UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't surprised that the NCAA women's basketball tournament will be played in one geographical area. It just makes the most sense.
The NCAA announced Monday that San Antonio is the likely host site for the 64-team tournament next March. The move was made to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and matches that of the men’s tournament, which the NCAA said last month also will be played in a single area — most likely Indianapolis.
“If you’re in one place there’s one set of protocols for the entire state, that’s one positive to it,′ said Auriemma, whose team has been to every Final Four since 2008. “Trying to get 64 teams from all over the country to fly to all those places and deal with all the protocols involved everywhere, it made more sense I’m sure to bring in everyone to Texas.”
San Antonio was already the site of the 2021 Final Four. The NCAA has now begun talks with the city on hosting the whole thing, and the organization hopes to have plans finalized by the end of January at the latest. It is likely that the NCAA could play games as far away as Austin because of the need for hotels as well as practice and game venues for 64 teams.
“I’m not surprised,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I don’t know enough about how in the world are you going to get enough gyms, enough practice places, and get that much clearance on COVID testing and sanitation and all the things that have to be done. We like it because it’s close to home.”
The first two rounds of the women’s tournament have been played on campus sites the past few seasons, with the top four seeds in each region hosting. The regionals were slated to be played this season in Albany, New York, Austin, Texas, Cincinnati and Spokane, Washington.
“By making this difficult decision now, it allows for an earlier opportunity to work proactively with local public health officials within the host communities and ensures that the identified guidelines and protocols are considered for a more controlled environment,” said Nina King, the NCAA women’s basketball committee chair and senior athletic director at Duke.
The NCAA expects the tournament to be played in late March and early April as usual, though there is a chance it could be shorter. The tourneys are typically just short of three weeks long.
“I think for the health and safety of the players you’re going to have to take a look at all these things,” Auriemma said of shrinking the timeframe of the tournament. “How many games do you want to play in one week when you're talking about the biggest games you’re playing in one year?”
NCAA senior vice president Lynn Holzman said there are a host of logistics the women’s basketball committee needs to work out. Many teams have already had to pause their seasons because of positive COVID-19 tests. Holzman wouldn’t speculate what the protocols would be if a tournament team has a positive case.
“This is one of the topics both the men’s and women’s committees and any other championship committee will have to have,” she said. “We don’t have an answer for that today.”
This won’t be the first time a women’s tournament will be played at one site. From 1972-1977, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women played a 16-team postseason tournament at one site. The NCAA Tournament was first played in 1982.
Two schools, Incarnate Word and UTSA, will serve as hosts for the Final Four.
“We were already preparing to host a tremendous women’s Final Four; the opportunity to develop a plan for hosting all 64 teams is both exciting and a great opportunity for our local economy,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “It is also a tremendous responsibility, and I know our local organizing committee and our hospitality industry will make the safety and well-being of the athletes, coaches and fans its highest priority.”
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