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NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament Officially Expands to 11 Teams

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Ice Hockey Championship Photo by Justin Berl/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The NCAA Division I Council officially approved recommendations from the Competition Oversight Committee to expand the Division I women’s ice hockey tournament from eight to 11 teams, beginning this season.

The push to expand the women’s field gained steam this past fall when an NCAA-commissioned report detailed a wide disparity in NCAA spending between the men’s and women’s hockey tournament.

The Oversight Committee suggested an expansion to 11 teams this past November, bringing it into proportion with the 16-team men’s field. Though the field size is now proportional, a request from the women’s ice hockey committee to expand the roster size for women’s tournament teams from 24 to 27, bringing it even with the squad size allowed for men, was tabled by the DI Council. Though as Matt Wellens points out, this is likely to be addressed and corrected before this year’s tournament takes place.

The committee’s notes also confirms that the NEWHA conference is on pace to receive an automatic bid to the tournament beginning next season.

The format of the 11-team field, as expected, will give a bye to each of the top five teams. The fifth seed will play a quarterfinal at the home rink of one of the top four seeds. The three Round of 16 games will be played at the home rink of the top seed in that section of the bracket. The winner of the Round of 16 game will get a day off before their quarterfinal match-up.

Many were hoping the NCAA would adopt true bracket integrity for the women’s tournament, similar to the men’s NCAA tournament, rather than relying on reducing travel costs. That does not appear to be the case. Notably, it says the fifth seed will play at one of the top four seeds home site, and not at the fourth seed’s home site. There is also no specificity about which seeds will be placed in which bracket, which potentially gives the committee a lot of wiggle room.

So it’s not a complete victory for women’s hockey, but it is another small step forward, with three more teams getting the opportunity to participate in the tournament this year.