September 25, 2013

NCAA Men's Tournament Expanding for 2014

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

The NCAA tournament will expand with a pair of play-in games in 2014 and '15, the first expansion in the field since it went to 16 in 2003.
©John Strohsacker/ 

The NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament will expand to 18 teams beginning with the spring 2014 season with a pair of play-in games, men's lacrosse championships committee chair Jim Siedliski confirmed on Wednesday.

The play-in games, which will continue in spring 2015, will feature the four lowest-ranked automatic qualifying berth teams and will be played on dates to be determined, although they will be held after Selection Sunday since play-in participants will be considered official tournament participants after a change in NCAA policy announced last week.

The play-in game winners will play the top two overall seeds in the first round.

The NCAA play-in game policy change affected men's lacrosse and several other sports, effective immediately. In the past, play-in games, as were used recently in Division I women's lacrosse until the bracket expanded to 26 teams for the spring 2013 season, were not officially considered part of the championships bracket. Participating schools were responsible for their own expenses. Now the NCAA will pay expenses for those games.

Moreover, the NCAA said, "If a championship has more conferences eligible for automatic qualification [AQ] than the championship field allows (50 percent for most championships), one or more play-ins in that sport will be necessary."

This year's Division I men's lacrosse landscape includes 10 AQ conferences, with the Atlantic Sun having the status in its first season and the ACC welcoming Notre Dame and Syracuse to bring its number of teams to six, the minimum needed to qualify for AQ status.

The two play-in games will maintain the NCAA's 50-50 AQ/at-large tournament composition guideline for the first round, since two AQ teams will be eliminated after the play-in round. There will be eight AQs and eight at-large selections in the first round.

There will be 10 AQ teams for the spring of 2015 as well, with the Big Ten's addition and ECAC's impending disbandment after this year.

The earliest that tournament expansion could reach 20 teams, Siedliski said, is spring 2016 when a new budget cycle is accounted for. That is also contingent on the NCAA Division I championships cabinet asking the men's lacrosse committee for rationale for expanding and it is approved.

Asked if that was likely to happen, Siedliski said, "I don't know, that's their purview. They have to look at the entire landscape of Division I athletics and how it all fits the philosophy. I'd like to think it's likely, but at the end of the day, we don't make those decisions."

By 2016, there are scheduled to be 68 Division I men's lacrosse programs. Only one new program, UMass-Lowell, is currently slated to start up past this year and it will join the America East, which already has AQ status, so the AQ/at-large tournament balance currently wouldn't be in jeopardy by 2016 under an 18-team format. That circumstance, of course, does not take into account potential conference realignment, which has shaken up the men's lacrosse landscape considerably, or potential sponsorship of the sport by more Division I schools, which would lead to additional conferences, a la the Atlantic Sun this year with startups Furman and Richmond and second-year program High Point.

An 18-team tournament this year means 26.9 percent of Division I programs (67 for this year) will make the national post-season.

"The cabinet did a tremendous job looking at the sport," Siedliski said. "There's growth in the sport and there's also 10 AQs to deal with now. They did a great job."

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