At its summer meeting held this week in Savannah, Ga., the Division I Women's Basketball Committee discussed the growth of the championship and ways to continue to guide the sport to new heights, including the possible expansion of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship, although expanding the 68-team field is not imminent.
The expansion discussion followed recommendations made in January by the Division I Transformation Committee, which was formed in 2021 to identify opportunities to modernize college sports and recommend forward-thinking changes for consideration by the NCAA. One of those recommendations was accommodating 25% of a sport's membership with championship access for sports that have at least 200 participating schools. Not including 11 schools currently in the reclassifying process from Division II, there are 349 Division I institutions that sponsor women's basketball, translating into 19.5% of schools that make the NCAA tournament.
MEN'S TOURNAMENT: Expanding the 68-team field is not imminent
In January, the NCAA announced the creation of an annual 32-team postseason invitation tournament for women's basketball beginning in 2024, which will be owned and funded by the NCAA. Starting in 2024, 100 postseason NCAA-funded opportunities will be available for women's basketball teams, equal to that of men's basketball through its two events (the 68-team championship and 32-team National Invitation Tournament). With the two women's basketball events, the percentage of NCAA postseason opportunities would be 28.7%.
"The committee and staff will continue to study options, meet with stakeholders and review the many championship models to make an informed decision that's in the best interests of the championship, though we are not there currently in regard to expanding the NCAA tournament field beyond 68 teams," said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women's basketball.
The last time the tournament expanded was before the 2022 championship, when the field went from 64 to 68 teams. The championship had incremental expansion between the championship's inception in 1982, when the NCAA began women's championships, and 1994, when the field went from 48 to 64 teams.
The committee also spent considerable time during the meeting reviewing the past year, which featured record ratings and attendance, while also preparing for the 2023-24 season and championship. Members analyzed the two-site regional format that was in play for the first time in 2023 and discussed continued growth for the championship and Women's Final Four. Partner updates were provided by ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery/CBS.
Committee members also met with the Cleveland Local Organizing Committee, which provided an update on its planning efforts for the 2024 Women's Final Four, to be held April 5 and 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
"While we are pleased women's basketball continues to grow and the accomplishments of the past season and championship, it's imperative for the committee and all women's basketball stakeholders to be diligent going forward. We will not rest on the successes we have experienced with the past championship and Women's Final Four," said Lisa Peterson, chair of the committee and senior associate commissioner for sports management with the Pac-12 Conference. "We have spent considerable time leading up to and during the meeting this week reviewing everything that touches the championship and looking for ways to continue growing and improving to make it better for our student-athletes, fans and partners."
In addition, the committee elected Derita Dawkins of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, to serve as chair of the committee in 2024-25. Peterson will continue as committee chair for the 2023-24 season, with Dawkins serving as vice chair.
A member of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee since 2020, Dawkins will be the 23rd women's committee chair in NCAA history. She has more than 20 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics, including six years in a leadership role at Arkansas, where she is assistant vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, deputy athletics director for student-athlete wellness and senior woman administrator for the athletics department.
"I am deeply honored that my fellow committee members felt me worthy of such an important responsibility," Dawkins said. "During my three years on the committee, we have made great strides in moving the championship forward as a destination event, and I look forward to continuing the upward trajectory we have enjoyed."
All 12 members of the committee are set to return in 2023-24. In addition to Peterson and Dawkins, committee members are Deneé Barracato, deputy director of athletics at Northwestern; Jill Bodensteiner, vice president and director of athletics at Saint Joseph's; Jenny Bramer, executive associate athletics director at San Diego State; Amanda Braun, athletics director at Milwaukee; Amy Folan, associate vice president and director of athletics at Central Michigan; Alex Gary, director of athletics at Western Carolina; Lizzie Gomez, deputy commissioner at the Southland Conference; Josh Heird, director of athletics at Louisville; Jill Shields, deputy director of athletics at Kansas State; and Lynn Tighe, senior associate athletics director at Villanova.