Editor’s Note: Jim Siedliski is the BIG EAST’s Associate Commissioner for Sport Administration. He oversees all aspects of the conference’s Olympic sport administration and championships. He joined the league’s staff in 1998. This is the first of a two-part interview on this year’s inaugural BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse Championship to be held May 3 & 5 at Villanova University. For more on the championship visit www.BIGEASTLacrosse.com
BIGEAST.org: What does having a men’s lacrosse championship mean to the conference?
Jim Siedliski: The neat thing about having the championship itself is that it’s a culmination of many years of work. It’s the first year that we have an AQ (automatic qualifier) – you have to have two years with a core membership of six and a third year to get that AQ. Our membership agreed that in the first year we got that AQ would be the year we have a championship. So it’s a pretty significant milestone.
When the sport was adopted the institutions that don’t sponsor men’s lacrosse saw the value in the sport. They understand the branding, how significant the sport is in the spring. That’s not to diminish baseball or softball but there is something about the draw of men’s lacrosse, the speed of the game, the passion for it. There is a finite target market but they are very passionate and are going to come out in droves. The Villanova-Notre Dame regular season game had 5,800 people last weekend. If you use that as a baseline for our semifinal and championship games it could be our single largest attended Olympic sport championship – in its first year.
It’s very exciting, it’s a brand the league is very happy to be a part of.
BE: What goes in behind the scenes to putting on this championship?
JS: Having the athletic directors come to a place where they all agree that they will bring their different institutional mission statements together to make this sport a reality is over five and a half years in the making. At the time Syracuse was an independent, and wanted to keep its independence. When there was a changing of athletics directors there was a small change in philosophy and they were more willing to vet things out. Notre Dame and Georgetown were in the Great West Lacrosse League. Providence was in the MAAC. Villanova was in the Colonial. St. John’s and Rutgers were in the ECAC. When we were going through the iterations of forming the league Marquette adopted.
So it was a matter of the schools coming to a place and bringing themselves under the same umbrella. The question (of creating a men’s lacrosse league) would come up many times and then die on the table. The strategic plan required minimum standards. So Providence, which was relatively unfunded when hey were in the MAAC had to ramp up its funding. The strategic plan calls for 50% equivalency so you go from nothing to a lot of something for some institutions. Then you had Villanova, that also sponsors women’s lacrosse and they weren’t going to bring in their men’s without their women’s. Their women’s was independent so they had to ramp up the aid twice.
But, they all came together; there are still differences because of the institutional support. There are teams who are trying to win the national championship on an annual basis. There are teams just trying to climb up the mountain and get in the NCAAs and there are teams just trying to get into the BIG EAST Tournament. That’s kind of our league in a microcosm – a lot of diversity but they’re all working towards a common goal.
BE: This year’s championship will be held at Villanova - what goes in to deciding where a championship will be played?
JS: The first part is championship bids. RFPs go out to all of our member institutions. Our discussions with the coaches, going back a few years, was to start small by playing on campus with the intent of going to a neutral site somewhere down the road. So the RFPs came in from the majority of our institutions and everything was vetted out. All of those facilities had lights, press boxes, other amenities. The two venues that had the most seating were Villanova and Syracuse. Villanova was selected by the coaches for year one because of where it positioned relative to the lacrosse community.
It’s not to say there isn’t a hotbed up in Syracuse, because there is. It’s just that in Philadelphia, Maryland and Delaware can come up, Long Island and New Jersey can come down. And of course the fans from Syracuse will still come. So it was decided that the first two years we were going to Villanova first and in the second year go to the Carrier Dome (in Syracuse).
We’re very excited about that – we’ve hosted our women’s championship there. It is a TV-ready building, the lighting is great. It is climate controlled so weather will not impact play. It has a tremendous press box and locker rooms. And again, it’s almost like a lacrosse cathedral to some so it is going to be neat. They’ve had crowds upwards of 12,000 to 13,000 for regular season games against Virginia or Notre Dame so we know we’re going to draw there too.
BE: What can fans look forward to on the field this year?
JS: The neat thing about doing all this hard work and having it come to fruition is seeing the games being played. The first semifinal is Notre Dame versus St. John’s. Notre Dame has really found themselves the last couple of years. The league itself has actually cemented them in that regard. They were just in the NCAA championship game two years ago and lost in overtime. The two years prior were back-to-back Syracuse titles. So it’s neat to be in this position as a conference.
St. John’s is upwardly mobile, it’s a critical game for them in regards to NCAA selection. And Syracuse against Villanova is just going to be a heavyweight fight. Villanova was the first team to hand Syracuse a home BIG EAST loss, ever. Villanova needs that game to get themselves in better NCAA position and Syracuse really needs that game to get themselves off that proverbial bubble.
Check back to BIGEAST.org tomorrow for Part II of the interview