Corey McLaughlin of Lacrosse Magazine has news that requires balloon animals and sheet pizzas and, like, airplanes writing messages of love in the sky:
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.
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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.
Siedliski also noted that the earliest that the tournament could expand to 20 teams is in 2016. Which, importantly: But I want 20 teams now!
Some brief thoughts on this:
- I'm not thrilled with the fact that four auto-bid teams will have to play their way into the 16-team bracket. This is for two reasons: (1) It erodes the purpose and function of the auto-bid -- providing direct access to the NCAA Tournament for conferences that have an equal right of sending a representative to the field-proper as any other league; and (2) It gives at-large teams that just snuck in to the field a free pass to the bracket without further proving their strength. I still prefer that two auto-bid teams (whether lowest ranked, rotating based on a set of principles, etc.) face two at-large teams (whether lowest ranked, etc.) in a play-in scenario. This mildly protects the purpose of the auto-bid while also making a tournament-questionable team prove its worth in the bracket. Plus: I can envision a scenario where an auto-bid team is actually ranked -- by whatever measure you choose -- higher than an at-large team and is still sent into a dangerous play-in scenario. That doesn't seem right. The NCAA needs to evaluate whether the 50-50 rule should be applied in this fashion.
- It's still unclear where these play-in games will take place. I don't think that the NCAA will move towards a "Dayton" model for the lacrosse tournament play-in games, so I would -- at least right now -- expect that these games are going to take place at the home field of the higher ranked (whatever that means) team.
- Will these games be on real television or the fake television that's actually my computer?
- Hey! 18 teams! I'm never going to sleep in May!
For the record: 10 conferences will receive an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament in 2014: Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Sun, America East, Big East, Colonial, ECAC, Boat Shoes and Fancy Cheese Conference, MAAC, Northeast, and Patriot.