MACON, Ga. -- The Atlantic Sun women's lacrosse champion will qualify automatically for the NCAA tournament in the league's inaugural season of competition, thanks to bracket expansion announced by the NCAA earlier this month.

"Expanded competitive opportunities for our student-athletes is always a pleasure to announce," A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. "Now the A-Sun can add women's lacrosse to the list of our teams who receive the opportunity to compete at the highest level as we strive to fulfill our mission of 'Building Winners for Life.' We look forward to a very successful future in women's lacrosse."                              

Stetson’s first-year women’s lacrosse coach Nicole Moore agreed that the expansion is a positive for the A-Sun, and the sport of women’s lacrosse.

"The decision made by the NCAA to expand the women's lacrosse Division I tournament bracket is one I commend," Moore said. "With the popularity and growth of our sport, it creates more opportunities for programs to experience the tournament, which truly is a special accomplishment.

"It is also very timely for our Atlantic Sun Conference to be starting in 2013 and have an automatic bid to the tournament in our first year of existence as lacrosse."

Women's lacrosse is one of three Division I sports whose championship brackets will expand in 2013. Just this month the NCAA Executive Committee approved a budget that included a recommendation from the Division I Championships/Sport Management Cabinet to expand championships in the Football Championship Subdivision, women's lacrosse and rowing.

Women's lacrosse will expand its brackets in the spring of 2013, increasing from 16 to 26 teams. Expansion in the two women's sports is consistent with the Executive Committee's charge to ensure that equitable opportunities exist in light of the bracket expansion for the FCS championship.

"It is always an accomplishment to see more opportunities being created for our female student athletes and female athletes in general," Moore said. "I am excited for our Stetson Lacrosse program to have the opportunity to compete for the A-Sun bid to the NCAA tournament."

In women's lacrosse, all 13 conference champions will receive automatic qualification into the field. Those conferences include the A-Sun, America East, American Lacrosse, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big East, CAA, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Mountain Pacific, Northeast, and Patriot conferences. The remaining 13 teams will be at-large selections.

The top eight teams will be seeded in the bracket and will host first- and second-round games. The top six seeded teams will receive byes into the second round and serve as hosts for a neutral-site first-round game May 10. The first-round winners then play at the top-six seeded teams May 12. The teams seeded seventh and eighth will also host, but they will have to play a first-round game May 10.

The quarterfinals are at campus sites May 18 or 19, with the four winners advancing to the finals May 24-26.

The 2012 A-Sun roster includes several teams that share a familiarity in Jacksonville, Detroit and Howard, as they all have competed previously in the National Lacrosse Conference. Joining that trio will be A-Sun members Stetson and Kennesaw State.

Jacksonville and Detroit bring a recent history of success into the inaugural season, which begins spring 2013. The Dolphins claimed the 2012 NLC title, along with several other honors including the NLC Co-Player of the Year, the Defender of the Year, the Newcomer of the Year, and four first-team and two second-team selections.

Detroit's Laura Maness was selected as NLC Coach of the Year, and Titan senior Anna Eidem led the nation in scoring with 4.24 goals per game.

A-Sun member Mercer and affiliate members Elon and Furman will begin play in 2014.