The A-Sun becomes the 10th conference in NCAA Division I to sponsor men’s lacrosse as a championship sport, joining the America East, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association, ECAC Lacrosse League, Independents, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Northeast Conference, and the Patriot League. For the 2012-13 academic year, there are 61 NCAA-sanctioned Division I men's lacrosse teams.
“We are very proud to continue a tradition of growth in the Atlantic Sun Conference with the addition of men’s lacrosse as our newest championship sport,” said A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “The A-Sun continues to be a leader in building opportunities for student-athletes and we are very excited about working with the distinguished institutions who will be joining us to provide this additional conference championship. From our debut as the first Division I conference to sponsor sand volleyball last spring, to this spring’s initial women’s lacrosse championship and on to men’s lacrosse next spring, we are committed to expanding competitive opportunities and forging partnerships that will allow us to meet that goal.”
Consistent with its mission and efforts to build alliances that increase competitive opportunities for student-athletes, the A-Sun will coordinate conference competition for the following group of men's lacrosse programs: Jacksonville, Mercer, Furman (affiliate), High Point (affiliate), Richmond (affiliate) and VMI (affiliate). Furman and Richmond will play their inaugural seasons in 2013-14.
“We are excited to join the Atlantic Sun as an affiliate member for men’s lacrosse. The MAAC has been a very good home for our lacrosse program,” said VMI Athletic Director Donny White. “However, the formation of a southern lacrosse alliance, with these outstanding schools, fits VMI’s vision in this popular and growing sport.”
The six teams will play a single round robin schedule, along with the championship to be scheduled in May of 2014. As a multi-sport conference, the A-Sun is immediately eligible for automatic qualification into the NCAA championship. The NCAA Championships Cabinet determines the format for NCAA championships.
“The A-Sun welcomes the addition of men’s lacrosse and the outstanding institutions who will be affiliate members,” said Dr. Wilson Bradshaw, Florida Gulf Coast University President and A-Sun Presidents Council Chair. “We are pleased to continue the expansion of A-Sun competition and the growth in opportunities for our student-athletes.”
The teams joining VMI in the Atlantic Sun for lacrosse are familiar faces to the Keydets. High Point, which is in its first season of varsity competition in 2013, is a fellow member of the Big South Conference while Furman and VMI were long-time Southern Conference opponents. Richmond was also a member of the Southern Conference until the mid-1970s. Jacksonville will be joining the Keydets in the shift from the MAAC to the Atlantic Sun and is a team VMI has faced in each of the last three seasons as a conference foe. VMI and Mercer will clash for a third time in April of this season. Mercer is currently one of just three independent programs at the Division I level.
“We are all very excited about this move and want to thank the Atlantic Sun Conference for all their hard work to make this happen,” said VMI head coach Brian Anken, who is currently in his third year with the program.
“The MAAC has been a great home for us since 2003 and we are very grateful for the opportunities they have provided us over the past 10 years. In addition to new non-conference possibilities, we look forward to continuing a competitive relationship with some MAAC teams in the future.”
Travel distances will be significantly reduced for the Keydets, whose closest MAAC opponent is Manhattan College, over 400 miles away. In the Atlantic Sun, VMI will be two hours from its nearest opponent, Richmond, and only three hours from High Point.
“We are committed to playing a strong out of conference schedule that will involve continuing to travel up north for games,” said Anken. “We have a 30 year lacrosse history at VMI, but the new league, along with an enhanced commitment to lacrosse, will give us a fresh start in our goal of competing for championships.”
VMI started varsity lacrosse in 1983 under the direction of Mike Pressler. Over the three decades of lacrosse at the Institute, the Keydets have had just five head coaches, including Doug Bartlett who led the program from 1986-2006. Bartlett helped the Keydets make the transition from an independent program to the MAAC for the 2003 season.
The Keydets return to action this Saturday when they head to West Point, N.Y. to take on the Black Knights of the United States Military Academy. Action is set for noon at Michie Stadium.