Wednesday evening the NCAA announced that its Women’s Basketball Tournament will see its field move from 64 teams to 68, effective immediately.
The 2022 championship will see four opening-round games be conducted on campuses in the top 16. Beginning in 2023, the opening-round contests will be played at a neutral site.
Selection Monday will now move to Sunday, Mar. 13 this season.
“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.”
Fourth-year Pitt Women’s Basketball coach Lance White was first informed of the news after his postgame press conference and was pleased that the change was made.
“I think giving more opportunities and just with the equity of the men’s versus the women’s, that is exactly where it should be, having that opportunity for more teams to compete at the highest level is what we want,” he said. “Good job NCAA.”
Duquesne Women’s Basketball coach Dan Burt is in his ninth season at the helm and has once made it to the NCAA Tournament with his Dukes.
Assessing the news, Burt offered brief remarks, expressing hope that this can be the first of many changes to positively impact women’s basketball.
“We have issues within our game that must be address to further our outreach and popularity,” said Burt. “Moving to 68 teams is a good first step in growing our game.”
These issues were brought to the forefront when a social media post caught fire as clear differences between weight rooms as part of the NCAA Tournament bubbles were displayed, and the images caught many outside of the game off guard.
A socially-distanced upgrade was subsequently shown, two days later and tweeted by the official NCAA Women’s Basketball account.
Even so, the damage had been done and it provided opportunities for those in and around the game to openly voice their collective frustrations.
“That put it in such a visible arena where everyone was talking about it and now you couldn’t run and hide from it,” said White. The NCAA has really had to self-examine as to what is equitable. Whenever you talk about March Madness and even being able to use that title, which we always have in women’s basketball, but you couldn’t use it for anything else. All of those different issues bring women to the forefront and give them the opportunity to compete at the highest level.”
It appears that matching the men’s NCAA Tournament field of 68 players is step in the right direction for student-athletes across the country.
Regardless of whether you are a one-bid league, which Duquesne, as members of the Atlantic 10 has been for the past few years, or a Pitt which several ACC Teams receive several selections, there now are additional opportunities to extend a season, something which could provide further motivation.
At Atlantic 10 Media Day, conference commissioner Bernadette McGlade was asked about closing the equity gap and expressed that the picture was a wake-up call to everyone.
McGlade said it was not just point a finger at the NCAA, which by extension is all of its membership, but really assess things both as conferences and as individual programs.
“The day of equity is upon us and things don’t have to be identical, I’m a firm believer in that,” McGlade said Oct. 28. “Things can be different, but they have to be fair and across the board. There are a lot of changes being made at the national level in a really healthy and positive way.”
Administrators and coaches alike consistently discuss enhancing the student-athlete experience and with Wednesday’s news, White felt some comfort, knowing his daily words telling his student-athletes of their importance and matter carried additional weight.
“Whenever you saw those disparities, it makes them thing they’re less than and I think anything we can do to promote and push where they are given exactly the same opportunities is crucial where we have to go and how we have to grow the game,” White said.