Division I Women’s Basketball Committee seeks tournament changes
By Greg Johnson
The Women’s Final Four would move to Friday-Sunday competition dates by as early as the 2015 tournament, according to change approved by the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee.
All changes recommended by the committee must be approved by the Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet.
The Women’s Final Four will continue to be held on the same weekend as the Men’s Final Four. But instead of the semifinals taking place on a Sunday, with the championship game on a Tuesday –– a formula that has been used since 2003 — it will move to a Friday-Sunday schedule.
Additionally, the committee, which met this week in Indianapolis, decided that the top 16 seeds in the 2015 bracket will host the first- and second-round games, while regionals will be played at neutral sites.
The committee also decided that all games played on the first two weekends of the 2015 championship be conducted on Friday-Sunday, Saturday-Monday.
The move to games on Friday-Sunday for the Women’s Final Four is intended to be more fan friendly because the championship will conclude on a weekend, committee members said. In surveys that committee members reviewed, fans noted that the Sunday-Tuesday playing dates required taking three days away from work.
The committee also discussed moving the Women’s Final Four to the weekend after the Men’s Final Four. But after a thorough debate, the committee decided the current weekend is the best fit for the women’s game.
“It was a difficult decision for us,” said Carolayne Henry, the committee chair and senior associate commissioner/senior woman administrator for the Mountain West Conference. “The atmosphere on the Final Four weekend is something we can continue to capitalize on. As we grow, we can look to see if we want to be a stand-alone entity. For now, we want to take advantage of the excitement around basketball that takes place on that weekend.”
The committee also decided that allowing the top 16 seeds to host on the first weekend will enhance the student-athlete experience by potentially drawing more fans to the arenas.
The changes will hopefully draw larger crowds because host teams will have spent a whole season building fan support for a successful team.
“We feel this will give teams incentive to get better so they can host,” Henry said. “It was a challenging and difficult discussion for the committee. We know there are teams that would like to host, but they may not necessarily be in the top 16. We love having fans of teams, and the next step is attracting people who are fans of the game that will come to the arena because they want to see a good game.”
A system that rewards good teams with hosting rights could also save money. Sixteen of 64 teams will not travel on the first weekend of play.
The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association expressed concern that playing on home courts during the regional rounds created unfair competitive advantages as teams compete for Women’s Final Four berths. The committee agreed that games in the second weekend of the tournament should take place at neutral sites.
The committee also decided to ask Division II and Division III for input on the idea of a combined championship that would take place on the same weekend as the 2016 Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis.
In another action, the committee also formed a finance subcommittee that will examine the economics behind the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.
“We are looking at ways to be more efficient and maintain a high level of quality for our student-athletes.” Henry said. “We accomplished a lot in this meeting. We are trying to address some of the issues in women’s basketball. Our sport isn’t in a bad spot, but we want to be in a better spot.”
The changes to the tournament competition dates were prompted by recommendations in a comprehensive report, authored by Val Ackerman, who served as a consultant for the NCAA during the 2012-13 season.
Ackerman, now the commissioner of the Big East Conference, conducted more than 100 interviews over a six-month period with coaches, college presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors and other administrators, television network representatives, NCAA national office staff and outside sports executives.
She also received feedback from hundreds more in the membership through additional teleconferences and meetings held during her research-gathering phase.
A Women’s Basketball White Paper Summit was held in Indianapolis Sept. 23, with 35 invited attendees. The gathering consisted of conference representatives, campus athletics administrators, women’s basketball head coaches, an on-court official, television executives and other stakeholders of the game.