The NCAA women's basketball committee is backing a move to play the Final Four two days earlier, starting next season.
The Final Four would go to a Friday-Sunday format instead of the Sunday-Tuesday configuration in place since 2003.
"It was a difficult decision for us," said Carolayne Henry, chair of the Division I Women's Basketball Committee and senior associate commissioner/senior woman administrator at the Mountain West Conference. "The atmosphere on the Final Four weekend is something we can continue to capitalize on. As we grow, we can look to see if we want to be a stand-alone entity. For now, we want to take advantage of the excitement around basketball that takes place on that weekend."
The committee also decided that the top 16 seeds should host the first two rounds. The move would hopefully bolster attendance in the first two rounds, which has become stagnant over the past few years. Last season, the NCAA averaged 5,466 for all rounds — 17th since the tournament began in 1982.
"Growing the game and attendance is what we're trying to do," said associate commissioner of the Pac-12 Chris Dawson, who is on the women's committee. "These moves will hopefully bolster that. Moving off the Sunday-Tuesday format helps families and fans be able to attend games as they won't need to take as many days off work."
A drawback of the move is that well-attended sites like Gonzaga and Delaware likely wouldn't have a chance to host anymore. The committee also recommended moving the start date of the first round up a day, which would put them directly head-to-head with the men's tournament.
The regionals, which are at host schools for this season's tournament, will move to a neutral site and also move up the dates one day. The idea of having two super regionals that was bandied about didn't even make it to vote.
Stanford, Notre Dame, Louisville and Nebraska all are hosting regionals in this year's NCAA tournament. It's a move that angered a lot of coaches as all four of those schools have had incredible success at home, with Stanford boasting a 92-2 mark at Maples Pavilion since the start of the 2007-08 season. Notre Dame is 85-11 at home during that span. Louisville and Nebraska each have won 81 percent of their home games over the past six years.
"It's great to have them back at neutral sites next year," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It will help our game grow."
The committee also decided to ask Division II and Division III for input on the idea of a combined championship that would take place on the same weekend as the 2016 Women's Final Four in Indianapolis. Men's basketball did it in Atlanta last season.
A lot of the ideas that the committee recommended come out of a paper submitted by Val Ackerman last spring to the NCAA. All the changes must be approved by the Division I championship panel.
"We're hoping to have them in place so that it can be done for next year," Dawson said. "The main goal is to help grow the game's attendance."
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