Morning Jac: Division II's Big Question
As you read this, there is a group of Division II coaches, school administrators, conference reps and NCAA staff attempting to hammer out the logistics of the division's new eight-team tournament format, which will be instituted starting in the spring of 2013. An announcement about the new paradigm is expected by the end of the summer. It's an exciting time for coaches, players and fans in D-II because this process will create a whole new world and bring a lot more attention to the NCAA's middle child.
Many of the issues being tackled will likely be settled relatively easily. For instance, the current three-region system for determining NCAA qualifiers will probably be swapped out for a two-region, North-South structure, with the eight bids parceled out between the two.
The entire format probably won't make complete sense to lacrosse fans because these negotiations are not taking place in a vacuum. There might be some obvious choices from our sport's perspective, but the NCAA must make sure that that the lacrosse version of the tournament follows some basic principles that are consistent with what has been drawn up for the other sports in Division II. Otherwise, the NCAA would have a mish-mash of different formats specific to individual sports, which would be untenable from an organizational and financial perspective.
The biggest question, at least from my angle, will not be so easy to decide.
Will Division II simply chop up the teams into two regions, hand each region four bids, with the top four teams receiving them, or will they make a concession and set aside one of the eight bids for the sole use of independent and/or western teams as a way to foster the continued growth of the sport in Division II? A case can be made for both choices.
Case 1: You want the best teams to be on the biggest stage. If D-II is going to match the excitement and notoriety of the D-I and D-III playoffs, it needs to put its top product on the field. In addition, the traditional top programs have toiled for years under the four-team system and it was their efforts that made it logical to expand the tournament. As such, they should reap the rewards of their work. While it's great that new teams are coming online, the division has not reached the developmental point where it can afford to concede a coveted bid simply to be inclusive.
Case 2: With only 42 total teams, D-II cannot afford to become stagnant. While seeing the usual suspects in the tournament every year will produce the biggest draws and interest, it has the potential to stunt the division's growth. With new programs already popping up in Missouri, Colorado and California, setting aside one of the bids as a carrot for the many other interested Division II institutions, along with those NAIA schools contemplating the jump, is a small price to pay. The independent or western teams may not be competitive initially in the tournament, but a ticket to the dance will help develop them quicker than just sitting on the sidelines for years.
To me, there is no right or wrong answer. And, frankly, I'm glad I don't have to make that decision, because there is going to be one faction that is disappointed regardless. It's even further complicated by the timing of the decision. While a coach of a top team may feel magnanimous with the bids in August, when May rolls around and they are the eighth best team, they may have a different opinion when it's their team left at home. The fact that D-II probably won't have conference automatic qualifiers also makes this difficult.
When the announcement is made, there will be some hand-wringing either way. If there is any solace to be taken, at least Division II has finally earned the opportunity to make this decision because it means it is on the right path.