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Women’s Basketball: NCAA expands tournament field for 2022, exploring further changes

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Michigan State v Iowa State Photo by Scott Wachter/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament, already officially given equal “March Madness” branding rights earlier this year, is again being put on a more equal footing with the men’s tournament in other ways. It was announced on Wednesday that the 2022 tournament at the end of this season will be expanded to 68 teams, the same number as the men’s tournament since the 2011 expansion.

While the men’s tournament has traditionally hosted the First Four first-round play-in games in Dayton, Ohio, the women’s tournament will play these games for the 2022 tournament on the campuses of teams seeded in the top-16. Beginning with the 2023 tournament, however, the games will be hosted at a still to-be-determined neutral site.

ESPN will be broadcasting the First Four games in addition to the rest of the tournament.

Future considerations include potentially combining the men’s and women’s final championship weekend, including the semifinals (Final Four) and finals in the same city over the same weekend. That would not happen until at least 2027, however, given current contracts in place for both tournaments at this time.

These are all ongoing discussions and considerations still in the wake of the controversy over facilities, food and other issues regarding inequalities experienced by the women’s tournament last year compared to the men’s. The NCAA hired an independent gender equality review by an outside law firm, which turned in a report back in August.

Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant had her own criticisms last year during the tournament around the unequal size and the neutral court sites the men enjoy, while the women are forced to stay in campus venues. Coach Merchant also suggested other unique ideas at Big Ten Media Days last month around “May Madness.”

The Spartans have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 17 times and hold a 19-18 record, including a 2005 national title game appearance.