Acting quickly this week in Nashville, the site of the 2014 Final Four, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament committee recommended revisions to the way its version of March Madness might look in the future.
Less than two weeks after suggestions were forwarded in a report by Val Ackerman, the new commissioner of the Big East, the committee decided to immediately allow institutions to host regional finals on home courts.
It will also establish a “Stakeholders’ Summit” at the 2014 Women’s Final Four to further study other possible alterations.
“[The speed of change] all depends on where the changes need to be made,” said Anucha Browne, vice president of the tournament championship committee. “There are things than can be implemented quickly and there are others which will require much more time and thought.”
This summit, which is to include personnel from all corners of women’s basketball, will consider the following changes beginning as soon as 2015.
•Shifting of weekend playing dates for the women’s Final Four from Sunday-Tuesday to Friday-Sunday, with preliminary round game days aligned accordingly.
•Possible first- and second-round byes for as many as the top-32 seeds, so lower-seeded teams play in earlier rounds
•Combining the women’s Final Four with the Division II and Division III Women’s Basketball Championships in Indianapolis in the Olympics year of 2016.
“There is great value in Val’s recommendations and we spent a considerable amount of time during our meetings in discussion of the issues affecting the championship, while balancing decisions as to what is best for the student-athletes,” said Carolayne Henry, chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and senior associate commissioner at the Mountain West Conference. “Decisions reached by the committee this week are just the tip of the iceberg as we set a prioritization schedule for next best steps for the game and championship.”
Regional hosting will allow UConn, for instance, to play on what is considered its home court beginning with the 2014 tournament. That means third- and fourth-round games – the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight – could be played at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center.
However, an institution that decides to bid for a regional will not also be allowed to host a subregional in the same championship season.
The committee prefers that host institutions be limited to a regional in no more than two consecutive years.
Two of Ackerman’s most innovative proposals – allowing Top 16 tournament seeds to host first- and second-round games and melding four four-team regionals into two eight-team events – have been temporarily tabled, pending more study.
“I know they [the NCAA] want more upsets,” said South Florida coach Jose Fernandez, the past president of the Big East women’s basketball coaches and an NCAA liaison. “If they want more upsets, how to do they think they are going to happen if you play on the home court of a top 16-seeded team? But if you are looking for an attendance boost [home court] will help.”
The bid process for hosting first- and second-round and regional rounds for the 2014 and 2015 championship begins July 15. The NCAA is expected to announce those who have won bids in early September.
UConn, which hosted first- and second-round games last season, originally had not planned to bid for 2014 games. It’s unclear whether the opportunity to play this season’s regional at home will change their point of view.
The committee will explore a variety of championship format options going forward for the 64 participants. That could include lower-seeded teams potentially playing each other in the first two rounds, with the top 32 seeds earning byes.
That would mean the 33rd seed plays the 64th in a first-round game, and so forth down the line. The committee was undecided about where those games would be played, but it said to be strongly in favor of campus sites with the higher seed hosting.