MJ: D-III Tourney Expands to 28 Teams
The numbers have been crunched at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, and for the fourth consecutive year, the Division III men's tournament will expand its field. The 2012 season will feature a 28-team bracket, up two from the '11 campaign, according to Jeff Jarnecke, the associate director for championships at the NCAA.
While there have been just two teams added to the entire mix, the breakdown of how those bids will be allocated has changed significantly.
Pool A, which is reserved for the champions of automatic qualifying conferences, has added two bids, pushing its number to 18. The Midwest Lacrosse Conference and the Great Northeast Athletic Conference are the two leagues joining the AQ roll this spring.
There are still 10 bids combined between Pool B (independent/non-qualifying conferences) and Pool C (at-large bids from AQ conferences), but the numbers have been shifted drastically. Instead of four Pool B and six Pool C berths like last year, Pool B will have just two this spring, with Pool C snagging the remaining eight spots.
This will be welcome news to secondary conferences in Division III. The traditional power leagues – the Centennial, Empire 8, NESCAC, and Capital – will still gobble up their share of the at-large openings, but this will also give a glimmer of hope to teams in the Liberty, Commonwealth Coast and ODAC to qualify a second team for the championship field.
Conversely, this is an unwelcome revelation for the members of the North Coast Athletic Conference. The NCAC schools have become accustomed to harvesting three bids to the tournament through Pool B of late, but with only two in total available in 2012, the margin for error has been reduced significantly. It's a somewhat cruel departing gift for the NCAC, which transitions to an AQ conference next spring, although the league will have access to the expanded Pool C in the future.
For bracket purposes, the expansion has a mild impact. It will add another first round game in both the North and South sides of the bracket and eliminate one of the byes, leaving just two byes on each side of the draw.