AQ's: At Their Best Or Worst?

AQ's: At Their Best Or Worst?

AQ's: At Their Best Or Worst?

AQ's: At Their Best Or Worst?

Automatic Qualifiers have swept through men's Division I and Division III over the last couple of years. These AQ's allow teams that may not have been selected by the tournament selection committee for the NCAA Championships to be invited by simply winning their conference. More conferences comply with AQ requirements each year seizing the opportunity to make the play offs one way or another. The concept is to allow for more student athletes from non-traditional schools to compete in a once in a lifetime type experience. It allows colleges to use the AQ as a recruiting tool as well to eventually level the playing field. Some conferences like the Ivy League have an AQ, but with Princeton, Brown, Cornell, etc. whichever team won the conference would probably be selected for the tournament anyway. While it does allow a team within the conference to come up big once or twice and get a surprise AQ by beating the favorites, it's not like that team didn't have to beat a few quality teams to do it. We took a look at the extreme version of the AQ and for division I the MAAC's first AQ in Manhattan fits the bill. For division III Stevens Tech has gone to the show two years in a row representing the AQ for the Knickerbocker Conference. These two teams didn't have a chance in hell to make the tournament pre-AQ and don't have to beat a team ranked in the top twenty to get a tournament birth.

Good intentions and idealism are the corner stone of our liberal college campuses today as much as any time in history. The AQ is truly born of the college spirit. As we learn later in life however, reality is based on accomplishments and hard results. The AQ idealistically is awesome, but if all it means is sending a team each year to the slaughterhouse in the name of good intentions than it has failed. Manhattan and Stevens are the guinea pigs because they have represented the weakest conferences in their divisions respectively. Can they parlay an AQ appearance in the tournament into a championship caliber recruiting class? We took a look at each team's progress by interviewing the Head Coaches and some of their players. Manhattan and Stevens Tech are crossing the same lake, but Manhattan appears to be in a canoe while Stevens is in a cigarette racing boat. In the end, as long as both teams get there it's still a good thing.

Stevens Tech

Championships aren't completely unheard of at Stevens. Stevens won championships in 1892, 1894, 1917, and 1918. In their 119th year they are the nations longest running continuous lacrosse program. That is ancient history, but the school is focused on getting back to those glory days. In 2001 they suffered a 16-3 loss at the hands of Salisbury State in the first round with their first AQ. Last year they lost to Gettysburg 16-5 in the first round. Head Coach Byron Collins on the early exits,"The first year I think we were happy to be there. Last year we played Gettysburg real tough for almost three full quarters. The guys left with a bad taste in their mouths and they truly believe that we could beat the top teams. We just didn't have the depth in some positions to do that. I think we've taken care of that."

In fact, Coach Collins seems to have reason to be much more optimistic than many might think. Stevens isn't just simply the strongest team in a weak division over the last couple of years. They were committed to change things AQ or not with only a 3-11 record three years ago. They have taken the AQ as a bonus, but have the support of the institution to try and build a championship caliber team from the President on down to alumni.

It starts with recruiting. Stevens may not seem like a huge draw to the average Joe, but to students with 1350 on their SAT's or higher it could be a perfect fit. Stevens has a strong niche for players who love lacrosse and have an even stronger drive to compete academically. Coach Collins sells it like this,"It is truly very difficult to do engineering and play division 1 with all the requirements of time and I think kids are seeing that we can go to the tournament and the commitment of the school." Collins has two very good athletes that have narrowed their decision down to Cornell or Stevens. He has received phone calls from other division I coaches who are amazed that their competing with Stevens. One of this years top recruits is Jay Wells. Wells is a pre-med all American from Vermont who will be part of a promising recruiting class. The AQ had a subliminal affect on Well's decision as he said,""To tell you the truth, I didn't know that much about the automatic qualifier, but I knew that Stevens had made it the last few years. That made it a little easier to know that I was going to a school that had made it and that had goals to do well in the tournament." Jay didn't fully understand why Stevens made the play offs, but he did recognize the Stevens name from their trips to the tournament. Nobody knows the transition from wallowing in anonymity to the institution of the AQ better than three time captain Mike Baumbach. "When I came in freshmen year it was basically a bunch of kids who came to play lacrosse and have fun... When the AQ was enacted everything changed... Everyone wanted to win big, get to the tournament, and everything got serious. It was a lot easier to recruit a team like we have(now). Every year it seems like we get better and better players."

