One of the NCAA’s strong suggestions to its lacrosse committee over the last five years or so was to force no more than one (and sometimes two) teams to fly to its first-round games.
The criteria for what forced a flight changed over the years. As recently as 2006, a school was eligible to fly if it was more than 325 miles from its first-round foe. It then rose to 350 miles and has since jumped to 400 miles.
The good part of this? Cost containment. The not-so-good part of this? The occasional bracket no one could come close to saying with a straight face was constructed close to a manner that ensured the best team played the weakest team in the field.
Retracing previous fields, here’s who would have flown (or, in the case of 2004 Providence, likely flew) based on the NCAA’s criteria at the time:
||Ohio State-North Carolina
Give the past committees credit. Of the 15 games requiring a team to fly over the last eight years, 11 involved Denver, Notre Dame or Ohio State. The rest went a long way to assuring a balanced bracket.
That said, the occasional credibility issues came up —- most memorably in 2006, when unbeaten Virginia got paired with Notre Dame.
With that in mind, here’s a progressive development: The flight limit as it once was is no more.
“We don’t have a flight restriction,” said Air Force associate athletic director Dermot Coll, the chairman of this year’s lacrosse committee. “With teams like Notre Dame and Denver, we’ve really gotten away from a specific number of flights. We’re more into trying to contain costs and to try to do the right thing … We’re trying to protect the eight seeded teams and try to get as many teams within 400 miles [of their first-round opponent]. If we have three flights, then we have three flights.”
If this sounds like a sensible policy, that’s because it is. In a 16-team field, it’s fairly easy to accept what appear to be 4-12 and 5-13 matchups in the first round if it means some money can be saved. Same thing goes for 2-14 and 3-15.
(Remember, with only eight seeded teams, there’s a bit of subjectiveness involved with ranking the other eight teams in the field).
But if it’s 1-12 or 8-13, it calls the intrinsic fairness of the event into question. Not being beholden to a specific number of flights helps avoid such concerns.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Coll said. “We seed the top eight and take the next eight and try to keep it at 9-through-16 as best we can, but under some circumstances we’ll do regional matchups. We’ll turn a 16 into a 15 because of regionalization. To us, it’s extremely important to keep the integrity of the tournament. If you’re seeded 1, 2, 3 and 4, you’ve earned the opportunity to host a team that didn’t finish that high.”
—- Patrick Stevens