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Q&A with NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee chair John Hardt

John Hardt was extremely busy Sunday night. After the 17-team field for the upcoming NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament was unveiled, Hardt, who chairs the selection committee, made the rounds with a plethora of media outlets. The athletic director for the University of Richmond was kind enough to spend a few minutes to answer several questions about this year’s bracket.

How difficult was the task of selecting this year’s 17-team field?

My takeaway after this year’s selection process is, I think there’s more parity right now on the Division I level than there has been in my time on the committee, and this is my fourth year. So that was one of my biggest takeaways, and it made it particularly difficult — and it’s always difficult, so I don’t want to say that it’s not — this year in making the determination of that final at-large slot because there four teams under close consideration, and they were very tightly bunched together. So it really challenged the committee to differentiate those four teams and then also to ultimately select Villanova as the final at-large team that we placed in the NCAA tournament.

What separated Villanova from Bucknell, Ohio State and Rutgers?

It was the overall body of work that Villanova presented and taken in the context of direct comparisons with each and all members of that group. So as we looked at the last teams under consideration, we noted Villanova had a really strong Quadrant 1 win over Yale. They presented us with the best nonconference strength of schedule. Of that group, they had the best RPI and the best win-loss record. And when the committee did kind of that next layer of drill-down, Villanova had one of the strongest RPIs both in wins and in the teams they lost to. So their overall body presented a profile that the committee ultimately felt was stronger than the other three final teams under consideration. And probably the last area we looked at was how the four matched up with common opponents that they all had played, and again, under that criteria, Villanova was the strongest program. When we look at the overall profile of Villanova against some very fine teams in Bucknell, Ohio State and Rutgers, it was by a very slight margin that we ended up giving the nod to Villanova and then awarding them that final at-large spot in the tournament field.

A question that has been raised via social media is how the Big East can be represented by three teams while the Big Ten is represented by only two. But the committee’s task is to award berths to teams, not conferences, correct?

The committee absolutely does not track the number of teams from any respective conference. While we’re doing our work, we’re analyzing each team individually regardless of their conference affiliation. So when the dust finally settles on our completed bracket, it’s only then that I think others comment on which conferences got which teams in and how many teams from a particular conference were awarded places in the bracket. The committee really does not pay attention to that at all.

Another question involves Robert Morris being shipped to the play-in game despite having a stronger RPI than Richmond.

I would say first of all, the opening-round matchups are determined by the lowest-ranked AQ qualifiers with geographical considerations. The committee, as you know, does try to limit air travel whenever possible. With that said, I’ve got to be absolutely clear that as the University of Richmond’s AD, I was completely recused from that discussion during the selection process. So when I was out of the room and I came back in, they explained to me that Robert Morris and Canisius were in that play-in game for the reasons that I just indicated.

How did Syracuse get the No. 8 seed and a home game in the first round over Cornell, which defeated the Orange, 13-8, on April 10?

That is a great question because I think a lot of folks are going to point to Cornell’s head-to-head victory earlier in the season over Syracuse, and I also think that both Syracuse and Cornell had very close RPIs with maybe Cornell being a spot or two ahead of them. But as we drilled down further, Syracuse was 3-1 against common opponents while Cornell was 2-2. Syracuse was undefeated in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] regular season, which made an impact when you look at the quality and that being the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. They had quality wins over Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia. And I also think that because it was so close, we ended up looking at bad losses, and in that regard, Cornell had two losses that were bad losses considered by the committee, and that was Colgate and Princeton whereas Syracuse’s worst loss of the season was to Navy with an RPI of 17. So we took that all into consideration, and we gave the slight edge to Syracuse, and that’s why they were awarded the [No.] 8 seed and are hosting Cornell in the [Carrier] Dome in that first round.

Should No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins and No. 7 seed Notre Dame have been seeded higher?

I think the committee felt like when you looked at the complete body of their work, both of them sort fell into those positions as we went through our top-to-bottom analysis. I don’t think that the committee felt like they were anywhere but the right place in the seedings. Now the proof will be in the pudding, and we’ll see what happens when they start playing lacrosse in the tournament, but I felt like they earned good seeds, and I think they’re in good places in the bracket. But I don’t think based on the committee’s analysis, we felt that they were underseeded in any way.

What factors went into giving the No. 1 seed to Maryland?

We looked at Maryland, and when you look at the seven areas that the NCAA basically outlines as our parameters for selection criteria, Maryland was right at the top or right near the top in every single one of those areas. Even though it might have caught some folks by surprise that they were upset in the Big Ten final by Johns Hopkins, they were still clearly in the committee’s estimation the No. 1 seed in the country.

After going through this process for the first time as the committee chair, do you wish the field was expanded so that you could include more teams? Or do you feel that the 17-team field is a good number?

As a huge proponent of men’s lacrosse, I think that a bigger bracket would be a better bracket. But I also understand the fiscal realities and the policy implications that the NCAA membership is cognizant of. So I understand that. But if you’re asking for my opinion as a supporter of Division I lacrosse, I’m a huge fan of this sport, and I think a bigger bracket would be better. It would be great.

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