INDIANAPOLIS -- Fifty-three individuals participated in the latest NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship mock exercise on September 4 at the national office, experiencing a personal perspective on the selection, seeding and bracketing process under the new championship format.

Exercise participants, consisting of women’s basketball coaches, conference and institution administrators and several additional stakeholders, dug into the details regarding changes to the upcoming championship model. One of the changes covered was the awarding of the top 16 seeds as hosts for the first- and second-rounds in 2015. Participants were briefed on the latest adjustments made to the principles and procedures, as well as in games management and other miscellaneous hosting details. Members of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and NCAA staff were on hand to provide additional insight.

“[The mock exercise] was a great experience for me,” said Joe McKeown, head women’s basketball coach at Northwestern, who will be entering the 2014-15 season with 597 career wins over 28 seasons. “It provided great insight into how complicated it really becomes and all the factors that coaches probably don’t understand as much. It was an eye-opener.”

The Road to Tampa Bay for the 2015 Women’s Final Four will run a slightly different course this championship season. First-, second- and regional rounds will be played earlier in the week, with games on Friday/Sunday and Saturday/Monday. First-round play will take place March 20 and 21, while second-round play will take place March 22 and 23 at non-predetermined sites on the courts of the top 16 seeds.

In the event that a top 16 seeded team does not submit a bid to host, or their bid does not meet requirements for hosting, the committee will select a host from the remaining submitted bids that meet requirements.  In order to adhere to the bracketing principles, it may not be possible to select the next highest seed to host. Therefore, institutions are encouraged to submit a bid, even if they do not believe their team will be seeded in the top 16. Attendees of the mock selection were encouraged to begin reserving playing facilities and hotel properties for championship first- and second-round hosting possibilities. 

“The NCAA Tournament experience is a great one for the student-athletes and you want to see the stands full and the excitement that goes with the tournament,” said Bill Fennelly, head women’s basketball coach at Iowa State for the past 19 years. “It’s a great thing for the tournament to increase attendance and is ultimately what we need to do.”

“I think we talk a lot about student-athlete experience,” said Jonathan Tsipis, head women’s basketball coach at George Washington. “It’s so important that when they are playing that the stands are full. It’s something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. You fight all year to be successful and I like the idea that we are rewarding those programs that are the top 16 seeds.”

Regional play in 2015 will take place March 27 and 29 at Oklahoma City (Chesapeake Energy Arena) and Greensboro, N.C. (Greensboro Coliseum) and March 28 and 30 at Albany, N.Y. (Times Union Center) and Spokane, Wash. (Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena). For the regional competition in 2015, a team may not be assigned to play in any arena in which it has played more than three regular-season games, not including conference post-season tournaments. The Women’s Final Four national semifinals will be played on Sunday, April 5 and the national championship game on Tuesday, April 7 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

“We encourage host institutions, conferences and facilities to bid on multiple years,” said Dru Hancock, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and senior associate commissioner at the Big 12 Conference. “Finding hosts with a commitment to women’s basketball and building attendance is paramount to the future of the championship.”

The 64-team championship bracket will be announced on Selection Monday, March 16, 2015 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The mock exercise also allowed for a full discussion of the current “Principles and Procedures for Establishing the Bracket.” While the principles and procedures will continue to emphasize fairness, consistency and balance, attendees were notified of several tweaks for 2015 that included:

• Each of the first four teams from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines.
• Teams from the same conference shall not meet prior to the regional final if they played each other three or more times during the regular season and conference tournament. 
• The committee will attempt to keep conference teams from meeting until the regional final round.
• If the committee is unable to balance the bracket after exhausting all possible options, it has the flexibility to permit two teams from the same conference to meet each other after the first-round. 

Mock attendees were also briefed on the input provided by committee members in the selection on the 112 game officials chosen each year to work the championship and the criteria used to evaluate the performance of game offcials as they advance during the tournament.

“I have a deep appreciation for the commitment, time and energy that the committee puts into the process,” said Lynn Holzman, West Coast Conference commissioner. “They take their responsibility very seriously and you could sense the pressure they must feel to get it right. At the end of the day they want to put together the best and fairest bracket possible.”