The NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament will expand its field to 68 teams at the start of this season, the association announced Wednesday, after investigators concluded that college sports officials had long prioritized the men’s competition.
The decision represents the association’s latest effort to move forward — and to a self-inflicted debacle this year, when the NCAA faced condemnation for disparities in facilities between its Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. .
Although the NCAA had agreed to make some changes in recent months, such as using the March Madness branding for women’s tournaments, expanding women’s tournaments would directly affect the course of competition and the experiences of players and coaches.
A 64-team bracket had been used in women’s tournaments since 1994; The men’s tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011.
Danielle Donevue, executive director of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, said: “This action corrects a decade-long disparity between men’s and women’s championships and provides equal postseason participation opportunities for Division I men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes. does.” “We are making progress in our efforts to address gender disparities in our sport, but much remains to be done,” the NCAA said in a statement.
The NCAA said it would hold new opening round games in the women’s tournament on college campuses in 2022, but it would move them to a neutral site starting in 2023, as played in the men’s tournament’s “First Four” showdown. Is. Dayton, Ohio. The women’s preliminary round games will consist of teams seeded 65th to 68th and the final four major teams.
In a report in August, an outside law firm hired by the NCAA partly attributed the lack of expansion in women’s tournaments to the association’s organizational structure. But it also said the men’s tournament was developed partly “to maximize the value of men’s broadcasting rights”, which are the financial lifeblood of the association.
The television rights to the men’s tournament totaled more than $850 million this year and accounted for the vast majority of the association’s estimated revenue. Although media advisors believe the women’s tournament could fetch over $100 million a year in the coming years, the competition is currently part of a $500 million, 14-year package that includes several other NCAA events.
The report also said there was “no historical consensus” about whether expansion would benefit the women’s sport, largely because of a long-standing lack of equality. But the report urged the association to rapidly expand the tournament, saying investigators believed most of the people around the game had come to support a larger competition.
“In light of the roughly equal number of men’s and women’s basketball teams in Division I, there is no justification for the disparity in opportunities for participation in the tournament,” the report said.
The 2022 women’s tournament is scheduled to begin on March 16, three days after the selection show. The national championship is to be contested in Minneapolis on April 3.