In 2000, new face for lacrosse

Automatic bids force radical realignments

April 22, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Loyola battling Maryland and Virginia for a conference championship? Mount St. Mary's preparing for an NCAA tournament game while Syracuse prepares for next season?

Don't laugh. Get ready for an introduction to college lacrosse, Y2K style.

As the sport enters the new millennium, the 12-team Division I men's NCAA tournament will go from a purely at-large format to determining at least half of its field by automatic berths. That has the 17 independent schools at the 53-team Division I level already thinking about moving into established leagues or joining forces to form new affiliations.

"It's the most traumatic event in our sport since installing the Final Four," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who is also a member of the NCAA tournament selection committee. "This will change the face of the game."

Although the format won't be finalized until as early as the summer, the selection committee has had a tug of war with the NCAA over several prospective blueprints as a result of the NCAA-mandated policy of automatic qualifying.

One plan included automatic bids for the champions of the six strongest leagues, including the Great Western Lacrosse League, and six at-large invitations.

Another scenario gave every Division I conference champion a bid, which could be as many as eight next season, and put the number of at-large selections at four.

Then there is the compromise idea of giving some league champions automatic bids and making others qualify via a play-in round.

"We're trying to go along, but the NCAA has to realize that our sport is so different," said Starsia, who had a conference call with other committee members about this subject Tuesday. "It's complicated right now and at a delicate phase. We really can't hurt the programs that have supported the sport over the years. We've got our fingers crossed."

To qualify for an automatic bid, conferences will be required to have at least six teams. Right now, only the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Patriot League meet that standard, and the five-team Great Western Lacrosse League (Air Force, Butler, Denver, Notre Dame, Ohio State) might be granted an exemption.

Now, let's break down the realignment.

Hobart has raced to the Patriot League. The newly formed Eastern College Athletic Conference, which hasn't been officially announced, will combine middle-tier teams UMBC, Navy, Georgetown, Massachusetts, Penn State, Rutgers and Stony Brook into one league.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, which needs two more members to meet the standard, has actively pursued Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and Radford.

However, if the ACC expands with any of these teams, it will have to change its name, because the ACC does not allow associate members for specific sports. So this weekend's 11th edition of the ACC tournament might be its last.

Of the prospective schools, Loyola is the only one that has accepted, giving the ACC office a "tentative yes" on Tuesday.

"With the automatic bids, if you're out of a conference, you're going to encounter difficulty in scheduling," Loyola coach Dave Cottle said. "To play the ACC schools will do wonders for our schedule. That's why we're interested."

Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder said he was contacted by the ACC office recently and will wait to discuss the situation with coach John Haus. Syracuse coach John Desko said yesterday that the school was called by the ACC earlier this season, but the Orangemen would remain independent.

"I still insist that the best 12 teams should go to the tournament," Desko said. "With automatic bids, I don't think that will always be the case."

In Division III, the 14-team tournament system becomes more complex, with bids for nine conference champions, three independent schools and two at-large teams. Under this format, last year's national champion, Washington College, would probably not have made the tournament, because it finished behind Gettysburg in the Centennial Conference.

Shoremen coach J. B. Clarke said: "I have a problem, because the NCAA championships is about selecting the best teams."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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