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NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament expands to 68 teams

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 15 Women’s - Texas Southern at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona women’s basketball team went 21-11 during the 2010-11 regular season. After six years of frustration and heartbreak, it looked like the Wildcats might be headed back to the NCAA Tournament. In 2018-19, they were 18-13 at the conclusion of the Pac-12 Tournament, playing in one of the toughest leagues in the country. By this time, the drought had stretched to 14 years. Just as they had eight years prior, Arizona went to the WNIT.

If the Wildcats found themselves in the same situation going forward, they might still hear their names called on selection day. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced that the organization was following the recommendation of the recent gender equity report prepared by Kaplan Hecker & Fink by expanding the women’s basketball tournament to 68 teams.

“This was another important step in providing additional championship participation opportunities for women’s basketball student-athletes,” Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair and Duke athletic director Nina King said in the NCAA’s press 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.”

The men’s tournament has included 68 teams since 2011, the same year the Arizona women were sent to the WNIT after a breakthrough season. In the men’s tournament, the “first four” is played in Dayton, Ohio, then the winning teams disperse to their assigned sites.

In 2022, the women will play their first four on campuses of the top 16 seeds. Teams bidding to host first and second-round games will also agree to host one of the first four matchups if selected.

The last four-at-large teams and the teams seeded 65-68 will meet in the first four. The games will be held on Wednesday, March 16, and Thursday, March 17, with two games played each day. The winning teams will then continue playing at the sites where their opening games were held.

Beginning in 2023, the first four will be held at a neutral site just as the men’s is.

In another change adopted based on the gender equity report, the NCAA will now hold the women’s selection show on Sunday, just like the men. In the past, the women’s show was Selection Monday.