The women’s NCAA basketball tournament will be held on six courts at five venues in the San Antonio region from March 21 to April 4, it was announced Friday. The Alamodome will host the Women’s Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16. All 63 games of the 64-team event will be televised by the ESPN family of networks and available on the ESPN App. No decision has been made yet about fan attendance.
The first round will be in three cities: San Antonio; Austin, Texas; and San Marcos, Texas. All subsequent games will be in San Antonio.
The Alamodome had previously been scheduled as the 2021 Women’s Final Four host, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire event was moved to that area for safety reasons. COVID-19 testing will take place throughout the event, and the NCAA will work with the San Antonio Metro Health department on approved medical protocols.
NCAA and San Antonio officials explained the reasoning for localizing the tournament in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday.
“We feel certain that one geographic region allows us to focus on the potential benefits of conducting certain safety measures in a controlled environment with competition and practice venues, medical resources and lodging for teams and officials all within close proximity,” Division I women’s basketball committee chair Nina King said.
The first round is March 21-22. The games in San Antonio will be held at the Alamodome (which will have two courts), Bill Greehey Arena at St. Mary’s University and UTSA Convocation Center. Games in Austin will be at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center, and games in San Marcos will be at Texas State’s Strahan Arena.
In the second round, March 23-24, all games will be at the three San Antonio venues. After that, all games will be at the Alamodome. The regional semifinals will be held March 27-28, the regional finals March 29-30 and the Final Four April 2 and 4. The Alamodome will be reconfigured for just one court for the Final Four.
The NCAA tournament field will be revealed on Selection Monday, March 15 (ESPN/ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET). Team travel parties will have a maximum of 34 people, all teams will be housed in seven hotels in San Antonio’s Bexar County under Tier 1 criteria, which requires daily testing.
Members of teams’ traveling parties will need have seven days of negative COVID-19 tests before departing to San Antonio. Teams will take charter planes and buses to San Antonio to prevent exposure during travel, and then remain in their own groups for the duration of their tournament stay.
“We have spent weeks talking through these protocols,” said Dr. Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager with oversight of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. “These are the same protocols that are being used at the NCAA men’s tournament. I’ve been very impressed with the team of medical professionals they put together.”
Players will eat meals either in their hotel rooms or in team-specific rooms that ensure social distancing.
“This is not being designed as an event where a bunch of people are congregating together,” Bridger said. “This is being very well-managed and orchestrated to avoid that.”
Practices for all teams will be at the Alamodome’s two courts and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which can hold nine courts. San Antonio previously hosted the Women’s Final Four in 2002 and 2010.
“We’re fortunate to be working with San Antonio, which features one of the most experienced local organizing committees in the country,” Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball, said.
Teams playing in the first round in Austin and San Marcos will be bused there. King and Holzman said the principles and procedures of seeding will help determine which teams will go to those locations.
Holzman said since this is now an entire neutral-site tournament. If Texas is in the field, the Longhorns will not play in the first round on their own home court at the Erwin Center.
Holzman said plans will be in place if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs during the NCAA tournament.
“There continues to be a variety of contingency planning; that’s a fact for any NCAA championship,” she said. “There’s going to have to be risk-management plans in place.
“I do want to emphasize the health and safety protocols that have been established for the championship – with the emphasis on masking, physical distancing and other [things] – is with the goal that if contact tracing has to be initiated due to a positive case … to not have it impact the entire team.”
Holzman said the intent is to have family/friends of student-athletes (up to six per person) allowed in for games. But even that decision – plus any subsequent decision on allowing in other fans – will be impacted by directives by health authorities and any specific limitations for the venues.
She added that AT&T Center, home of the NBA’s Spurs and a past NCAA women’s regional site, was considered for the women’s tournament this year, but various circumstances prevented its use.
Decisions to move some of the first-round games to San Marcos and Austin were made to ensure having facilities that met all NCAA standards and the necessary criteria for broadcasts.