NCAA Lacrosse Tournament to Expand to 18 Teams in 2014

USA TODAY Sports

Kaboom!

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.

* * * * *

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.

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