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NCAA - Division 1 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 28 September 2008

The NCAA Women's Division I Championship is an annual basketball tournament for women. Held each April, the Women's Championship was inaugurated in the 1981-82 season. Attendance and interest have grown over the years, especially since 2003, when the final championship game was moved to the Tuesday following the Monday men's championship game. The women's championship game is now the final overall game of the college basketball season.

The tournament bracket is made up of champions from each Division I conference, which receive automatic bids. The remaining slots are at-large bids, with teams chosen by an NCAA selection committee. The selection process and tournament seedings are based on several factors, including team rankings, win-loss records and Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) data.

Unlike the men's tournament, there are only 33 at-large bids, and no play-in game. The women's tournament, like the men's, is staged in a single elimination format, and is part of the media and public frenzy known colloquially as "March Madness". It is one of the most followed sporting events in the United States.

All 63 games have been broadcast on television since 2003 on ESPN and ESPN2. Similar to men's tournament coverage on CBS, local teams are shown on each channel when available, with "whip-around" coverage designed to showcase the most competitive contests in the rest of the country.

A total of 64 teams qualify for the tournament played in March and April. Thirty of the teams earn automatic bids by winning their respective conference tournaments. Because the Ivy League does not conduct a post-season tournament, the regular-season conference champion receives an automatic bid. The remaining teams are granted "at-large" bids, which are extended by the NCAA Selection Committee.

The tournament is split into four regions, and each region has teams seeded 1-16, with the committee making every region as comparable to the others as possible. The best team in each region plays the #16 team, the #2 team plays the #15, and so on.

Since 2003, the tournament has used the so-called "pod" system, in which the eight first- and second-round sites are distributed around the four regionals. (In 2003 and 2004, there were 16 sites. The sixteen sites will be restored as of 2009.) These sites are chosen in advance and are generally locations where there is significant interest in women's college basketball. Arenas are generally on college campuses, in contrast to the large professional sports arenas often used in the men's tournament.

Before the 2003 tournament, the top four teams in each region would host their quarter of the bracket at their home arena. The women's sites, though chosen in advance, are not necessarily neutral; the women's tournament committee deliberately places host teams on their home floors when possible, even if their seeds are low. For instance, in 2006, 10th-seeded Old Dominion University played on its home court, and in 2004, 11th-seeded UC Santa Barbara and Temple and 12th-seeded Montana and New Mexico played on their home court despite being the low seed. (It should be noted that the home court advantage for the lower seeded teams only worked for UCSB, as the other four teams lost in the first round.) This practice mirrors earlier years of the men's tournament. Once the event gained enough popularity, the practice of playing on one's home court was abandoned. The move to eight sites instead of 16 is designed to reduce the number of teams playing on their home court, and make it easier to televise the tournament.

In the pod system, each of the eight first- and second-round sites has two "pods", where a pod is a group of four teams who play each other. A host site's pods may be from different regions, and thus the winners of each pod would advance into separate regional tournaments. The possible pods by seeding are:

  • 1v16, 8v9
  • 2v15, 7v10
  • 3v14, 6v11
  • 4v13, 5v12

The first- and second-round games are played on the first weekend of the tournament, either on Saturday and Monday or Sunday and Tuesday. The teams which are still alive after the first weekend advance to the regional semi-finals (the Sweet Sixteen) and finals (the Elite Eight) played on the second weekend of the tournament (again, the games are split into Saturday/Monday and Sunday/Tuesday). Weekends are chosen so as to minimize conflict with both the men's tournament going on at the same time and with academic obligations during the rest of the week.

The winners of each region advance to the Final Four, where the national semifinals are played on Sunday and the national championship is played on Tuesday. Before the 2004 tournament, the pairings for the semifinals were based on an annual rotation. Since 2004 and the institution of the pod system, the pairings are determined by the ranking of the four top seeds against each other.

The brackets are not reseeded after each round. The tournament is single-elimination and there are no consolation games. The single-elimination format produces opportunities for Cinderella teams to advance despite playing much tougher teams. Upsets happen in the women's tournament much like in the men's tournament. For example, the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed occurred in the women's tournament in 1998, when Harvard defeated Stanford 71-67 at Stanford. (Stanford's team had two starters unable to play because of torn ACLs.) That feat has never occurred in the men's tournament. Still, the women's tournament is characterized by fewer upsets than in the men's tournament. No 14th- or 15th-seeded team has ever advanced to the second round, which has occurred in the men's tournament 18 times (or 11% of the time). The 13th seed has won its first round game 8% of the time, compared to 22% of the time in the men's tournament.

In 2005, three #1 seeds and one #2 seed advanced to the Final Four. The #2-seeded team, Baylor, won the tournament. The three #1's and a #2 combination also occurred in the 1996, 2002, 2003, and 2006 tournaments, and in 1989 all four #1's comprised the Final Four. Three #1 seeds and a #2 have only occurred once (in 1993) in the men's tournament, and an all #1 Final Four occurred for the first time in 2008. At times, however, there have been lower seeded teams advance to the women's Final Four, such as in 2004 when teams seeded #1, #2, #4, and #7 made the Final Four.

The women's basketball championship originally began as a function of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In 1982, the NCAA began its tournament, which resulted in the AIAW dissolving.

  • 1982-1985: 32 teams
  • 1986-1988: 40 teams
  • 1989-1993: 48 teams
  • 1994-present: 64 teams

Prior to 1996, seeding was conducted on a regional basis. The top teams (eight in the 32-, 40-, and 48-team format, 16 in the 64-team format) were ranked and seeded on a national basis. The remaining teams were then seeded based on their geographic region and teams were moved outside of its geographic region only if necessary to balance the bracket, or if the proximity of an opponent outside of its region would be comparable and a better competitive matchup would result. In 1993, the teams below seed #4 were explicitly unseeded. The regional seeding resumed in 1994. In 1996, seeds were placed on a national basis using an "S-Curve" format similar to the process used in selecting the field for the men's tournament.