January 4, 2011

Division II Committees Propose Expansion of NCAA Tournaments

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Chris Ryan's Mercyhurst men's lacrosse team missed the 2010 NCAA tournament despite a 13-1 regular season, yet another example of a need for expansion of the Division II playoffs, supporters say.

After the Mercyhurst men's lacrosse team finished the regular season 13-1 last year -- losing only to eventual NCAA Division II national champion C.W. Post by two goals -- the Lakers were left stranded outside the four-team national postseason tournament.

They were unable to secure the lone at-large berth up for grabs. It went to Dowling, a team Mercyhurst defeated earlier in the season, but a team that also beat C.W. Post.

Supporters of Division II playoff expansion had another example to support their case.

Now, proposals to expand both the men's and women's NCAA Division II tournaments to eight teams will be presented by the respective men's and women's lacrosse committees to the Division II championship committees in early February in Indianapolis. If supported, the proposals then need approval from the Division II management council and the budget and finance committee.

Expansion would occur no earlier than the 2013 season, when the NCAA's next budget cycle begins.

The men's and women's lacrosse committees are hopeful expansion will be approved because of the growing number of teams nationally and increased competitiveness within the division, they say. The men's committee, chaired by C.W. Post coach John Jez, plans to propose an eight-team bracket, but would also consider a six-team field. The women's bracket currently has six teams.

"We're at a point where there are some good ideas out there," said Division II men's championship committee member and East Coast Conference commissioner Robert Dranoff. "It has a ways to go, but apparently this is the furthest we've been, and there is energy behind it."

The current four-team men's playoff includes one team each from the North, Central and South regions, plus one at-large team. One or two losses could eliminate a team from the postseason, a la Mercyhurst last season and NYIT (10-2) in 2009.

"We're hopeful for expansion," said Jez, coach of the two-time defending national champion Pioneers. "The sport is growing, and we have more than four teams now that can compete for a championship. There are six or eight teams that are competitive and could win."

The proposed men's expansion would increase the field to eight and realign teams into two regions, with four tournament teams coming from each region, said NCAA associate director of championships Jeff Jarnecke, who will make the men's proposal.

The prospect of at-large berths has and will continue to be discussed, Jarenecke said, such as two tournament teams coming from each region with the other four being at-large picks. Or in a six-team format, two teams in each region with two at-large berths. How teams or conferences are realigned in the regions is also up for discussion.

"There is no guarantee for expansion, but the timing and success of the current business model aids to presentation and hopefully the expansion," Jarnecke said. "The committee and membership are hopeful for the eight-team bracket, which should sustain the division for awhile."

On the women's side, proposed expansion would increase the field to eight teams and include realignment of teams into four regions: Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, West and South. Two tournament teams would come from each region, said NCAA assistant director of championships Sherard Clinkscales, who will make the women's proposal. Two regions -- North and South -- exist now.

The Mid-Atlantic region would include teams from the ECC and CACC, the Northeast from the NE-10, the West from the PSAC and the South from Conference Carolinas and independents.

"I really don't see it being a challenge," Clinkscales said. "It's a natural progression. Our numbers show that expansion is overdue."

In 2010, 55 teams played Division II women's lacrosse. That number is expected to grow to 61 or 62 by the 2013 season, based on the schools that have announced they will add varsity teams.

"We are hearing of new teams popping up all over the country in all areas," said Lock Haven coach Kristen Selvage, chair of the women's committee and IWLCA president. "I feel very optimistic about our proposal, because we have submitted it in the best interests of all parties involved -- the student-athletes that are fortunate enough to participate in an NCAA championship and the institutions that have, or hope to add, the sport of women's lacrosse."

"The current two-region format is extremely competitive, and each year, I see great teams left out," Selvage added. "Sometimes it just comes down to one late-season win or one late-game goal that sends you to the show."

On the men's side, there are 42 Division II programs set to play in 2011 and will be 45 or 46 by 2013.

"The exciting part is there is a feeling that there is going to be more growth," Dranoff said. "It's like the chicken or the egg: Do we wait for growth to expand, or do we try to expand the championship to encourage more growth? At least I feel the latter is the best."

Said Jez: "Our main goal is to expand and let the next group of people figure out the competitive balance and selection process once a bigger field is set... From a student-athlete perspective, to lose one or two games early in the year and realize you're not going to make the NCAA [tournament] is tough. From the outside, you wonder how much commitment they will be willing to make the rest of the season. Every year a team with one or two losses is on the outside looking in."

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