For the first time since its formation in 2013, the American Athletic Conference will add a sport when it sponsors a six-team lacrosse league starting in the 2018-19 academic year, the conference announced Wednesday. The American will be the 16th Division I conference to sponsor women’s lacrosse.
“We are extremely pleased to be adding women’s lacrosse as a conference sport,” American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said in a conference release. “The development of the sport has been impressive over the last decade and its popularity continues to grow. Our decision to sponsor women’s lacrosse will be of great benefit to our membership and will provide our student-athletes with additional competitive opportunities.”
Temple, Connecticut, Cincinnati, East Carolina, the University of Florida and Vanderbilt University will be in The American’s lacrosse league. Temple, UConn and Cincinnati are in the Big East Conference for lacrosse and are in The American for other sports. In its four seasons in the Big East, Temple has 42 wins, which is the second-most of the schools joining The American in that four-year span.
Vanderbilt and Florida are also in the Big East for lacrosse, but they play their other sports in the Southeastern Conference. They’ll be affiliate members in The American’s lacrosse league.
“Being a football conference as The American is, it was a natural fit to bring them along and for them to join us,” Temple coach Bonnie Rosen said. “So I’m really excited. They’re great schools to have in our conference, competitively, name recognition covers a little bit more of the nation, which is always really nice.”
With five schools leaving the Big East and Old Dominion University joining for the 2019 season, The American and the Big East will each have six schools. The Big East added Butler University and the University of Denver for the 2017 season to expand to a 10-team league, which made it a “big conference,” Rosen said.
Only two other conferences, the Patriot League and the Atlantic 10 Conferences, had 10 lacrosse teams last season. The Atlantic Sun Conference was the only league with more teams with 11.
When the American Athletic Conference formed in 2013, the Big East agreed to host schools in The American that sponsored lacrosse. Forming a lacrosse league had been discussed since the formation of The American, but consideration intensified after East Carolina announced it would add lacrosse in March 2016, Rosen said.
East Carolina will play its first lacrosse season in Spring 2018, including a matchup against Temple on March 7 at Howarth Field. The school announced the addition of the program in March 2016. The American needed a minimum of six schools to have its conference tournament winner receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, Rosen said.
When Temple moves to the six-team American Athletic Conference in 2019, it will only play five conference games compared to the eight it’ll play in 2018. The league will hold a season-ending conference tournament. Specifics like the number of teams, host sites and other details are being discussed and will hopefully be decided by the end of the year, Rosen said.
Because Temple will have more nonconference games in 2019 than in past years, it can schedule more road games and travel to face top opponents — not every team is willing to come play in Philadelphia, Rosen said. The Owls will also have more flexibility to travel during their spring breaks.
For the second year in a row, Temple will open the 2018 season against Rutgers University, a Big Ten school. In 2016, the Owls opened the season against the University of Louisville, an Atlantic Coast Conference school. A school from one of those two conferences has won the Division I title every year since 2004.
Rosen is happy her players will be in The American like most of Temple’s other sports and said the conference’s decision to add lacrosse is an example of the growth of the sport.
“Our hope is that our conference is strong top to bottom and competes nationally,” Rosen said.