I) Who chooses the NCAA Tournament field?
The NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Committee. It’s a group made up of five people heavily involved with the sport.
Here’s the list:
— Chairman Tim Pavlechko, Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Bucknell
— Bob Scalise, Director of Athletics, Harvard
— Dermot Coll, Associate Athletic Director, Air Force
— Tony Seaman, Head Coach, Towson
— Dave Cottle, Head Coach, Maryland
Seaman is new this year; he replaced Hofstra’s Jack Hayes, who finished his term over the summer.
II) When do they meet?
Throughout the year, and especially towards the end of the regular season, the committee will discuss the various scenarios that could be facing them on selection weekend, so they’re prepared to face what might come up at the last minute. Then, on the last weekend of the regular season, they convene for 48 hours and weigh potential teams and matchups. On the evening of Sunday May 3, they will release the bracket on ESPNU.
III) What are the selection criteria for teams?
This, I’m sure, is what everyone wants to know. We’ve always heard that strength of schedule and RPI are significant factors, but we did some research to see how important they actually are.
A) We’ll start with this: Pavlechko told us that the three primary factors used to evaluate teams are:
1) Won-Loss Record
2) Strength of Schedule (not just the SOS index – explained below)
3) Eligibility of Students
This confirms that strength of schedule seems to be what the committee most heavily looks at, and you can see it in the history of the tournament – it annually rewards teams like Johns Hopkins, who may not have the best record but have quality wins and one of the countries toughest schedules. On the flipside, sometimes teams with great records get passed over — take Cornell going undefeated in the ‘07 regular season and ending up as a No. 4 seed or Bucknell going 12-0 in 1996 and missing the tournament.
An aside: This is a formula that many say rewards teams who can schedule tough opponents and penalizes teams that don’t or can’t put together a strong schedule. As of right now, that’s true — it certainly favors the top teams like those in the ACC or Hopkins and Syracuse, but the conference re-alignment next season (the new Big East, a tougher CAA with UMass, etc.) and the extra week in the season will provide more teams with opportunities to put together tough schedules.
B) Back to the action. Here’s how the committee reviews strength of schedule (adapted from the NCAA’s Championship Handbook):
Primary Criteria for Selecting At-Large Teams
The Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee employs criteria specified in NCAA Bylaws. When selecting teams for possible at-large berths, primary factors considered when reviewing teams’ won-loss records and strength of schedule are (not in priority order) as follows:
1. Strength of Schedule Index — which is based on the 10 highest-ranking opponents in the ratings percentage index RPI
2. Results against teams in descending order, as determined by the “normal RPI [Ratings Percentage Index] rank” used during the selection process, that is, the record against teams ranked 1-5, 6-10, 11-20, and team ranked greater than 20. See current results against teams ranked by RPI
3. Average RPI win (average RPI of all wins)
4. Average RPI loss (average RPI of all losses)
5. Significant wins (wins against teams ranked higher in the RPI)
6. Significant losses (losses against teams ranked lower in the RPI)
7. Head-to-head competition.
8. Results against common opponents.
9. Locations of contests.
To clarify, all of these criteria are based around the RPI — Rating Percentage Index — which is calculated by the NCAA as follows:
25% of the institution’s winning percentage, 50% of opponent’s success and 25% of opponents strength of schedule
In the above list, criteria one and two are, for our money, the most important in determining how to evaluate teams. We’ve relied heavily on the quality wins factor in putting together our own bracket.
What’s interesting about this, too, is that they not only take into account significant wins (seemingly twice, with criteria two and five), but significant losses. So UMBC’s loss to Hartford last week counts against them.
Also, criterion nine is interesting — locations of contests. This means looking at where teams played when they won and lost. To understand how this breaks down, Pavlechko explained that a loss to a team at home is worse than a loss on the road. Wins on the road are seen as tougher than winning at home, and winning at in neutral sites is seen as in between both of those. How could that affect this year’s tournament? For starters, Notre Dame is 4-0 at neutral sites this year.
C) Finally, the committee solicits input from regional advisory committees, which is another tool, along with RPI, SOS, Win-Loss, etc., that they use in evaluating teams. These advisory committees are chaired by a head coach from each conference, including one from the independents, and give their take on the best teams in each region.
Here are the coaches involved this year:
Kevin Corrigan, Notre Dame
John Desko, Syracuse
Tim McIntee, Manhattan
Jim Nagle, Colgate
Rick Sowell, Stony Brook
Seth Tierney, Hofstra
Charlie Toomey, Loyola
Brian Voelker, Penn
IV) Now we know how they select the teams and seeds, but how do they pick the matchups? And why are there only eight seeds?
A) Eight seeds
Each year, people who aren’t familiar with the selection system complain that the No. 1 seed should play the No. 16 seed, and are perplexed when they find out there are only eight seeds. That’s right, the committee seeds the top eight teams, but leaves the other eight squads unseeded.
Why? This setup exists largely because of financial considerations. What they want to do is create the most competitive matchups, but do so in a way that allows them to sustain the postseason tournament without taking financial losses. Which means developing games based on geographic proximity, to minimize travel cost. It usually works out, but unfortunately, sometimes you get games like the UMBC-Virginia first rounder last year, which would have been great as a quarterfinal.
But until the NCAA is able to see that it’s worth it, financially or otherwise, to invest heavily in the first round of the tournament, it’s going to stay this way for the foreseeable future. The best way for this to be rectified is for you, our readers, to get out to as many first-round games as possible and bring your friends. The more interest in the sport, especially early on in the tournament, the more incentive for future development.
B) More about creating matchups
As of right now, the NCAA allows for two flights in the first round, but due to the economic downturn, they will probably try to limit flying as much as possible this year. In the scenario we’ve created in the latest bracketology, there is only one flight in the first round — Maryland traveling to Notre Dame.
This is because they’ve increased the mileage limitation on bus travel to 400 miles, an increase from 350 last year. This allows a game like UMass-Johns Hopkins to take place with ease, which last year would have pushed the 350-mile provision to its limit.
Pavlechko says that in addition to creating matchups by geography, they try to limit first-round conference rematches wherever possible. Our bracket has reflected that, too.
Finally, if quarterfinal host institutions make the playoffs (see Navy or Hofstra this year), they have to be placed on a track to play at their quarterfinal sites because they don’t have the staffing ability to travel on the road and host a quarterfinal at the same time.
Ok, so there you have it. Leave questions below and we can try to answer them in a later post or get them in a podcast with committee chair Tim Pavlechko if there’s enough response.