With less than two months until Selection Monday, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee provided several planning updates for the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.
The committee reiterated that a traditional 64-team championship bracket will be in play for the 2021 championship taking place in March and April, with the bracket including automatic qualifiers from all competing Division I conferences, which is currently 31, and the other remaining bids filled by at-large selections. As automatic qualifiers decrease, the committee will increase the number of at-large allocations in order to maintain a 64-team bracket.
To provide ultimate flexibility for teams due to COVID-19, the committee also announced that for the 2020-21 academic year, it would waive the .500 rule, which normally requires teams to have overall won-lost records of .500 or better to be considered for an at-large selection. This is in keeping with the NCAA Competition Oversight Committee recommendation for all fall and winter sports.
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With the expected move of the entire championship to one geographic area and the San Antonio region currently under consideration, the committee also decided to remove references to geography in principles for placing teams into the bracket for the 2021 championship only. With that, the 64 teams participating in the 2021 championship will continue to be moved into the bracket by order of the S-curve using seed order. The S-curve ensures that the higher-seeded teams are placed into the bracket against the lower-seeded teams. The committee will still adhere to the bracketing principles that attempt to keep conference teams from meeting until the regional final round.
In a move to add additional team support, the committee also allowed for a three-person increase in the size of the official team travel party (student-athletes, coaches, primary administrator, managers, sports information directors, etc.) for championship participating institutions, pushing the travel party size from 31 to 34 individuals.
“The committee continues to adjust to the circumstances of the current season and feel that decisions reached in regard to the 2021 championship are in the best interest of the championship while ensuring the health and safety of all concerned,” said Nina King, senior deputy athletics director and chief of staff at Duke and chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee. “We will continue to protect the integrity of the selection, seeding and bracketing process as we work through any new developments.”
With all schools required to play a minimum of 13 games against other Division I schools during the 2020-21 season to qualify for team selection in the 2021 championship, the committee also announced that from Feb. 8 through Feb. 26 it will be accepting championship eligibility waiver requests from schools unable to reach the 13-game minimum. In addition, schools may count one conference tournament game in which the team participates toward the minimum number of 13 required games. This would apply only to schools that had completed 12 games and were counting on the conference tournament to fulfill the 13-game minimum requirement. After the Feb. 26 deadline, waivers would be considered only if a game scheduled after this date is canceled.
The committee also provided a reminder to members that Friday, Feb. 26, is the deadline for conferences to submit their automatic qualifier requirements for the 2021 championship. In addition, 5 p.m. Eastern time March 14 is the deadline for conferences to forward the name of the team representing their conference as the automatic qualifier. The 64-team bracket for the 2021 championship is scheduled to be announced at 7 p.m. Eastern time Monday, March 15, on ESPN.