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NCAA Women's Division I Tournament Expands; Will Men's Tournament Expand?


Short Answer: For now, probably not.

Longer Answer: That for now is kind of an important qualifier. Let's back up for a minute.

The NCAA announced yesterday that its women's Division I championship would expand from 16 to 26 teams starting with the 2013 tournament. The expansion was kind of necessary, what with the ladies rolling with 92 teams in the cohort in 2012 and eight more on the way starting next season. 13 conferences will receive automatic invitations to the bracket next season with the rest of the field filled from the at-large pool. The tournament's expansion was done to both: 1) increase the inclusion rate, becoming comparable to other team sports; and 2) allow for wiggle in coming years when Division I women's lacrosse is anticipated to add even more participating programs.

So, where does that leave Division I men's lacrosse? Right where it is currently, if you want to be factual and boring and lame. The tournament expansion legislation was specific to the ladies only, and while expansion at the men's Division II level will occur starting in the 2013 season, no additional provisions were made for the men at the NCAA's highest level. This is the word of the NCAA.

While the size of the men's Division I championship isn't necessarily a problem, things are getting a little tight in terms of field selection. The 16-team field that is currently mandated is comprised of the following:

  • Conference champions from seven conferences: America East, Big East, THUNDERDOME!, ECAC, Ivy, MAAC and Patriot.
  • Nine at-large teams, selected on the basis of various specified criteria (many of which rest on the Ratings Percentage Index, which is just silly talk).

With the anticipated ratification of the Northeast Conference's automatic invitation starting next year, the at-large pool shrinks even more. That means that only eight schools that fail to win their league tournament will have an opportunity to earn a trip deeper into May, a fact that should scare a lot of schools that aren't in the ACC or otherwise have opportunities to pump up their strength of schedule. This puts a lot of pressure on teams to find a scheduling methodology that works, perform over the course of a dozen or so games without serious stumble, and pray that the sheet of paper in front of the selection committee has the right numbers on it. The margin of error -- even in things that you can't possibly control -- is that slim.

In other words, if a team is on the edge in terms of inclusion/exclusion, it's really going to be on the edge in coming years.

That's kind of the way things are going to be unless there are some drastic changes in the membership or play in Division I. At a postseason inclusion rate of 25.4 percent (for the 2013 season), men's lacrosse is right in the NCAA's sweet spot for tournament inclusion rate:

  • Men's Ice Hockey: 16 of 58 (27.6)
  • Men's Soccer: 48 of 203 (23.6)
  • Baseball: 64 of 297 (21.5)
  • Men's Basketball: 68 of 345 (19.7)

So, it doesn't look like the men's Division I field is going to get any larger any time soon (and neither will it shrink). With that, the likelihood of a repeat of the 2012 Selection Sunday squeeze play -- Denver-Penn State-Cornell -- is pretty high in the coming years if programs continue to develop as they have over the last decade or so. That's a good thing, and also a bad thing, but it's definitely the thing that everyone is going to need to deal with.