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March Madness is the nickname for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division I basketball tournament, one of the most exciting championship events in women’s sports. Happening alongside the men’s March Madness, the tournament always begins in mid-March. And like the men’s contest, it involves 68 teams (of the approximately 350 Division I women’s teams).

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Thirty-two teams are automatically entered into March Madness; the remaining 34 are selected by the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, which bases its selection on how the teams performed during the regular season. The committee also seeds the teams, meaning they rank the teams and decide where to “plant” them within the tournament bracket. These rankings are announced on Selection Sunday.

Four of these 68 teams are eliminated during the opening round of the tournament, called the First Four. The basketball committee then divides the remaining 64 teams into four regions of 16 teams each, and they are ranked 1 through 16. Each team’s rank is referred to as their seed.

Where the games are played

At the beginning of the tournament, the games are played on campus sites. The 2023 regional rounds — Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four — will be played at two sites: Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The championship game will be at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Here is the 2024 schedule, for the women’s March Madness:

  • Selection Sunday: March 17 (brackets, seeds, and team selections)
  • First four: March 20-21
  • First round: March 22-23
  • Second round: March 24-25
  • Sweet 16: March 29-30
  • Elite Eight: March 31-April 1
  • Final Four: April 5
  • National Championship: April 7
You can watch games on ESPN and Sling TV. ABC will broadcast the title game.

The 2023 top seeds

The heavy favorite of the 2023 tournament is the top-ranked University of South Carolina, which beat Stanford for the 2022 title. The other number-one seeds, in order of best season records, are:
  • Indiana University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Utah
The number-two seeds are:
  • Louisiana State University
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Iowa
There are many outstanding players in women's college basketball; here's a list of just ten who are considered some of the best today:
  • Aliyah Boston, University of South Carolina
  • Caitlin Clark, University of Iowa
  • Haley Jones, Stanford University
  • Ashley Joens, Iowa State University
  • Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  • Cameron Brink, Stanford University
  • Angel Reese, Louisiana State University
  • Olivia Miles, University of Notre Dame
  • Hailey Van Lith, University of Louisville
  • Rori Harmon, University of Texas

Origin of the women's NCAA March Madness tournament

Although the NCAA Division I basketball tournament has been around since 1939, the women were not included until 1982. Women had a long fight with the NCAA before that, even after Title IX was passed in 1972, to realize this big change.

Strangely enough, that first NCAA women’s contest in 1982 coincided with another championship tournament put on by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). (Incidentally, Rutgers beat Texas to win the AIAW championship, and Louisiana Tech beat Cheyney State to win the NCAA tournament.)

Why were there two tournaments? Because up until the 1981-1982 school year, the NCAA was not interested in women’s sports championships. Those had been under the purview of the women-led AIAW, which had been governing women’s collegiate sports since 1971. Of the many ways it supported women’s sports, the AIAW played a role in the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal funding.

However, in 1981, when the all-male-led-NCAA added women’s sports to its championship program for the first time, it created an uneven playing field in the battle with the AIAW for the governance of women’s collegiate sports. That fight lasted for about a year, but ultimately, the power and money of the NCAA won out. The AIAW folded in 1982.

Inequities within March Madness

Unfortunately, the NCAA hasn’t valued women’s sports as much as men’s sports throughout most of its existence. However, that is beginning to change, and one of the most conspicuous examples came with the 2022 NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

An outcry on social media during the 2021 March Madness tournament pointed out the stark inequities between the men’s and women’s practice facilities and amenities. This led the NCAA to hire a law firm to conduct a review of gender equity related to the tournaments in general. The resulting report uncovered many examples of inequities related to spending on marketing and promotion, players’ meals and services, event staffing, and more.

The report led the NCAA to try to level the field in 2022. It expanded the number of women’s teams from 64 to 68, the same as the men, and used the “March Madness” phrase for the women’s tournament for the first time. The organization also provided the same gifts to the men’s and women’s teams in 2022, staged similar fan events, and paid the game officials the same. However, there still remained a large gap between the NCAA’s spending on promotion, TV coverage, and more.

In a March 11, 2022, Washington Post article, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, wouldn’t comment on the gap in spending between the men’s and women’s tournaments. However, he did say, “The work is not done. There is more to do, and we look forward to doing more after this year’s championship.”

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