NCAA Tournament field expands to seven teams for 2018 season

The bracket will get slightly larger for the men’s volleyball Division I-II NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA Division I Council at its annual fall meeting approved a proposal to expand the NCAA Tournament field from six to seven teams because of the addition of the Big West conference.

The bracket expansion gives the Big West champion an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament while maintaining the two at-large bids in the tournament field. The champions from the ConfCarolinas, EIVA, MIVA and MPSF will continue to earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament field.

The Big West announced last year that beginning in 2018 it would become the second multi-sport conference to sponsor NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball. The move resulted in Big West member schools CSUN, Long Beach State, Hawai’i, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, along with Big West affiliate UC San Diego leaving the MPSF at the end of the 2017 season.

The NCAA has awarded two at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament since the championship event expanded from four teams to six teams in 2014. The men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament from its inception in 1970 until 2013 had been a four-team tournament with one at-large bid.

The new seven-team format will result in an additional play-in match, which will take place at an on-campus location the weekend before the NCAA Tournament opening round and semifinals. The winner of that play-in match will then advance to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

With this new format, the No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds will continue to earn byes to the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

The NCAA men’s volleyball committee determines the tournament seeding and the two teams earning at-large bids. The three-person committee meets during the season and will unveil the NCAA Tournament field at the conclusion of the conference tournaments in April.

UCLA will play host to the 2018 NCAA Tournament with the semifinals taking place Thursday, May 3 and the finals on Saturday, May 5.

The opening-round matches traditionally have been the Tuesday before the semifinals and are at the site of the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA men’s volleyball committee prefers to have the opening-round matches take place at the NCAA Tournament site in order to maintain bracket integrity and provide the best student-athlete experience, according to the committee’s most recent meeting notes that were published on the NCAA website. However, the committee also noted in the meeting that one of the play-in matches may need to be played at an on-campus location of a participating school to reduce costs and strain on the host site.

The NCAA determines where the play-in and opening-round matches take place. In previous years, the NCAA has not made this decision until weeks before the start of the tournament.

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect details about the play-in match and the number of teams earning byes to the semifinals.