The AQ is great, but it takes more to create a championship team and the Stevens has definitely come through. Last year they put in a 3.2 million dollar turf field (the new sweet stuff). The benefactor came to check out the final product and decided he didn't like the chain link fence that surrounded it so he donated an additional 1.5 million to put a wrought iron fence around it. It will have the feel of a historic campus complete with a building on one end line sporting bullet proof windows(for any visiting teams who might have thought it cool to try and break a window, don't bother). They are dumping another 4.3 million into renovating the locker rooms and athletic facility. If that's not enough, they also have an indoor box facility. When all is said and done they will have athletic facilities that rival the best in the country at any division level.

The greatest part of the AQ is that Stevens has been able to schedule some quality teams with no fear of not making the tournament. They've wisely added Washington College, Lynchburg, Eastern Connecticut, and Ohio Wesleyan to their schedule for this year. Stevens can learn how to play big games against top schools during the season now rather than facing their first quality team in the play offs. They can afford to lose all those games and use it as a learning experience to whoop up on the rest of their conference for the AQ.

According to Baumbach, Stevens is also putting their time in on the field and in the weight room. They practice one hour a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. They put in two hours a day on weekends and hit the weight room four times a week at 6:15 am before classes start. Coach Collins adds,"We have a plan here. We think that this class is really critical to it. We like to see this be the class that gets us there within their four years or so...Our goal is not to be an AQ team where you go every year and get crushed...We are the poster child of the AQ."

Hurdles for Stevens to overcome

Stevens has a 2,000 strong student body located in Hoboken, New Jersey. It's a Path ride away from the New York City which could be very student friendly, but Hoboken is a post college town with young career minded people who have no problem spending over four dollars for a domestic beer. Most bars ID heavily as well. This, coupled with the poor gender ratio, makes it difficult to have a good social scene within the college. Stevens may be solving world problems in their locker room, but their high academic standards bar them from getting many players who they would like to have. Other than that, it certainly looks like they got on the express train to championship material. Only time will tell.


Manhattan is a year behind Stevens which is huge. Currently, no player on Manhattan could of known that they would have gone to the tournament before they signed. Manhattan in only its fifth year at the division I level wasn't even picked to win the MAAC last year and get their first AQ. They played Geargetown down in Delaware and kept it a respectable 12-7. Manhattan played an outstanding game. They're goalie, James Amandola, was nothing short of spectacular and the rest of the team played to probably 90% to 95% of their potential. It was an impressive display and one that Manhattan players and coaches alike were proud of and rightfully so. Georgetown, on the other hand, did not play well and there in lies the problem with AQ's initially. Georgetown on a less than average day still won. Manhattan Head Coach McIntee comes from a much different angle than the Stevens people. He looks at the AQ as a great opportunity for his players and a chance to surprise someone, but he knows his team has a long road to hoe. On the Georgetown game he offered,"Everyone can say what they want to say, but the harsh reality is that there's some good coaching going on here (the MAAC) and obviously there are players here willing to commit to whatever level people throw at us for a one weekend tour. We can't play Georgetown week in and week out and play a five goal game against them. You know that and I know that....I'm OK with that. They have ten high school all Americans and we have zero." He went on to describe an even bleaker future,"The reality now is that we're going to have the sixteenth seed every year because we're the lowest rated conference. That means we're going to have to play the top seed because it's a sixteen team field and the bye's are gone."

It's not all bad news people. Recruiting has gotten better. McIntee claims to be getting better looks at recruits this year. Currently the team doesn't have any kids from the top ten schools within the tri-state area. They have no high school all Americans. They don't even have any Empire State team kids. Already after getting the AQ Manhattan is trying to lure kids from Garden City, Manhasset, Chaminade, Saint Anthony's, Lakeland, etc. They feel they have a legit chance to land some of these athletes.

