The Division I Women’s Basketball Committee continued discussions during its October 18-20 meeting in Indianapolis regarding championship bracket size, playing dates, game times and formats for selecting preliminary-round sites.
The discussions include a complex exchange of ideas from within the women’s basketball community as to how best enhance the student-athlete experience during the sport’s pinnacle event. The meeting magnified the challenge that faces the committee, namely aligning the viewpoints of the various stakeholders of the championship that include the committee, institutions, coaches, fans and broadcast partners.
Committee members reviewed the 2011 championship in detail and explored ways in which the current format could be enhanced. Based on discussion held during the group’s summer meeting, game times for the first and second rounds of the 2011 championship have been enhanced, with the new broadcast windows on Saturday and Sunday at noon, 2:30, 4:30 and 6 p.m. ET. That eliminates the 8:30 p.m. slot that was in use during recent championships.
The committee also met with representatives from ESPN, with discussion centering on improving the championship experience in venue and via television. For the first time in 2011, all 63 games of the 2011 championship will be televised in high definition on ESPN and ESPN2. In addition, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3.com and ESPN Full Court will combine to present approximately 250 women’s college basketball games during the 2010-11 regular season.
Committee members also discussed playing days with ESPN. The championship’s current Saturday-Monday, Sunday-Tuesday format began with the revised ESPN contract in 2003, but the committee continued to review whether shifting the playing days for the first and second rounds to a Friday-Sunday, Saturday-Monday format would benefit the championship.
Because one of the committee’s primary objectives is to create a memorable experience for participating student-athletes, the committee continues to discuss ways to increase the attendance at all rounds of the championship.
As for bracket expansion, the discussion is whether to increase the tournament field, and if so, by how many teams. The tournament has been at its current 64-team model since 1994.
The men’s tournament expanding from 65 to 68 teams this year prompted some people to wonder whether the women’s bracket should undergo similar change. The committee reviewed several models for an expanded bracket.
Committee members discussed a number of issues with Women’s Basketball Coaches Association staff members Beth Bass and Shannon Reynolds. Also included were WBCA President and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and WBCA Vice President and Arizona State University head coach Charli Turner Thorne.
“Our annual fall committee meeting produced three days of dialogue centered on a variety of important topics, including an assessment of bracket expansion, championship format, playing dates, 2012 championship preliminary-round site selection and planning for the 2011 championship and Women’s Final Four,” said committee chair Marilyn McNeil, vice president and director of athletics at Monmouth University. “The committee had candid, forthright discussions regarding these topics and will continue its work and discussions over the next several months.”
Overall, McNeil said she was pleased with the interaction during the meeting.
“The committee understands it has the unique opportunity to provide a meaningful championship experience for student-athletes and will continue to approach its work and discussions with this in mind,” she said.