Can't tell the leagues without a scorecard

Automatic qualifiers create new alignments

Men's notebook College Lacrosse

April 25, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

What do Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, Syracuse and Villanova have in common? All call the Big East Conference home, unless the sport is lacrosse. Then Georgetown and Rutgers go to the ECAC; Notre Dame heads up the Great Western League, Providence drops down to the Metro Atlantic, and Villanova jumps at the chance to join the Colonial Athletic Association.

Syracuse? Like the 800-pound bear, it goes wherever it wants.

Once the fallout from automatic qualifiers being forced on Division I lacrosse settles, the Orangemen and Johns Hopkins could be the only independents left. The process is about as easy to fathom as the Human Genome Project, but here goes.

The NCAA mandated that last year's Division I tournament include four automatic qualifiers. Next year, Division I must make room for the champion of any league that meets NCAA standards, basically six members and two seasons in existence. No more than half of the 12-team field can consist of automatic qualifiers, and if Division I ever grows beyond six eligible conferences, the weakest will be involved in a play-in game.

"I'd settle for that," Mount St. Mary's coach Tom Gravante said.

The Mount is at home today in Emmitsburg, against No. 6 Maryland. It's a have against a have-not, but next spring the Mountaineers might have as good a shot at the NCAA tournament as the Terps. The Mount is an associate member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the league that gains the most from automatic qualifiers for all.

Under current NCAA rules, the ECAC, Great Western, Ivy, Metro Atlantic and Patriot will have automatic qualifiers next year.

The America East would have, but Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra and Towson are headed to the Colonial. Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan insists that there are still T's to cross and I's to dot, but last week the CAA announced that the Greyhounds and Villanova would join as associate members. The timing is crucial. If the CAA can sell last week's Loyola-Villanova meeting as year one of the CAA, the conference would get an automatic qualifier in 2003.

"As the rest of the world forms leagues and at-large bids shrink," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said, "it's important to give yourself protection."

The America East has four lacrosse-playing members on board for next year and will try to get to six. The ACC is not interested in associate members, and its four schools will swim in an at-large pool that will swarm over six berths in 2003. The at-large pool will include Hopkins, Syracuse, the four ACC schools and conference also-rans.

Since Division I will drop to 54 programs, forget about the field expanding. Ignore the howling about the tournament being watered down. Basketball understands that a Hampton win over an Iowa State is what puts the madness in March, and the lacrosse tournament has been Goliath vs. Goliath.

Automatic qualifiers have made for some strange bedfellows, and curious alignments. Loyola is a full member of the Metro Atlantic, but doesn't like its four-scholarship limit, hence its interest in the Colonial. Of the charter members of the Patriot League, Navy had the most accomplished lacrosse program. The Mids don't get under the Patriot umbrella, which includes blood rival Army, its regular-season finale opponent foe Friday. Instead, Navy opted for the ECAC, where there are a few more geographic rivals but also tougher competition.

"People may think that we should take what they perceive as the easier route," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "We don't make decisions based on what's easier."

Player of the Week

Scott Bross, Duke. The senior out of Centennial High was MVP in the ACC tournament, as he controlled 22 of 34 faceoffs in wins over Virginia and Maryland.

Game of the Week

No. 2 Syracuse at No. 8 Massachusetts. The Minutemen are coming off their first loss. They finish at Rutgers and Brown, and still need another quality win.

Briefs

Conor Gill (St. Paul's) opened a six-inch gash on his right hand in Friday's loss to Maryland, and will miss Virginia's last two games, against Butler and Ohio State. Both are must-wins for the 5-6 Cavaliers. ... Towson is puzzled by the USILA rankings. The Tigers dominated two road games to extend the nation's longest winning streak to eight games, yet dropped a spot to No. 10. Towson is ranked behind Loyola, which it beat. ... Mount St. Mary's is getting a fine senior season from faceoff man Bryan Cole (Oakland Mills).

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