Blogs and Commentary

posted 09.21.2013 at 8.00 am by Sean Burns

NCAA Clears Way for Expanded Tournament

Could Princeton and Johns Hopkins have made it to the NCAA tournament in 2013? If some policy changes that the NCAA announced this week are adopted, lacrosse could see an expansion of its tournament field for the first time since moving from 12 to 16 teams in 2003.

As Inside Lacrosse originally reported yesterday, the NCAA announced a policy change this week affecting men's lacrosse, men's volleyball, women's field hockey and men's and women's water polo regarding play-in games for their championship tournaments. This move, which has not yet been implemented by men's lacrosse, clears the way to expand the tournament field to 18 teams as early as the upcoming 2014 season.

Essentially, the NCAA will allow play-in game participants to be considered official tournament participants and pay expenses for those games, which will be determined after the field is selected (rather than prior to 'selection' among the lowest-RPI automatic qualifiers to determine who the higher-seeded teams play in their 'first round' contests). 

This decision is driven by the addition of the Atlantic Sun and ACC as AQ-granting conferences for 2014, bringing the number of AQs to 10. A move to 18 teams would mean four AQ teams would play a mid-week 'play-in' contest, with the two winners moving on to play the top two seeds in the traditional 16-team bracket setting for the first round.

What that means going forward can be interpreted (in obviously theoretical fashion) by looking at how an 18-team field with this setup might have looked in 2013.

If you're not a fan of total speculation, go no further...

Using the final bracketology numbers by Patrick Stevens for the 'bubble' and other information, here goes.

Automatic Qualifiers (8)

  • Syracuse (Big East) – RPI No. 3
  • Ohio State (ECAC) – RPI No. 2
  • Yale (Ivy) – RPI No. 7
  • Albany (America East) – RPI No. 13
  • Lehigh (Patriot) – RPI No. 15
  • Towson (CAA) – RPI No. 23
  • Bryant (NEC) – RPI No. 43
  • Detroit (MAAC) – RPI No. 51

At-Large potential teams

  • Notre Dame – RPI No. 1
  • North Carolina – RPI No. 4
  • Denver – RPI No. 5
  • Maryland – RPI No. 6
  • Cornell – RPI No. 8
  • Penn State – RPI No. 9
  • Loyola – RPI No. 10
  • Duke – RPI No. 12
  • Bucknell – RPI No. 11
  • Penn – RPI No. 14
  • Princeton – RPI No. 16
  • Johns Hopkins – RPI No. 17
  • Drexel – RPI No. 18

In this hypothetical situation, the bottom four AQ teams would be the ones playing those mid-week games (which is what will happen next spring with the 10 AQs), giving two more at-large berths.

So we'd probably be looking at Lehigh hosting Detroit and Towson hosting Bryant. The winners of those two games would most likely then proceed to be the visitors at the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

Who makes it in as the final two teams? Well for my money it would be between Bucknell, Penn and Princeton. Bucknell at 12-4 with wins over Cornell, Albany and Drexel is a solid resume and they're probably the next at-large. Between Princeton and Penn, I'd say Princeton. They've got a slightly lower RPI than the Quakers and a head-to-head loss, but their top opponent RPI is 6th (compared to 10th for Penn) and they have two top 10 wins (Yale and Cornell) compared to zero.

So what is our final tournament field and schedule? Sticking with the top 8 seeding that the committee went with last year, it would break down like this:

(1) Syracuse vs. Lehigh/Detroit winner
(8) Penn State vs. Yale
(5) North Carolina vs. Albany
(4) Denver vs. Princeton
(3) Ohio State vs. Bucknell
(6) Maryland vs. Cornell
(7) Duke vs. Loyola
(2) Notre Dame vs. Towson/Bryant winner

Obviously this isn't an exact science. I tried to slot teams knowing the NCAA travel desires for flights vs. drives, but it's a lot of fun to play around with. Think you've got a better idea of how it would look? I'm all ears.

Certainly the set of circumstances and decisions made by me in this instance aren't necessarily what the committee would have done. Could Penn have made it in? Could Hopkins have avoided missing its first tournament ever? We'll never know.

Ultimately, if this rule is enacted it will make the tournament field more inclusive and bring the potential for a couple more exciting games in May, which is something we can all agree on.