For the first time in the history of the NCAA women's championship, a No. 1 seed will not play its first- or second-round games on its home court. The Division I women's basketball committee made several changes to the tournament format this year, not the least of which was placing teams at predetermined sites.
As a result, Louisiana State, the No. 1 seed in the West, must travel 2,600 miles to Eugene, Ore., for its first-round game. The Midwest No. 1 seed, Duke, will play 30 miles down the road in Raleigh, N.C. The two other No. 1 seeds, Connecticut in the East and Tennessee in the Mideast, will not have to travel. Those schools put in bids to host subregionals and therefore play at home this weekend.
Up until this year, the top 16 teams in the tournament hosted first- and second-round games as a reward for playing well during the regular season. Predetermined sites are intended to be a step toward leveling the playing field, which in theory could lead to more first-round upsets.
Texas Coach Jody Conradt is one of several coaches opposed to predetermined sites, and not just because the Longhorns are one of the teams hurt by the new format. Texas, the second seed in the West, plays 15th seed Hampton at Cincinnati, the 10th seed, in the first round. If the Longhorns advance to the regional, they would play on No. 3 Stanford's home court.
"I've been pretty vocal in" opposing predetermined sites, Conradt said. "It seems to me that if we're not going to be on neutral sites -- which I think would be a mistake as well -- that at least having the right to earn a home site is more fair than the system that we have in place now. I would rather have people in the stands, even if they are people who might be cheering for the opposing team. I think [neutral sites] would be a step backwards for our sport. It's interesting that we are moving in an opposite direction from how the men are going. They are trying to get back to a situation where their teams are closer to home so that their fans can travel."
Connecticut and Tennessee, which have won nine national championships between them, were not the only teams to benefit from this new format. Several lower-seeded teams, which would have traveled for first-round games a year ago, play at home this weekend. Old Dominion, a No. 12 seed in the East, will remain at home, as will Oklahoma, a No. 10 seed in the Mideast. New Mexico, a No. 6 seed in the Midwest, won't have to leave Albuquerque until the Final Four, should the Lobos advance that far. New Mexico will host the first and second rounds and the Midwest regional. Tennessee and Stanford also will host subregionals and regionals.
"Everybody involved with women's basketball would ultimately like to get toward neutral sites," said Cheryl Marra, chair of the Division I women's basketball committee. Neutral sites "provide more balance, more fairness. I think it is our goal to move in that direction."
The only truly neutral sites this year are at Oregon and North Carolina State, which did not have a team selected.
George Washington, which earned a No. 7 seed in the Mideast, will play No. 10 Oklahoma on its home court.
"It's unfair," GW Coach Joe McKeown said. "Tennessee and Stanford can get to the Final Four without packing a bag. We're taking a step backwards, but I'm not the one they ask about these things."
According to Marra, the process for selecting and seeding the teams was not affected by predetermined sites. The committee set the brackets then moved teams laterally as needed -- swapping No. 6 seeds, for example -- to accommodate the teams that were hosting first and second rounds.
"I felt very, very good about what the committee did relative to that, and [the bracket] really didn't change a whole lot more than it did in previous years," Marra said.