NCAA women’s basketball tournament to expand to 68 teams

(C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament is expanding to 68 teams, the NCAA announced on Wednesday.

The changes will go into effect starting with the 2022 championship in Minneapolis.

“This immediate expansion of the women’s basketball championship reinforces the fact that leaders within Division I are committed to strengthening aspects of the women’s basketball championship that directly impact student-athletes,” council chair and West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said in a release. “We look forward to the positive change this will have for the student experience at the championship, especially as it relates to equal team opportunities to compete in the tournament.”

The decision to expand brings the participation opportunities for the women’s tournament in line with the men’s, following a recommendation from the gender equity review of the NCAA championships.

As part of the change, ESPN will also hold the selection show for the women’s tournament on Sunday, March 13, the same day as the men’s.

Teams seeded 65 through 68, as well as the last four at-large teams, will compete in opening-round games that happen prior to the first and second rounds of the championship. Winners will advance to the first round.

For the 2022 championship, the teams seeded in the top 16 will host the four opening-round games. From 2023 onward, those games will be played at a neutral site.

“The expanded bracket and championship opportunities for Division I women’s basketball student-athletes are paramount,” said Lisa Campos, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and the athletic director at UTSA. “While the 2022 championship will be conducted at top-16 seed campus sites, this is a transition year for the tournament, and strong consideration will be given for other improvement areas, including opening-round games taking place at a predetermined site, in order to improve the championship experience in 2023 and beyond.”

ESPN will broadcast all games of the women’s tournament for the 27th straight year. The tournament will also use March Madness branding for the first time, as recommended by the gender equity report.