D’Ann Keller, associate director of championships and alliances for the NCAA, said the expansion has been approved by the Division I championship and sports management cabinet. However, it still has several stages to pass through, including the budget committee, before it becomes certain.
With 91 teams this spring and several more expected in the next few years, there could soon be 13 or 14 conferences with automatic qualifiers up from the current 11. An NCAA bylaw stipulates 50 percent of the bracket must be filled with at-large bids, Keller said, so more AQs would necessitate an additional play-in game, bringing the total to four, unless the bracket is expanded to 24.
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This season, only five conference winners -- the Atlantic Coast (Maryland), Big East (Loyola), American Lacrosse (Johns Hopkins, America East (UMBC) and Ivy League – automatically make the 16-team field. The other six AQs advance to play-in games.
“The biggest push from the [women’s lacrosse] committee’s standpoint is we’re trying to eliminate the play-in games so that every conference that is eligible to receive an AQ is actually getting the AQ,” Keller said. “Even if we get 24, there still may have to be one play-in game. Looking at the growth of this sport, I think we will have 13 or 14 conferences that are going to be eligible for AQs. If you do the numbers and we have 14 conferences and only 24 teams in the bracket unless that legislation changes, there would potentially need to be a play-in game.”
Currently, the winners of the Colonial Athletic Association (Towson), Northeast (Mount St. Mary’s), Patriot League (Navy), Mountain Pacific, Metro Atlantic and Atlantic 10 conferences advance to play-in-games.
Two conferences planning to sponsor women’s lacrosse for the first time next season are the Big South and the Atlantic Sun.
The Big South would include Davidson, High Point, Liberty and Presbyterian as well as three programs schedule to debut next season: Campbell, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop, according to the Big South website.
The Atlantic Sun would absorb some of the teams currently in the National Lacrosse Conference, which does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and would dissolve after this season. Jacksonville, Longwood, Detroit Mercy and Howard currently compete in the NLC and would be joined in the A-Sun by Kennesaw State, Mercer and Stetson, according to the A-Sun website.
With more than the required six member teams, both conferences will apply for automatic qualifier berths in the NCAA tournament. That also requires two years of conference play before an AQ can be granted.