NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Tournament Expands to 26 Teams
updated 08.16.12 at 6:34 p.m.
The NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament will expand from 16 teams to 26 teams beginning in 2013. It is the most significant expansion of the championship field since 2001, when the total number of tournament teams rose to 16 from eight.
NCAA tournament expansion has been a hot topic for several years, although few expected an increase of 10 teams. The 26-team field was the result of an NCAA bylaw that dictates that at least 50 percent of any tournament field must be at-large bids, to allow equitable access to championship competition. With 13 teams sponsoring conference tournaments and meriting automatic qualifiers, the NCAA needed 13 at-large bids to meet that requirement, resulting in 26 total tournament teams.
The conferences receiving automatic bids will be:
America East Conference
In 2012, in the 16-team tournament field, only five conferences — the America East, the ALC, the ACC, the Big East and the Ivy League — received automatic bids. Other conferences champions had to participate play-in games. Under the new system, there will be no play-in games.
"The NCAA is doing the right thing, as far as keeping up with the growth of the women's game. More and more conferences are out there, so I think this makes a lot of sense financially," Georgetown coach Ricky Fried said. The Hoyas went 9-8 in 2012 and just missed a NCAA bid. "The play-in games were starting to get expensive — Navy flying out to Oregon was not a minimal cost. It makes sense on a lot of different levels. Everybody is exciting about the opportunity to participate at that level."
Beginning in 2013, institutions that receive the top eight seeds in the NCAA tournament will host the first and second rounds, with the top six teams receiving a bye in the first round. Two other teams will play a first-round game at the site of the host institution on Friday, May 10, the winner of which will advance to a second-round game on Sunday, May 12. The Nos. 7 and 8 seeds will play an at-large opponent in the first round on their home field, in addition to hosting a second first-round game between two at-large teams.
Quarterfinal games will be hosted by the highest remaining seeds. In the event that four unseeded teams advance to the quarterfinals, the NCAA will select the host site, taking both which institutions are capable of hosting the event and the teams' RPIs into consideration.
The NCAA considered the idea of moving the quarterfinals to neutral sites, as is done in the Division I men's lacrosse tournament, but ultimately felt that school sites were more suitable.
"One of the biggest things is to make sure our preliminary rounds have attendance, rather than going to a site where you might not have a local draw. It's one of those things that we continue to monitor and as we continue to see the strength of attendance in the preliminary rounds," NCAA associate director of championships D'Ann Keller said. "We've got to have well-attended games at the forefront before we go to neutral sites. And the spring's a hard time when you depend on student bodies for a fan base."
Fried echoed the need for fan support of the tournament games.
"The biggest thing we should focus on is making sure we keep up the fan base, as opposed to just getting more games. While it's great that we have more opportunities to play in the NCAA tournament, we do have to figure out a way to get fans out to our games, and have them see how great the game is -- getting women to support women's sports," he said. "We play the same weekend as the men, and obviously they do really well in their attendance. While our attendance has gotten better, I still think we can do so much more trying to bring spectators out to the games."
The 2013 final four site has not been selected yet. An announcement is expected by mid-September.
Additionally, the NCAA has recommended the number of women’s lacrosse regions should increase from four to five. This change will create greater balance for NCAA tournament selectors who evaluate teams throughout the season based on assigned regions.
Ninety-two teams competed in Division I during the 2012 season; eight more programs (Southern California, Marquette, Delaware State, Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, Stetson, Campbell and Kennesaw State) are slated to have their inaugural seasons in 2013, bringing the total number of Division I teams to 100.
With the 26-team field, the inclusion rate of the women's lacrosse tournament jumps from 17.4 percent to 26 percent. The latter figure is more in keeping with comparable team sports and allows for the tournament to remain proportionately inclusive even if more institutions add women's lacrosse. Colorado and Michigan are both slated to begin varsity women's lacrosse in the 2014 season.
NCAA Championship Inclusion Rates
Football: 70 of 125 (56 percent)