The NCAA Division I Council has approved the expansion of the Division I women's basketball championship tournament from 64 to 68 teams, effective in 2022, the release said.
The decision was supported by the Division I women's basketball committee and the oversight committee, bringing participation opportunities for the women's tournament in line with the men's event. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association, or WBCA, also granted their support.
The decision follows a recommendation from a comprehensive external gender equity review of past NCAA championships, conducted by Kaplan Hecker and Fink. The first phase of the review examined the historical inequities spurred by the issues that arose during the 2021 men's and women's championships.
“This immediate expansion of the women's basketball championship reinforces the fact that leaders within Division I are committed to strengthening aspects of the women's basketball championship that directly impact student-athletes,” council chair and athletics director at West Virginia Shane Lyons said in the release. “We look forward to the positive change this will have for the student experience at the championship, especially as it relates to equal team opportunities to compete in the tournament.”
The Selection Show will be moved to Sunday, March 13, 2022, on ESPN with the men's show still remaining on CBS.
For the 2022 championship only, the four opening rounds will be conducted on the campuses of teams seeded in the top 16. The opening rounds will include teams seeded 65 through 68 on Wednesday, March 16 and Thursday, March 17, 2022. Sites will be selected based on bracketing principles and procedures and all sites bidding to host first- and second-round games must agree to host the opening round games as well.
Winners of the First Four will advance to first-round play on Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19, 2022, at the same hosting location. The championship will culminate at the Final Four, which is set to be played April 1 and 3 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“This was another important step in providing additional championship participation opportunities for women's basketball student-athletes,” Chair of the Division I Women's Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Duke Nina King said in the release. “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.”
“This action corrects an inequity that has existed between the men's and women's championships for a decade and provides equitable postseason participation opportunities for Division I men's and women's basketball student-athletes,” executive director of the WBCA Danielle Donehew said in the release. “We are making progress in our efforts to address gender inequities in our sport, but much remains to be done. The WBCA's member coaches, board of directors and staff will remain diligent in this endeavor until all of the recommendations in the Kaplan Hecker report have been implemented.”
For the 19th consecutive year, an ESPN channel will broadcast all games of the 2022 championship.
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