August 23, 2012

Q&A on Expanded NCAA Women's Tournament Bracket

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | New Bracket (PDF)

Thirteen conference champions will now receive automatic qualifying berths to the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament, starting in 2013.
© Gani Pinero

Last week's news that the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament field will expand from 16 to 26 teams for the 2013 season means one thing for sure: more teams will have a chance to win a national title.

But how will an expanded bracket look? Will selection criteria change, or do costs associated with travel become more of an issue with a greater number of teams competing? NCAA Division I women's lacrosse committee chair Candice Lee met with members of the media Wednesday to discuss those questions and more.

Lee, also an associate athletic director at Vanderbilt, is the outgoing chair whose one-year term ends at the end of August. She addressed a variety of topics, including deflecting any credit for the decision and saying expansion was talked about for at least four years.

As an aside, the 2013 final four site has not yet been announced, but an announcement is expected by mid-September.

What considerations are being made for travel to minimize costs and how will those considerations affect the way the tournament is seeded?

CL: There is guiding principle that we use currently and I think it would probably be the same with the new bracket. We try to build in the least number of [plane] flights possible. That's really a directive from the NCAA. Although the field is expanding I would image that we would continue to do that. We try to stay true to a seed, when we're seeding teams, so I think it would continue. But geography does come into play when you begin talking about limiting the number of flights.

There is not a hard and fast number [of flights] but once we look at the bracket and we seed and we stay as true as possible to the seeds then we have to look at flight considerations. We're going to our best to manage it, stay true to the bracket but have the least number of flights. It's a challenge in building the best bracket but that's the principle that we're committed to following, and that we have to follow. There's not that much you can do once it's established who the 26 teams are. Then you just have to manage it the best you can with your principles and trying to keep the number of flights down.

Will at-large selection criteria change at all?

No. The committee reserves the right to adjust selection criteria as they see fit for the following year, but we haven't made any dramatic changes to selection criteria so that process would be the same. We'll be looking at everyone's performance throughout the year and use the same criteria that we did before.

Was there any consideration for regionalizing the tournament with regional pods?

Yes. We looked at various different ways on how to structure the bracket. The one that we confirmed was the one that caused us the least amount of problems, and did not disrupt the student-athlete experience. That's the primary thing, creating a nice championship experience for these kids, basically trying to keep the same format we had now if at all possible with limiting impact on travel and final exams and that kind of thing. We did talk about regionalizing it, but thought that the bracket we came up with was best.

The top eight teams will still be seeded, correct?

Yes, we will seed the top eight teams, but only the top six will get a bye and seeds seven and eight will play in the first round, but they will be hosting. All of the top eight seeds will host.

Will this expansion have any effect on television exposure?

I don't know I can answer that with certainty. I would hope it continues to show how really exciting the sport is. The fact that the bracket has expanded and that more schools are choosing to sponsor women's lacrosse, that shows there is great support for the sport. Like anything else, TV will pick up what's popular and what people want to see. We hope that people will want to continue to see women's lacrosse.

Why 26 teams and not 24 or 32?

Twenty four was really the number that the committee started with. That was the magic number initially, but then when we did a review of all the conferences that would be eligible to be automatic qualifiers, that was 13. Because we have to hold to the principle where we have to reserve 50 percent of the bracket for at-large, 26 is the magic number because you have 13 conferences that will be automatic qualifiers. Going into this year, we still had play-in games. Twenty-six is great because it eliminates the play-in games. You just have outright conference champions that will have access to post-season. For the committee, that was a priority and 26 makes sense when you look at the principles.

If there is another conference added in the future, would you go back to a play-in format if needed?

Play-in games are used to meet the NCAA criteria, the AQ guidelines. Ideally you want to not have play-in games, but I hope that this is a problem committee's in the future will have to content with regularly because it means that the game is growing.

With eight days left as chair of the committee, how does this fit in to what you've done as committee chair?

I appreciate the question, but the changes you see is the work of an entire committee, but the work of several committees. These things don't get changed in a year. This is my fourth year on the committee and first as chair and I can tell you that coming on the committee in my first year this was part of the conversation. I would be remiss if I took credit. My time came up to be the chair. But if you're going to put the responsibility on the chair then you have to recognize last year's chair, Teddy Burns, and Ryan Bamford, who was the chair before that, as well as all the men and women who participated. This is truly a group effort. I would certainly give recognition to [NCAA associate director of championships] D'Ann Keller because she really took it upon herself to understand the sport. It was new to her just like it was new to me. We started at the same time. This is her doing. This is all the conference commissioners who were interested in growing the sport. This is administrators and coaches who had voices and made themselves heard. This is student-athletes who play women's lacrosse who are showing that it's exciting and we need to continue expanding.

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