Macon, Ga. - An NCAA rule change will allow the Lipscomb men's basketball team to compete for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time next season. The NCAA Board of Directors enacted the new rule at last Thursday's (April 29) legislative session. Under the old rule a team had to be an active Division I member for two years before it would become eligible to earn a conference's automatic qualifier in men's basketball. Lipscomb, completing its first year in the Atlantic Sun Conference, is also completing its first year as an active Division I member.
The men's basketball bid was the only automatic qualifier that Lipscomb was not immediately eligible for as a new member of Division I. The women's team was eligible in its first year and took advantage of the opportunity by winning the A-Sun Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament to face Vanderbilt. The men's team now has a similar opportunity.
All eleven members of the Atlantic Sun Conference will be eligible for the men's basketball bid next season. Gardner-Webb University, currently completing its second season of Division I competition, will also be eligible for the first time. Gardner-Webb was scheduled to be eligible in 2004-05 even if the NCAA rule had not been changed. Last year the University of Central Florida Golden Knights earned the automatic qualifier and led the No. 3-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers with less than four minutes remaining before falling to the favored Big East school in the first round. Two other A-Sun teams advanced to postseason play in men's basketball last season with both Belmont and Troy State earning bids to the NIT. Both teams hit the road for their first round NIT match-ups, Belmont at Austin Peay and Troy State at Niagara. Though both held leads late, neither managed to advance.
In the Atlantic Sun, the top eight teams based on regular season double round robin play (20 games) will advance to the A-Sun Tournament for a chance to earn the automatic bid.