About NCAA Division I Women's Basketball
The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament is a collegiate women’s basketball tournament played each March in the United States among teams in Division I (the top level of university sports). It was founded during the 1981/1982 season after the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Basketball Tournament, which ran from 1972 to 1982, disbanded in 1982.
Interestingly, in 1982, there were actually two basketball championships for women: the AIAW one and the first ever one for the NCAA as the NCAA battled to establish themselves as the premier competition for women’s basketball – and the NCAA ultimately came out on top as today, they are the only established forum in which college-aged women can play top-tier basketball.
Unlike the men’s tournament, however, which features 68 teams, the women’s competition features 64 sides. However, just like the men’s division has competitions for Division II (colloquially known as D-II) and Division III (D-III), the same also applies to the women’s league.
The 64-team format for the women’s tournament did not start until 1994. Prior to that, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament had 32 teams upon its inception until 1985 (in 1983 it temporarily had 36 teams). It then expanded to 40 teams between 1986 and 1988, before growing to 48 from 1989 to 1993, and finally its current size of 64 in 1994.
As the AIAW crumbled, the NCAA moved quickly, establishing competitions for schools that are ranked in the second and third tiers, and both competitions, which were founded in 1982 along with the Division I (D-I) program, also have 64 teams competing.
With 64 teams in the women’s competition, that means there is no “first four” round as is the case in the men’s tournament, so the “Big Dance”, as the battle between the 64 teams is called among many fans of March Madness can begin right away.
The tournament bracket is made up of the 32 conference champions – just like the men’s teams. The other 32 are given “at-large” bids, and their spots are determined by a selection committee. Factors for selection include how a team has done over the course of a season (win-loss record) and strength of the team’s conference – but the difference here is, again, there are only 32 “at-large” bids available instead of 36, so the pool is a bit smaller.
Four groups of 16 are then created and allocated into four geographic divisions. These teams are seeded (ranked) with the lowest ranked team (16) matched up against the highest seeded side (number one), while the second-highest ranked team will face the second-lowest seeded side (number 15), and so on.
There have been some pretty big upsets in the women’s tournament over the years, with lower-ranked seeds defeating top-ranked teams. In 1998, in a match that featured two of the most prestigious schools in the United States (and perhaps even the world) – Harvard and Stanford – Harvard, who was ranked number 16, defeated number-one seeded Stanford in the first round.
While they were knocked out in the Round of 32, it was the first time a team seeded 16th beat a top-ranked side in either the men’s or women’s tournaments until UMBC beat the University of Virginia in the men’s competition 20 years later in 2018 in a match that was live-streamed and shown on TV broadcasts all over the world.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament is also a single-elimination affair, so straight from the “Big Dance”, it is on to the round of 32, then the “Sweet Sixteen”, the “Elite Eight”, the “Final Four”, and then the highly-anticipated final.
To avoid conflict with scheduling, as both tournaments are played in March, the women’s and the men’s Final Four and Championship Final are staggered. As interest in the women’s game has grown exponentially over the years, the women’s Final Four is usually played before the men’s Final Four while women’s final is played after the men’s Final Four. Fans can catch all these games either on TV, radio or via live-streaming in what is always a very action-packed few days for collegiate basketball supporters.
The University of Connecticut (commonly called “UConn” by basketball fans) is the most decorated side in NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball history. Other teams who have routinely made it to the Final Four or have continually presented themselves as serious title contenders in recent times include Notre Dame, Tennessee, Baylor, Stanford, and South Carolina.
Although the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament is not a professional-level competition, interest in it has grown significantly since the turn of the millennium. To meet the growing demand, TV coverage has expanded at both the local and national level in the United States, especially as the competition reaches the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and national championship games.
Live streaming and on-demand options are available for fans who do not want to be tied to their TV screens and especially for those juggling both the women’s and men’s tournaments simultaneously. In addition, there are also radio broadcasts all throughout March Madness for supporters not in front of a TV, computer, or mobile device.
Internationally, such as in Canada and the UK, there are TV broadcasts and live streaming selections on tap for fans throughout the course of the tournament.