Coach sells his team by saying,"We're getting more and more academically inclined kids that are coming and saying hey, it's right in my backyard. Manhattan is centrally located. Connecticut, New Jersey, and even close upstate New York is still two hours away. Delaware kids are two hours and twenty minutes away. Boom boom and you're back home again and some kids really like that. The great thing that's happening with our system and the AQ is that athletically we're going to see better kids and it's already happening. There's nine middies over at Hobart. Does a guy want to challenge those guys up in Geneva New York or challenge it here."

The bottom line is that Coach McIntee is right when he says, "There's too many kids playing lacrosse and not enough places to go. That's the reality. There's only fifty D1 goalies and fifty D1 backups, and fifty D1 double back ups and you know what. Someone's not playing somewhere and he's out of there. You want to play in the NCAA's, you've got a shot. Not just at Manhattan...The AQ means it's going to give our level of ball the opportunity to recruit against the big guys." The problem for Manhattan right now is that other than the AQ they don't have much to offer.

Hurdles for Manhattan to Overcome.

Manhattan is a case study of an AQ with absolutely no school backing. In fact, with many division I schools committing to the full 12.6 scholarships the entire MAAC is stuck with only four. Scholarships are so key to a college like Manhattan. Division I schools that play lacrosse at a high level are also the premier academic institutions. While Manhattan is a fine academic college, if a student has to pay for college and he's choosing between Harvard and Manhattan is it really much of a choice? Sure, he may get to play in the tournament, but he's got to weigh getting beat in the first round or being a back-up at a school that probably has a better campus life and reputation. If you could lure these fringe players with a free ride you might be able to bridge the athletic gap much quicker.

The second strike against Manhattan is their facilities. What's a prospective student athlete to think when he shows up on campus and you don't even have a locker room to show him. Coach McIntee knows it's an issue. "Our facilities here at Manhattan are bottom line, but we make do." His team might make do, but an athlete with other opportunities might not want to make do.

Anthony Antonelli, a senior defensemen, has seen the transition from pre-AQ to post-AQ. He sees guys working much harder because the AQ means so much more than just a MAAC Championship. Anthony is optimistic, but he thinks it will take quite a long time. His thoughts on becoming a National Champion. "Down the road I think so. Kids are starting to come to the MAAC conference and see it as a way to get to the NCAA tournament. Before if you wanted to play in the NCAA tournament you had to go to one of those big schools. I think now that kids that are the next caliber of players who could go to bigger schools are coming to the MAAC because they see they have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament and that the competition is getting better. I think pretty soon the MAAC schools will be able to compete with the bigger schools...I think it will take a while, a couple of recruiting classes. I think that's pretty far down the road, but eventually I think it will happen...15, 20 years." Look for Manhattan to make a run in 2020. You heard it here first people.

It's to early to judge the AQ, but one things for sure. It hasn't changed the championship finals at all.

Post A Comment To This Story >

Yeah, Manhattan?
    by (#31081) on 10/17/02 @6:54PM
I do not care how much people say that Manhattan was worth the AQ. The Peen Quakers were so much better, and it is severe bull hauckey that they did not make the tournament at 10 wins and 2 losses
Reply to this

   no way by 10/17/02 @8:52PM
   manhattan by 12/08/02 @11:05PM
Top Ranked Teams + AQs = Bigger Tourny
    by (#9821) on 10/18/02 @11:16AM
I agree with the idea of bringing tournament opportunities to more teams across the nation. But, the current system helps teams who are successful in their region while it punishes teams who play in highly competitive conferences. This doesn't seem right.

If AQs stay, let's increase the size of the tournament so it better represents the best teams in the nation.

Lacrosse is getting bigger. The tournament should too.
Reply to this

   AQ's water down the tourney by 10/18/02 @1:40PM
      Or we could just... by 10/18/02 @3:58PM
         SU & Princeton is getting old. by 10/18/02 @7:43PM
            (no subject) by 10/21/02 @10:14AM
   They did by 10/18/02 @3:30PM
      (no subject) by 10/21/02 @12:27PM
   that's the point... by 10/21/02 @7:55PM
   Bigger is better by 10/30/02 @12:55AM
    by (#12731) on 10/18/02 @9:54PM
good article, however, it still does not change the fact that Hofstra got screwed!!!
Reply to this

    by (#23849) on 10/19/02 @5:32PM
No matter what we say or do there is always going to be a team or two that gets hung out to dry. For example, a couple of years ago UMASS didn't get into the tournament and they were one of the best teams in the country. And going back to the mid ninties, remember the Bucknell team that did the tournament in 1996 despite being 12-0 and the only unbeaten that year.

