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NCAA announces secondary women’s postseason basketball tournament to begin in 2024

The members of the 2018-19 Arizona women’s basketball team celebrate their Postseason WNIT championship on Apr. 6, 2019.
Photo by Rebecca Sasnett for Arizona Athletics

In 2019, Arizona women’s basketball used the WNIT to launch itself into national prominence. A sold-out arena, a dynamic team, and the biggest turnaround in school history paved the way for the Wildcats to march to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four just two years later. Going forward, the WNIT may not have the same impact.

The NCAA announced that it would begin holding its own secondary tournament for women’s basketball beginning in 2024. The Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament will feature 32 teams just as the men’s NIT currently does. It will also be an official NCAA event just like the NIT.

The national invitation tournaments for both men and women have long, complicated histories. The men’s NIT was once the premier tournament for men’s basketball before the NCAA Tournament supplanted it in importance during the mid-1980s. The NCAA subsequently purchased the NIT in 2005, giving the men two tournaments owned and operated by the NCAA. Between the two tournaments, the NCAA eventually provided postseason opportunities to 100 men’s teams.

That’s not where the men’s postseason tournaments end, though. NCAA men’s basketball also has the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the Basketball Classic (formerly the Postseason Tournament or CIT). Those two tournaments are owned and operated by organizations outside the NCAA and offer up to 48 additional postseason opportunities.

Meanwhile, the women still had just one official NCAA event. The NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship only began offering 68 opportunities in 2021. All other opportunities were offered by organizations outside the NCAA and came with extra costs attached.

To make up for the lack of a secondary NCAA event, the women have been playing in the WNIT and the Women’s Basketball Invitational despite the additional costs associated with those events.

The WNIT has offered a field of 64 teams with all games held on college campuses. The teams must bid for the right to host, providing funding for Triple Crown Sports, which operates the WNIT as well as tournaments in several other sports from the youth through the college levels. The WBI, which was partially the brainchild of former Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini, offers an eight-team tournament held in Lexington, KY with each team guaranteed three games.

With the NCAA now operating a second tournament giving 32 teams an opportunity to play in an NCAA-owned tournament, the WNIT and WBI are both left in a bind. The best teams not in the NCAA tournament will now be headed to the WBIT. Both organizations responded to the NCAA’s announcement on Tuesday.

The WNIT will continue to operate, but it will no longer run a 64-team tournament. Triple Crown Sports announced that the field will be pared down to 48 teams beginning this season.

Sport Tours International, which operates the WBI, also announced its plans. That tournament has no plans to make changes. It will continue inviting eight teams to play at one location in Kentucky.

With the addition of a second NCAA-owned event, the women will now have an equal number of NCAA-funded postseason opportunities as the men. Overall, the women will have more postseason opportunities than the men going forward because they have an additional tournament. With the NCAA tournament, the WBIT, the WNIT, and the WBI, 156 of the 361 Division I women’s teams will get to play in the postseason. The men have up to 148.

The NCAA, Triple Crown Sports, and Sport Tours International will have to see how many teams want to play. On the men’s side, the CBI and Basketball Classic sometimes have difficulty filling their spots. The WNIT has traditionally had some eligible teams decline to participate either due to financial constraints, injuries, or the feeling that playing in the tournament is a disappointment for a team that had hopes of an NCAA berth. Will the excitement for postseason basketball expand as the opportunities grow?