PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Ellie Masera and Stony Brook are moving to the CAA.

Breaking Down the Division I Women's Conference Landscape


The music, and thus the inevitable switching of chairs, has paused. For now.

Conference realignment in the Division I women’s game has seen teams change conferences, but all 15 conferences still remain. In the shuffle, two perennial powers will shift their homes in 2023, albeit for different reasons.

James Madison joining the American Athletic Conference is a boon for both sides. The American gains a recent national champion and a team to push Florida for its top spot. It also all but ensures the league has multiple bids to the NCAA tournament every year.

The Dukes, who are moving most of their athletic programs to the Sun Belt and FBS competition, get a step up in competition and exposure. As coach Shelley Klaes spoke about the move, she emphasized that two-fold effect.

“We did not want to miss out on aligning ourselves with as high a level as we could,” she said. “The American became really attractive because of its status. Our student-athletes want more than what a mid-major can offer.”

For the 2018 national champions, beyond wins, “more” is what they have been striving for in every category. Klaes noted that The American will have its games on ESPN+, and having JMU aligned with high achieving academic institutions like Vanderbilt, Florida and Temple was plus.

“It’s exciting; it will create new energy,” Klaes added. “I’m sure Florida is excited for a new challenge. [Temple coach] Bonnie [Rosen] and I have a long-standing history; we’ve played them as a non-conference opponent before. … There’s a lot of great women who coach in this conference. I have a great deal of respect for them. It’s going to be great for the conference for JMU to join. USF is adding the sport. It’s an exciting time for The American.”

One of the teams replacing JMU in the CAA is Stony Brook, another power program looking for more while approaching the future the same as always. The Seawolves have dominated the America East, and although they might find similar success in the CAA, the competition will certainly be stiffer.

“It’s a new challenge. We needed to change,” Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina said. “It was time for us to refresh and go in a different direction. It’s not a secret, there are more CAA teams than America East teams in the NCAA tournament. We loved our time, but it’s time to raise the bar a little bit.”

One interesting question will be if the conference change coincides with a better postseason seeding than the Seawolves have experienced in the past. After all, JMU won the national title as a No. 3 seed — and as CAA champions. Spallina and the Seawolves, who are many times spurned come Selection Sunday, will take a wait-and-see approach.

“I don’t worry about it,” Spallina said. “It’s tough to trust what they do when they seed teams when there’s not a consistent criteria. … How many years in a row can we be under-seeded and outplay our seed before they seed us correctly? Look at the quarterfinals; the only close game was the 1-v-8 game [North Carolina-v-Stony Brook], and that’s supposed to be a blowout.”

How JMU and Stony Brook fare in their new homes will be must-follow storylines in 2023.


“It’s a new challenge. We needed to change.”

— Joe Spallina


AMERICA EAST

2023 Lineup: Albany, Binghamton, Bryant, New Hampshire, UMass Lowell, UMBC, Vermont
In: Bryant
Out: Hartford, Stony Brook

What it means: The America East’s days of playing for multiple bids is likely over. Stony Brook was always a shoo-in, and occasionally Albany joined the party even before the league’s postseason ban of the departing Seawolves. Bryant is a solid addition, but the shine of the league is gone now that Stony Brook is leaving. The league drops to seven women’s lacrosse teams upon Hartford’s departure to Division III as well.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC

2023 Lineup: Cincinnati, East Carolina, Florida, James Madison, Old Dominion, Temple, Vanderbilt
In: James Madison
Out: none
Looking ahead: Cincinnati future beyond 2023 unknown, USF adds in 2024, Charlotte adds in 2025.

What it means: One of the biggest winners in lacrosse realignment was The American. James Madison is a national power and a recent title winner and gives the league added depth to go with Florida’s dominance. With the reemergence of Vanderbilt and Temple, the continued improvement of East Carolina and future additions to the league on the way, The American may move into being one of the top leagues in the country behind the ACC and the Big Ten.

ASUN

2023 Lineup: Coastal Carolina, Delaware State, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lindenwood, Queens, Stetson
In: Lindenwood, Queens
Out: none
Looking ahead: Liberty will depart after the 2023 season for Conference USA. Its women’s lacrosse destination is unknown.

What it means: The ASUN expanded this spring to add Queens as a full member and Lindenwood as an associate member for the 2023 season. Liberty may be playing its final season in the league as the rest of its sports go to Conference USA. There is a possibility the Flames remain in the ASUN for women’s lacrosse.

ATLANTIC COAST

2023 Lineup: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
In: Clemson
Out: none

What it means: The ACC will have a 10-team lineup next year with the addition of Clemson. The only members missing from the top women’s lacrosse league are Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, and Wake Forest.

ATLANTIC 10

2023 Lineup: Davidson, Duquesne, George Mason, George Washington, La Salle, Massachusetts, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, VCU
In: none
Out: none
Looking ahead: Rhode Island adds in 2025.