No system is going to be perfect and if that means allowing teams from lower conferences, like the MAAC, in then let them. They only have 4 scholarships to give compared to the 12 that most other schools have, so why not give them a shot and see if they can hang with the big guns.

I would not be surprised if within the next few years you see the MAAC upset some of the traditional power houses. Lacrosse is a sport where upsets are likely to happen, and given the chance i think they will happen.
Reply to this

   AQ's by 10/21/02 @11:38AM
   bull by 10/24/02 @5:30PM
      AQ's by 10/24/02 @10:31PM
Where Do I begin...
    by (#21073) on 10/21/02 @12:25PM
I have been arguing since the early 90's for a 16 team tournament, finally they took my advice (yeah 'casue it was ME that changed it...). However, if they did it 5 years ago, this entire discussion would be moot.

Let's review, Manhattan, Stony Brook, Farifield and Hobart, all AQ'a (check that for me, but I am pretty sure they were) lost by a COMBINED score of 63-20. Putting that in perspective, Duke scored 22 all by their lonesome (more on Duke later). How is that "good for the game?" Duke, Cornell, UMass and G'Town might as well had a 1st round bye, the only thing they risked was injuries, those games were a joke. No one believed any of those teams would even come close to a win.

Forget AQ's for a second and ponder these scenarios...

Mid-90's: Bucknell is denied a tournament bid after a 12-0 season for a UNC team (I believe) that went .500 only AFTER adding Ohio State, whom they added late in the season, simply to beat them. Huh?!? The NCAA told Bucknell thay aren't in becasue they didn't play tough enough teams, yet that is ecxactly what UNC did to get in.

Dateline 2001: Syracuse beats UMass in Amherst, ending any chance the Minutemen have of making an at-large bid to the tourney. Many were up in arms why they didn't make it, especially after beating Hofstra earlier that year who did make it. Let's remember though, UMass didn't beat any top-10 teams that year, Hofstra beat at least three, including Notre Dame when they were #2 (Hofstra AQ'd in from the America East, but we're forgetting abou that for the moment).

Fast forward 2002...
UMass in Hofstra out, didn't AQ becasue of the switch to the stacked CAA, giving Stony Brook ?!?! the AQ from America East. Duke in (because of the ACC win over UVA). But again, forgetting the AQ for a second. explain ot me how a 7-6 Duke deserve to be in over a 12-3 Hofstra, who killed them less than a week before the Selection Committee meets? This argument can be made for Penn as well at 9-4 (thank you docsnyc).

Are the AQ's good? Yes, but not when it is 11 out of 12 spots. The NCAA should have implemented the 16 team bracket the same time they started with the AQ's, making it 5 at large bids. There would still be some schools out that probably deserve in, but much less than the last two years. Too many good and great teams didn't make the tournament in the last couple of years. We would have had better competition in the first round if they played rock-paper-scissors, at leat then Hobart, Stony Brook, Manhattan and Fairfield would have had a shot. What is "good for the game," first round blowouts, akin to a bye? You can't tell me a Hofstra UMass game wouldn't be a much better game to watch than UMass Fairfield....
Reply to this

   Give It TIme by 10/21/02 @5:28PM
   wow zusi by 10/26/02 @3:57AM
      Wow by 10/27/02 @4:27PM
    by (#38132) on 10/22/02 @12:25PM
It's simple. Lacrosse is one of the best sports in the world. We should want it to grow. The only it will grow is through change. And this is what the AQ is doing. I know some of you don't like change and would be happy watching Syracuse-Princeton every friggin May, but I find it pretty boring. I havent watched a final since UVA won in '99. Take baseball for instance. This current World Series is one of the highest rated series in a long time. That would be b/c their are two different teams in it and not the Yankees. See, a change. And it is for the better. If you give other programs a chance, the student body of that university will show up to watch games b/c their team has a chance to win something. More fans, more exposure. The growth of lacrosse. It's a good thing.
Reply to this

