The process for selecting a field of college lacrosse teams for any national tournament is extremely difficult. There are a number of factors to balance in selecting the teams, but more often than not, there are other forces at play, beyond just picking the best teams. How a collegiate sporting association deals with AQs, independent schools, top level non-AQ teams, new conferences, and a number of other wrinkles can mean a lot for the growth of the game if done the right way. However, that doesn’t mean everyone thinks things are being done correctly.
So let’s try to find some solutions, shall we? I’ll start with the NCAA Division 3, but only because I know it the best. Division 1, Division 2, and MCLA selections will be discussed as well.
In DIII, the tournament field has been expanding over the last decade, and this mirrors the rise in the number of DIII programs. Maybe not at the same rate as it has in the past, but the important thing is that the tourney is expanding. More teams than ever have a realistic shot at making the dance, and both contenders and barely Top 40 teams make it in. The latter through AQs. This results in some lopsided early games at times, but a perfect example of how this works is Endicott. When they first made the tourney they would lose 20-something to low single digits. This year, they beat Tufts in the regular season.
I’m a firm believer that any conference with 8 teams or more deserves an AQ. I could probably be convinced to go as low as 6 teams. But what about the conferences with less than 8 teams, like the NCAC in DIII? Swank Lax gives the full run down on the different Pools (A, B, and C) from which teams are selected. Read his post, then come back to this…
In DIII, that’s a slight problem. Some deserving team is left out, while another NCAC team gets to play for an easier bid. Now, in D1 men’s lacrosse, the problem is less existent, even though it’s the ACC that has only four teams. And all 4 of them could make the tourney most years. Why is this not a problem? Because they don’t have a Pool B. If you don’t win your AQ, you are in a pool with EVERYONE else. Only the best teams make it.
The MCLA is very similar to D1 but that is because every team is in a conference. If you don’t get your conference AQ, you had better be one of the best teams in the country, because those slots go quickly. It rewards the best teams, and rewards newer conferences. But it does not promote growth like the DIII set up seems to, in that independent schools are not incentivized to join the league. I actually don’t even know if the MCLA would accept an independent team… So what is the answer?
NCAA D2 ball REALLY suffers come tournament time as good teams are left out EVERY YEAR. They have 6 teams in their tournament now, but for years only had 4. Before that, they picked two teams to play each other for a Championship game and the NCAA wouldn’t play their events at the same stadium as D1 and D3. So D2 having 6 teams is a HUGE improvement. But a lot more growth, both in the number of teams and in the tourney size, needs to happen before they really enter this discussion.
The answer for the rest of the divisions is to use, but modify the Pool A, Pool B, and Pool C structure.
Pool A is all AQ winners. There are as many slots as there are conferences. Pool B are the top indenependent and non AQ conference champions, with a limit of one team per conference for Pool B. In DIII, this would probably be 3 teams. In D1, probably 2. MCLA would be 1 or 2 if they ever had independent teams. Pool C is everyone else. Only the top teams go.
The idea of adding teams that will help grow lacrosse is an important one, and I feel like the NCAA Division 1 and MCLA don’t do everything they can to promote that growth. Division III came up with an interesting system, but right now, Pool B is being abused by one conference. It’s a cagey move on their part, but I find it hard to believe they’ve been pushing other NCAC schools to add lax quickly. An easy bid to the dance is too good to pass up. And this is a problem. When something designed to grow the game is actually concentrating power, it must be changed. So Pool B has to be tweaked, but it’s still the best answer we have when it comes to representing the best of the best AND incentivizing more colleges and universities to get in the game, even if the other schools in their conference aren’t willing or able.