What it means: The A-10 is expanding its portfolio by adding men’s lacrosse, but the women’s side remains unchanged. The league will add Rhode Island in 2025, which will leave just Dayton, Fordham, Saint Louis and newly added member Loyola Chicago without varsity lacrosse teams.








BIG EAST

2023 Lineup: Butler, Denver, Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Xavier
In: Xavier
Out: none

What it means: The addition of Xavier brings the Big East to seven teams. At an odd number, don’t be surprised if the Big East considers adding an associate member. Cincinnati would be a prime candidate for inclusion should the Bearcats not stay in The American as associate members. The conference is only missing Creighton, DePaul, Providence and St. John’s from its women’s lacrosse lineup.

BIG SOUTH

2023 Lineup: Campbell, Furman, Gardner-Webb, High Point, Longwood, Mercer, Presbyterian, Radford, Winthrop, Wofford
In: none
Out: none

What it means: The Big South absorbed the remaining SoCon teams last year and saw Mercer win the title in 2022. The lineup remains the same this year.

BIG TEN

2023 Lineup: Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
In: none
Out: none

What it means: Things are quiet on the expansion front in the Big Ten. One possibility of an addition was extinguished when Illinois announced it would no longer pursue a varsity men’s hockey team, which had spurred talk of a women’s lacrosse team being included.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC

2023 Lineup: Delaware, Drexel, Elon, Hofstra, Monmouth, Stony Brook, Towson, William & Mary
In: Monmouth, Stony Brook
Out: James Madison

What it means: One national power replaces another in Stony Brook’s arrival and James Madison’s departure. The league also adds Monmouth for a compliment of eight squads in 2023. The CAA should be a two-bid league most seasons.

INDEPENDENTS

2023 Lineup: Hartford, San Diego State, UC Davis
In: Hartford
Out: none
Looking ahead: Hartford drops to Division III in 2024.

What it means: The California duo received a lifeline on Tuesday as the Pac-12 announced their affiliate membership. Their first season is still in flux. It could be 2023. Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Teresa Gould said, “UC Davis and San Diego State are a great fit for our Conference and we look forward to expanding to eight teams beginning no later than the 2023-24 season.” 




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Isabella Peterson and James Madison are taking their talents to The American.


IVY LEAGUE

2023 Lineup: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Yale
In: none
Out: none

What it means: The Ivy League has been the same eight schools since its formation in 1955.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC

2023 Lineup: Canisius, Fairfield, Iona, Manhattan, Marist, Mount St. Mary’s, Niagara, Quinnipiac, Siena
In: Mount St. Mary’s
Out: Monmouth

What it means: One former NEC team left (Monmouth) and is replaced with another (Mount St. Mary’s). The MAAC will remain at 11 schools, although there continue to be rumblings of the league looking to add a 12th member. Rider and Saint Peter’s are the only members who don’t sponsor women’s lacrosse.

MID-AMERICAN

2023 Lineup: Akron, Central Michigan, Detroit Mercy, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Robert Morris, Youngstown State
In: Eastern Michigan
Out: none

What it means: The MAC has been the weakest conference since its inception and adds a new program to the fold in Eastern Michigan. Expect the league to make a run at adding Cincinnati, should the Bearcats not stay in The American for lacrosse.

NORTHEAST

2023 Lineup: Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, Howard, LIU, Merrimack, Sacred Heart, Saint Francis U., Stonehill, Wagner
In: Fairleigh Dickinson, Stonehill
Out: Bryant, Mount St. Mary’s

What it means: Despite the departures of Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s, the NEC reloads with Stonehill from the Division II ranks and Fairleigh Dickinson, which begins its program anew. Only St. Francis Brooklyn remains without a women’s lacrosse program. Talks of Howard moving its entire athletic department to the CAA have been put on hold for the time being, but the Bison could still make that move in the future.

PAC-12

2023 Lineup: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, USC
In: none
Out: none
Looking ahead: San Diego State, UC Davis to join no later than 2024.

What it means: Before Tuesday, this section said that the Pac-12 had stalled out and asked if the league would ever consider granting affiliate membership to San Diego State and UC Davis, or risk those programs folding like Fresno State and Saint Mary’s. This is a good thing for all involved — Division I women’s lacrosse on the West Coast is ensured beyond the six Pac-12 schools, and relying solely on a double-round robin to fill out games might soon be a thing of the past.

PATRIOT LEAGUE

2023 Lineup: American, Army West Point, Boston University, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, Loyola, Navy
In: none
Out: none

What it means: Every Patriot League school sponsors women’s lacrosse. The league hasn’t expanded since adding Loyola and Boston U in 2014. Army added varsity women’s lacrosse in 2016. No one has left the league since 1995 when Fordham joined the A-10.


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