NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament to Expand to 68 Teams Starting in 2021-22 Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 17, 2021

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 4: Cameron Brink #22 of the Stanford Cardinal shoots the ball over Trinity Baptiste #0 of the Arizona Wildcats during the second quarter during the championship game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 4, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The NCAA announced Wednesday that the Division I Council has approved an expansion of the women's basketball tournament to 68 teams, thus matching the size of the field for the men's tournament.

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who's also the council chair, addressed the decision:

"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. 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."

Typically, the selection show for the women's tournament was on a Monday, one day after the men's field was revealed. This year, both will fall on Sunday, March 13. 

The women's tourney will tip off with the First Four on March 16 and 17. The first round proper will get underway March 18.

The expansion comes as the NCAA faced significant scrutiny for the differences in how it handled the men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA utilized one city and the surrounding areas—Indianapolis for the men and San Antonio for the women—to stage the two events for the 2020-21 season.

Oregon forward Sedona Prince shared a video, which has been viewed more than 18 million times, contrasting the fitness facilities provided to the athletes at each location:

Sedona Prince @sedonaprince_

Let me put it on Twitter too cause this needs the attention <a href="https://t.co/t0DWKL2YHR">pic.twitter.com/t0DWKL2YHR</a>

NBC Sports' Alex Azzi listed other examples, such as the different COVID-19 testing the NCAA arranged for athletes and the meals they were provided.

For critics of the NCAA, last spring was indicative of wider inequities that have occurred over years. It was only in September the organization committed to using its "March Madness" branding for the women's tournament.

In the wake of the controversy earlier in the year, the NCAA commissioned the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to evaluate the extent of the gender disparity. 

"The NCAA's broadcast agreements, corporate sponsorship contracts, distribution of revenue, organizational structure, and culture all prioritize Division I men's basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize and perpetuate gender inequities," the firm said in the first phase of its review.