Good news came Tuesday for not-so-good and not-so-lucky women’s college basketball teams.
In addition to a few other changes, the NCAA announced that it was waiving its .500 record requirement for the Division I women’s basketball tournament this season. This means that teams with losing records will be eligible for the postseason.
The NCAA altered the rule this season to “provide ultimate flexibility for teams due to COVID-19.” Normally, teams have to have winning records to considered for an at-large bid to the tournament. But in the midst of this pandemic, nothing is normal.
Some things will remain the same, though. The tournament will still include 64 teams this season, the same number it has always had since its last expansion in 1994.
The bracket – which will be released on March 15 at 7 p.m. on ESPN – will feature 31 automatic qualifiers made up of conference champions and then 33 at-large bids. If a conference tournament isn’t held, that conference must choose a team to represent it as the automatic qualifier by March 14.
Typically, there are 32 automatic bids, but the Ivy League opted out of playing this season. Should another league choose to opt-out of the remainder of the regular season or the postseason, the NCAA will simply fill the automatic qualifier spot with an at-large bid.
In addition to the Ivy League, Bethune-Cookman, Cal State Northridge, Maryland Eastern Shore, Florida A&M, SMU, Dixie State and San Jose State have opted out of playing women’s basketball this year during the pandemic. Three Power 5 teams – Duke, Virginia and Vanderbilt – have also canceled the remainder of their seasons.
In all, 18 of 354 women’s basketball teams are no longer playing this season.
“The committee continues to adjust to the circumstances of the current season and feel that decisions reached in regard to the 2021 championship are in the best interest of the championship while ensuring the health and safety of all concerned,” Nina King, the senior deputy athletics director at Duke and chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, said in a statement. “We will continue to protect the integrity of the selection, seeding and bracketing process as we work through any new developments.”
The tournament bracket will continue to be ordered by the use of an S-curve, ensuring that higher-seeded teams are placed against the lower-seeded teams. The committee will attempt to keep teams from the same conference from meeting until the regional final round.
This was something that could have changed if the NCAA was going to play the earlier rounds of the tournament the way it has been done in previous years – having the top 16 seeds host the opening weekend, and playing the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight at regionalized locations. However, like the men’s tournament, it is expected that the women’s tournament will be played in full in one geographic area; likely San Antonio, Texas. Because of this, the committee decided to remove geographic considerations for placing teams into the bracket for the 2021 championship only.
For each team that makes the tournament, the NCAA has increased the size of the allowed travel party from 31 to 34 for additional team support.
Before the start of the season, the NCAA announced that teams must play a minimum of 13 games to be considered for the women’s basketball tournament. However, the committee will now consider championship eligibility waiver requests from teams unable to reach that mark. The committee is also allowing teams to count one conference tournament game toward their total.
In the ACC, No. 1 Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Boston College lead the way in games-played, each notching 12 so far. In the latest bracketology from The Next, eight ACC teams were projected to make the NCAA tournament.
Lance White’s Pitt team hasn’t played since Dec. 20. The Panthers announced the team was pausing all activities on Dec. 30 following a positive COVID-19 test within the program. Five games have been postponed since. The 3-3 Panthers are scheduled to play Thursday at home vs. Miami.
Duquesne has played in nine games so far, but is saddled with a 2-7 record. After going 17-1 in the NEC last season, Robert Morris is off to an 0-8 start in its first season of play in the Horizon League.