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Could the Big Ten add Utah in lacrosse?

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One report stays the two sides are at least talking about it.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing knives through the dead period of the offseason like some good ol’ fashioned conference realignment speculation, right? Now, at least one report has the Big Ten at least talking about adding another member.

Relax. We’re just talking about lacrosse. But still.

Recently, the University of Utah decided to take the plunge and become the westernmost program to play D1 lacrosse, joining Denver and Air Force as the only programs west of the Mississippi.

That’s cool news for Utah fans and for student-athletes, but it also means Utah is going to need to find a conference home, since the Pac-12 doesn’t sponsor the sport. And according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah is in “early talks with the ACC, Big Ten and Big East to join a conference.”

Yes, we know that Utah is in Salt Lake City, about 1,700 miles away from Columbus. But this isn’t a crazy thought.

The Big Ten is no longer a stranger to affiliate memberships to strengthen other sports. After all, Big Ten lacrosse includes Johns Hopkins, who does not participate in any other league sport. Big Ten hockey also recently added Notre Dame, and reportedly at least kicked the tires on Arizona State.

Utah isn’t in the AAU, but it is a big state flagship research university which, institutionally, isn’t that different from several other Big Ten schools. Forget TV markets... Utah isn’t a Big Ten expansion candidate generally, and the TV market for lacrosse is so small that adding a team outside the footprint doesn’t appreciably change anything for BTN, but the league could decide that adding a program in a growing city, giving their league schools another pathway towards recruiting the West, and balancing out the league a bit could be a good idea.

I personally think Utah is probably a better fit in the Big East or the ACC though, for whatever that’s worth.

The ACC, while full of historically excellent programs, only has five teams at the moment. While they’re not in danger of not sending squads to the NCAA Tournament, adding a team would give them the Tournament auto-bid that they lack at the moment.

The Big East has the closest thing to a geographic rival to Utah (Denver, who also happens to be a powerhouse), and has conference games that might be a little closer to Utah’s competitive level, at least to start, in teams like Georgetown or St. John’s. College Crosse, our lacrosse blog, agrees.

The Big Ten, on the other hand, may be the pound for pound best lacrosse league in the country, at least at the moment. Maryland is the defending national champ. Ohio State was the national runner-up, and looks poised to become a lasting power in the sport. Rutgers has been a Top-15 mainstay recently, Penn State has become excellent, and Hopkins is Hopkins. The only bad program in the conference has been Michigan... a school that isn’t exactly lacking for resources and could turn things around quickly.

Utah is going to face a stiff learning curve jumping to D1 no matter what, but a move to the Big Ten probably means a fair amount of Ls going Utah’s way in the short term.

As for the long term? There’s also the possibility that Utah could just join the Pac-12, should other schools follow their lead. From the Tribune, again:

{Utah Athletic Director Chris} Hill said he thinks several Pac-12 programs may be "on the edge" of adding men's lacrosse (five Pac-12 schools have women's teams), but by being first to the table, the Utes could force their Western competitors to play catch-up.

That’s the other factor to consider. Utah is probably a few years away from contending for NCAA bids. In that time, other Western schools could decide to enter the fray, and give Utah a geographical partner, just like Arizona State would like for hockey. I’m not sure the Big Ten, Big East or ACC should look at Utah as a school that’s likely to stick around for decades to come.

Would Utah be a weird geographic fit? Yeah, but that happens in lacrosse. Ohio State used to play with Denver and Air Force, after all. But hey, maybe the Big Ten eventually becomes like the British Empire, where the sun never sets. Would they have a tough road in the short term? Probably, yeah.

But it might be fun. And Salt Lake is a cool city, no matter what you read on the internet.

And if nothing else, these conversations show the Big Ten is willing to think outside the box to help out their other sports. And that’s a positive thing, in my humble opinion.