The NCAA declared Wednesday that the women’s basketball competition will move to a 68-team field, up from 64, beginning this season.
The NCAA women’s basketball competition is extending to 68 teams starting with the current season, providing it with an equivalent number of members as the men’s competition as part of a concerted effort at gender parity.
Moreover, the women’s selection show will be Sunday, March 13, on ESPN. The show had been on Mondays beginning around 2006, however it moves back to Sunday to oblige the additional games, which will be played March 16-17.
The men’s competition extended to 68 teams in 2011 with four first-round games generally played in Dayton, Ohio. The initial four for the women’s competition will happen in the campuses of teams seeded in the top 16 this season, yet they will move to a to-be-determined neutral site starting with the 2023 competition.
The last four at-large teams and teams seeded 65 through 68 will contend in the opening-round games before the beginning of the first and second rounds of the title, which start March 18-19.
The main 16 seeds will host first-and second-round games. For the 2022 competition, the four new opening-round games will be held at four of those 16 sites. Beginning in 2023, the opening round will be held at a neutral site to be determined.
The men’s competition went to 68 teams in 2011, bringing about the First Four, which goes before the beginning of first-round play. The men’s First Four has been played in Dayton, Ohio, each season besides in 2021, when because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held in Indiana alongside the remainder of the men’s competition.
“This was another important step in providing additional championship participation opportunities for women’s basketball student-athletes,” Nina King, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Duke, said in a statement. “The committee was in support of implementing this as soon as possible and were pleased that the expanded championship field will be in play immediately for the upcoming championship and beyond.”
The NCAA women’s competition started in 1982 with 32 teams and became throughout the years until arriving at 64 teams in 1994.
The transition to 68 teams follows other NCAA in recent weeks with respect to women’s basketball, for example, selecting to utilize the March Madness branding for the women’s competition. The progressions come directly following the gender equity report by the law firm of Kaplan Hecker and Fink LLP, which the NCAA commissioned with respect to its championships after disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball competitions came to light in March.
“The expanded bracket and championship opportunities for Division I women’s basketball student-athletes are paramount,” Lisa Campos, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and director of athletics at UTSA, said in a statement. “While the 2022 championship will be conducted at top-16 seed campus sites, this is a transition year for the tournament, and strong consideration will be given for other improvement areas, including opening-round games taking place at a predetermined site, in order to improve the championship experience in 2023 and beyond.”
The Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, which currently comprises of 12 members versus 10 as in earlier years, additionally approved an updated Selection Principles and Procedures document for 2021-22. The document will reflect the transition to 36 at-large teams alongside the 32 automatic qualifying teams, as well as updated bracketing principles language.
ESPN channels will broadcast all games of the 2022 women’s competition.
UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma said he figures the transition to 68 is essentially “because the men do it.” But he added that in the event that it implies more mid-major and small-conference schools get an opportunity to make the women’s NCAA competition field, it very well may be a positive.
“Then I’m all for it,” said Auriemma, whose Huskies play in the Big East. “If it’s more about getting the eighth- or ninth-best teams in from the power conferences, I’m not sure why they deserve to play in the NCAA tournament.”
LSU women’s coach Kim Mulkey said, “You don’t want it to water down the tournament. And I say that here at LSU, when I might need that 68th spot this season. If it’s beneficial for the tournament and something that should have been done, that’s OK. But you don’t want it going to 72 a few years from now.”
The four women’s regionals this season are scheduled for Bridgeport, Connecticut; Greensboro, North Carolina; Wichita, Kansas and Spokane, Washington. The women’s Final Four is at Target Center in Minneapolis from April 1-3.
South Carolina disclosed its 2021 Final Four banner before the home opener against Clemson. Last season was the Gamecocks’ third trip to the Final Four, which have all happened under Staley’s tutelage (2015, 2017, 2021). Staley’s USC won its first national title in 2017.