The San Antonio region will host the entire NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The move Friday was made to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and matches that of the men’s tournament, which the NCAA said last month will be played in the Indianapolis area.
The tournament will still feature 64 teams and will run from March 21 through April 4. The NCAA will use five sites for the opening round, including the University of Texas, which is 80 miles from San Antonio, as a venue.
“We appreciate the historical significance of moving the entire championship to one region and want to acknowledge the work by the Women’s Basketball Committee and staff, our hosts, local organizers and ESPN that has allowed us to make plans for a successful 2021 championship,” said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball.
“We’re fortunate to be working with San Antonio, which features one of the most experienced local organizing committees in the country, and our No. 1 priority is to focus on creating and implementing safety controls in an environment for student-athletes, coaches, administrators, officials and everyone else associated with the championship.”
The Alamodome will host games for every round, with two courts in use at the building. The Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four will be played there as well as the national championship.
The NCAA said it was still figuring out how it will seed the tournament as far as who goes to which venue, as well as what would happen in the worst case scenario of a team being unable to compete because of COVID-19 issues.
No decision has been made yet on whether fans can attend, although at minimum it’s hoped that at least up to six family members or friends of the participants could attend the tournament pending local health guidelines. Most of the venues being used are already allowing limited attendance at their events.
While there are usually five days between the second round and the Sweet 16 there will only be four days between games this year.
“Like the 2020-21 season, we know the championship will have its challenges, but we feel we have the necessary structure and safeguards in place to ensure a quality student-athlete championship experience,” said Nina King, senior deputy athletic director and chief of staff at Duke and chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee.
“We appreciate all the work by those in San Antonio and by the NCAA staff to get to this point. 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,” she said.
Teams will be limited to a maximum travel party of 34 individuals and will arrive on March 16 and 17. All will stay in hotels in San Antonio or other areas of Bexar County. Practices will take place using nine courts that will be set up in the downtown convention center as well as the two in the Alamodome.
The NCAA will work closely with the local health department in San Antonio to determine medical protocols. The women’s tournament will use very similar protocols that the men are using in their tournament in the Indianapolis area, including that all travel party members will need to have seven consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before arriving in San Antonio.
Everyone in the team travel parties will undergo daily testing upon arrival and throughout the tournament.
All participants will also be required to wear KINEXON contact tracing devices during the tournament, including at practices and games, to assist with contact tracing and quarantining.
The NCAA hopes to have all of the medical protocols out by the end of next week.
“We need to work in concert so that someone is crowned a national championship,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Texas has been a really good state for us. We won our first national championship and hopefully we can add another banner being in San Antonio.”
The Gamecocks won the title in 2017 when the Final Four was in Dallas.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25