   AQ's by 10/22/02 @2:37PM
   I don't disagree by 10/23/02 @11:42AM
      They earn that matchup though by 10/23/02 @11:57AM
   Ratings are actually quite low by 10/23/02 @2:09PM
   Clarification by 10/25/02 @11:53AM
AQ's are good......The NCAA needs to step up
    by (#29454) on 10/23/02 @7:16AM
The AQ system for DI and DIII lacrosse will ultimately help grow the sport and spread the talent pools across the board. Most of the comments I have read (both for and aginst) are understandable. If only the stingy NCAA committee would dip into their fat wallets and throw college lacrosse a bone by increasing the tourney pools. As the sport continues to grow in DIII and in DI, more and more teams are going to miss out (or be left out) and thats not fair.

Now Take a look @ that USLIA league. Eventhough its virtual-varsity college lacrosse, their National Tournament has growm each and every year. It went from 8 teams in '97 to 16 teams in 2002. Only 5 years to double the field and as they are even considering to make the field even bigger for next year as that league continues to grow each and every year. Maybe the NCAA Tourney Committee needs to take a lesson-learner from the USLIA.
Reply to this

    by (#38132) on 10/23/02 @3:50PM
Actually, Game 2 of the World Series was in the top 10 of Nielsen. And, NYC is the largest media market in the world, so that would explain the ratings for the Subway Series. But, that is not the main point. The point is that AQ's are an attempt to change the game for the better. For the critics of the AQ system, there are flaws and problems w/ EVERY system that is new. This was the first year for the AQ system, so you have to give it time. Im not denying that some worthy teams were screwed. But, there was also a team (via selection process, not AQ) that was admitted to the tourney that should not have been. The only way to fix the problem is to expand the overall # of teams in the tourney. Keep the AQ's the same, and increase "wild card" teams. But for people to sit there and say the AQ's did this and the AQ's did that, you dont improve on something w/o making changes. AQ's can help w/ the recruiting process (see article). This means hope for all high school players and not just the St. Paul's, the Landons, the Farmingdale kids. It could also encourage younger kids to pick up a lacrosse stick instead of a baseball bat or basketball.
Reply to this

   No spin by 10/25/02 @11:59AM
AQ's are bad because...
    by (#55) on 10/23/02 @5:09PM
I was playing 3 years ago when they changed over to the AQ system in D3. We got the short end of the stick because we were in a conference that had atleast 3 teams that were tournament worthy, if not 4. In fact the year prior (1999), 3 teams from that conference had gone to the tourney, including us. This was when they simply picked a top 12. Now it is impossible for 3 teams from the same conference to go. The reason people get so up in arms about this every year is because there is still a coaches poll. This poll means absolutly nothing. If they're gonna do the poll they should make a top 50 because thats how far down the ladder you would have to go to see these teams that make the tourney. It would be interesting to count up all the "unranked teams" that have gone to the tourney in the past two years. A lot of teams that deserved a shot have gotten screwed. NUMBER ONE EXAMPLE (and not the only): W&L in the 2001 season lost to Hampden-Sydney. It was their only loss, and they finished the season ranked NUMBER 1 and DID NOT go to the tourney. My point is, this AQ system is taking a long time to work it self out. When they first put it in place they told us it was for the good of the league because it would help some teams get better. My question is WHAT ABOUT THE TEAMS THAT GOT SCREWED? What about teams like Roanoke, Lynchburg, St. Mary's, Western MD? These teams now have to win their conferences to go when they are always better than teams like Stevens Tech, Widner, and all those other teams who get to go to the big dance buy winning their crappy conference. Ok the schools i just mentioned aren't the best teams in D3, but they're better than the teams that go to the tourney. Bottomline, a lot of good teams have gotten screwed and a lot of crappy teams have gotten a shot they didnt deserve. I ask again, HOW MANY UNRANKED TEAMS HAVE GONE TO THE TOURNEY IN THE LAST TWO YEARS? and HOW MANY HAVE GOTTEN BLOWN-OUT IN THE FIRST ROUND? maybe this year things could change.....but if not I think it's time to re-evaluate this AQ system.
Reply to this

