big steppingstone for our sport.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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