NCAA: Women’s College Basketball Tournament Ready for March Madness

The 2022 women's college basketball championship is now included in March Madness branding as the NCAA implements reforms to bridge gender equity gaps.
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  • The 2022 NCAA women's college basketball tournament has expanded to 68 teams.
  • The women's college basketball tournaments will use March Madness branding.
  • The change was made after the NCAA was criticized during last year's tournament.

College basketball fans will get double the March Madness starting this week as the NCAA expands the women's championship basketball tournament and implements reforms to bridge gender equity gaps.

The women's bracket, unveiled Sunday, will for the first time feature 68 teams. Also new this year is the use of March Madness branding for the women's tournament. Both updates were made following criticism of the NCAA's treatment of women's basketball teams during last year's championship tournament.

Quotation mark

During this first year of reforms, the NCAA will hold the men's and women's championships in separate locations as the organization has in past years. However, the NCAA has said it is considering holding the men's and women's tournaments in the same city beginning in 2027.

"The national office and basketball committees prioritized the student-athlete experience," NCAA Associate Director of Communications Meghan Durham said in an email to BestColleges.

Staff have updated gifting and mementos to ensure that they're not only the same for men and women, but also packaged and delivered the same way, Durham said. There is also increased investment in signage and décor, so when teams arrive at their championship venues and host cities, they will experience the championship atmosphere. "This includes additional signage in venues, including in 'back of house' spaces like locker rooms," Durham added.

Fans attending the women's championships also will note some differences, Durham said, noting that fan experience was another top priority for the NCAA. In addition to March Madness branding and signage, those attending the Women's Final Four will experience expanded fan events, such as Super Saturday practices, in which the two championship teams hold practices open to the public.

"The NCAA has worked with its broadcast partner to update the March Madness Women's Basketball app, which will include — among other enhancements — user-friendly navigation to games streaming on ESPN," Durham said.

The changes are significant because they represent a long-overdue recognition of women's college basketball and because there are millions of dollars at stake. The impetus for change occurred during last year's tournament when a video posted to social media by University of Oregon women's player Sedona Prince showed that the women's tournament had one weight rack compared to a sprawling setup of equipment at the men's event. It led to a torrent of criticism.

The NCAA responded to the criticism by hiring an outside firm to conduct a gender equity review of all 85 of its championships, including the one for women's basketball. The findings were published in a sharply critical report released in August 2021.

The report cited big differences between the men's and women's basketball tournaments in COVID-19 testing, equipment, food, funding, and outdoor space. It also criticized the NCAA for undervaluing the women's basketball tournament by tens of millions of dollars. The report stated that the NCAA's broadcast agreements, corporate sponsorships, revenue distribution, organizational structure and culture "all prioritize Division I men's basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize, and perpetuate gender inequities."

In September 2021, the NCAA announced that it would include the women's basketball championship as part of March Madness. Then in November 2021, the NCAA agreed to expand its Division I Women's Basketball Championship bracket from 64 to 68 teams, giving it the same number of teams as the men's bracket.

"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," Shane Lyons said in a news release. Lyons is chair of the NCAA's Division I Council and the athletics director at West Virginia University.

The Division I basketball tournaments are critically important to the NCAA. Most of the organization's revenue comes from its contract for the television rights to the men's Division I basketball tournament. The contract with CBS and Turner Sports paid the NCAA $850 million in 2021 and is scheduled to pay $870 million in 2022.

The contract for the women's tournament was sold in 2011 under a $500 million deal to ESPN that expires at the end of the 2023-2024 season. But with the expansion of the women's tournament and its inclusion under the March Madness brand, the next television contract will likely be worth many more millions of dollars.

This year's men's NCAA tournament will start with First Four games in Dayton, Ohio, on March 15-16. The tournament will end with the Final Four on April 2-4 in New Orleans. The 2022 women's NCAA tournament will start with First Four games at top-16 seed locations on March 16-17. The tourney's Final Four will be held April 1-3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.