   Screwed by 10/24/02 @12:12PM
   for 8laxxedout.... by 10/25/02 @9:04AM
      For Zusi by 10/25/02 @10:30AM
         Oh man... by 10/25/02 @12:10PM
            Hey Suzi by 10/28/02 @11:22AM
   NO WAY by 1/21/03 @1:16PM
Automatic Qualifiers
    by (#3714) on 10/23/02 @10:11PM
I have no problem with the intent of the aq's, but lets not forget the tournament is designed to name a national championship. Why not allow the unranked AQ's to play a bracket to decide which team goes forward to the tournament. This way the tournament is assured of a true champion from among the best teams AND expansion exposure is served without diluting the field excessively. It is not right to promote expansion at the expense of schools and players who have worked hard to qualify and deserve the right to play for the championship.
Reply to this

   AQ addendum by 10/23/02 @10:24PM
    by (#20253) on 10/24/02 @9:21AM
Everyone makes great arguements for and against the present AQ system, one thing does remain overall. No matter what any of us say it is the NCAA that decides this, so everyone should just stop whining about how there team did make it. Don't hate the teams who have the bids, hope that it does make Lacrosse bigger, better and more exciting. For the guys that bitch about not making it shut up, deal with it and work harder and you will make it. Don't blame the AQ's for not making the Tourney, No one cares about who did not make it, only who ends up being the champ at the end. I would love to hear the jackass argue d1 or d3 that a team that was not in the tourney could have been the champ.
Reply to this

   D2 by 10/24/02 @10:33AM
      D2 by 10/24/02 @12:01PM
         D2 by 10/24/02 @12:08PM
Same song same melody
    by (#3714) on 10/24/02 @5:51PM
I've heard all the old arguements for the AQ's ... tired of seeing the same teams, more variety in the championship, better for the game in terms of exposure, more TV exposure, level playing field, ad infinitum, but the arguements all sound the same, money. The big schools like Notre Dame and Ohio State want in now that there's cash to be made. The NCAA has turned most other major sports into cash cows that force athletes to go to state supported diploma mills if they want to play top quality athletics. This is not fair to the athlete who must choose between a sacrifice of his education or his sport. Maybe its time we made the new programs earn their way into the tournament they way it used to be. Kinda like the Merrill Lynch slogan let them do it the old fashioned way: earn it. The same way Hopkins, Loyola, Syracuse, Virginia etc. did. If theose Johnny come lately's want to spend the time and money on facilities, recruiting ... go for it. But no free ride on the shoulders of programs that have built the sport. I hear alot of people say they are tired of seeing the same old teams in the championship, but that is because these are the teams who earned it by building a solid reputation for good lax over the years, not by being handed a gratis invite to the party. No more freebys. Earn your way. NCAA should have at least the top 10-16 teams.
Reply to this

   EXACTLY..... by 10/25/02 @9:11AM
   NICE!! by 10/25/02 @10:57AM
   cave man by 10/26/02 @4:31AM
      IJust when you think you've hit bottom... by 10/27/02 @4:32PM
      Notre Dame not a Diploma mill? by 10/30/02 @12:25PM
AQ fine by me
    by (#32972) on 10/24/02 @7:36PM
I think the AQ is great. As long as there is an at large big to AQ ratio so that you don't see teams get screwed cause they lost there first game to joe blow state. It would be one thing if a team like Middlebury got left out of the tourney just because they lost to Bowdoin..but did that happen no it didn't. It makes sense that even if they lose a couple in confrence games but still finish up 15-2 that they can get to the tourney, If a team like Bowdoin beats them once then comes ends up coming in first for the league let them go and M-Bury will get a At-large the system works, yea its not perfect but you aren't seeing crappy teams get At-larges, so it shouldn't matter who gets the AQ. Look at it this way Ithica beat WNEC in OT last year in the first round. If anyone can point WNEC out on a map and then tell me that AQ's mean shit i will give you a dollar
Reply to this

   You're Wrong by 10/28/02 @11:43PM
   NESCAC by 11/10/02 @5:43PM
   wnec? by 12/20/02 @4:09PM