The winner of Towson’s conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, has always received an automatic bid into the 16-team NCAA tournament field. This season, however, the winner must go through a play-in game against the Northeast Conference winner to earn a spot in the 16-team field.
Navy’s Patriot League would still be in a play-in game, which the Midshipmen hosted and won the past two years, but the winner would now have to travel as far as the West Coast. The Midshipmen are projected by the conference coaches to win again and they would travel to meet the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation winner, projected to be Stanford.
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The CAA lost its automatic bid this spring because Albany, which finished 18-1 with the No. 7 ranking, helped lift the America East Conference’s RPI over the CAA’s. The America East, in which UMBC fell to Albany in the conference final, now has an automatic bid to the tournament field while the CAA winner will host a play-in game.
Having the CAA in a play-in game could set up an interesting scenario if two conference teams are good enough to make the NCAA tournament, which appears unlikely in any other conference relegated to a play-in game. If James Madison should win the CAA, as projected by its coaches, and Towson should earn an at-large bid, the Tigers would go directly into the bracket while the Dukes would have to go through a play-in game.
“Our goal is to get into NCAAs with an at-large bid, so then it would be a non-issue,” said Towson coach Sonia LaMonica. “It’s a little disappointing to be in position [for the conference] to lose that AQ this year, but with the potential of bracket expansion [to 24 teams possibly as early as 2013], it may be a non-issue going forward.”
Division I now has three play-in games with the Atlantic 10 and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the other one. The America East, American Lacrosse, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East and Ivy League conference winners receive automatic bids. Eight teams will receive at-large bids.