Listen Live

March Madness expanded on the women’s side of the court Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news

The Division I Council approved an expansion of the Division I women’s basketball championship bracket from 64 to 68 teams, beginning with the 2022 championship, the NCAA announced.

“This immediate expansion of the women’s basketball championship reinforces the fact that leaders within Division I are committed to strengthening aspects of the women’s basketball championship that directly impact student-athletes,” Council chairperson Shane Lyons, the athletics director at West Virginia, said in a statement. “We look forward to the positive change this will have for the student experience at the championship, especially as it relates to equal team opportunities to compete in the tournament.”

The council also approved moving the release of the tournament from a Monday to a Sunday, aligning it with the “Selection Sunday” bracket reveals for the men’s tournament, the NCAA said.

The men’s and women’s brackets for the 2022 tournaments will be released on March 13, the NCAA said.

Expanding the tournament means that there will be two opening-round games, pitting the last four at-large selections. Those games will feature the teams ranked 65 through 68, ESPN reported. They will be played on March 16 and 17, with the games against the No. 1 seeds to take place on March 18 and 19, the NCAA said.

Winners from those two games will face a No. 1 seed two days later, the network reported.

The decision follows a recommendation from a comprehensive, two-part external review of the NCAA’s approach to men’s and women’s sports, specifically in basketball, according to The Athletic. The review came after players and coaches criticized the facilities at the 2021 tournament in San Antonio, the magazine reported.

The review found that the NCAA prioritized men’s basketball “over everything else in ways that create, normalize and perpetuate gender inequities,” according to The Athletic.

“This was another important step in providing additional championship participation opportunities for women’s basketball student-athletes,” Nina King, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Duke, said in a statement. “The committee was in support of implementing this as soon as possible and were pleased that the expanded championship field will be in play immediately for the upcoming championship and beyond.”

Tournament games will be broadcast by ESPN on one of its channels.