Nichols: Here’s why the NCAA got it wrong by not expanding the women’s championship to 30 teams, which is what the men get

Dec, 2022

Title IX celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, yet the fight for common sense decision-making when it comes to women’s sports rages on.

Earlier this week, the NCAA announced that the field at the Division I Women’s Championship would increase from 24 teams to 27. This was done to “provide an equitable championship access ratio across both Division I men’s and women’s golf.”

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Except, in the minds of many, it did not provide equity. Many believe that because the men have 30 teams at nationals, the women are still being short-changed. In other NCAA championships, the field size and setup mirror each other for the men and women after the opening round. In golf, it does not.

“I think, in general, we use equity when we’re trying to help the underserved or underrepresented get gains,” said Rutgers head coach Kari Williams. “In this case, we’re using equity to penalize the women.”

Here’s how it currently works: The NCAA postseason begins with six regional fields for men’s and women’s golf. A total of 81 men’s teams and 72 women’s teams advance to regionals. This gives both the men and women 27 percent of the total number of Division I programs in NCAA postseason action. (Think of this like the first round of the men’s and women’s college basketball tournament.)

The NCAA bases its access ratio to the postseason on sport sponsorship (how many schools have teams). The breakdown is equal in men’s and women’s golf at 27 percent in Round 1.

But when it comes to how many teams advance to Round 2, the women had 24 move on to Arizona’s Grayhawk Golf Club in 2022 while the men had 30.

Trophies are lined up on a table at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale for the 2022 NCAA Div. I Men’s Golf Championship. (Photo: Golfweek)

Last February, the Division I Women’s Golf Committee recommended to the Division I Competition Oversight Committee that the women’s field at the finals site be increased to match the men at 30. In April, the COC tabled the discussion. They got back to it in June (after the championship) and denied the request, noting that “the number of student-athletes at the finals should be based more on sport sponsorship (which is greater for men’s golf than for women’s golf) than as a comparison to men’s golf.”

The Women’s Golf Committee came back in July and put forth a recommendation to raise the number to 27, noting that the men’s and women’s fields would then be equal from a sports sponsorship standpoint at 10 percent. (Total budget impact of three additional teams was an estimated $46,000.)

The NCAA agreed to increase the field to 27 teams, calling it an “equitable championship access ratio across both Division I men’s and women’s golf.”

But here’s the thing: The women are being penalized twice for having fewer programs.

What’s more: It doesn’t work like this in other sports, even in those where the total number of women’s programs outweighs the men.

For example, in soccer there were 203 men’s teams and 337 women’s teams eligible for the postseason. The first round of the soccer championship included 48 men’s teams (24 percent) and 64 women’s teams (19 percent). After that initial reduction of teams in the first round to account for the access ratio, the championships mirrored each other.

Thirty-two teams advanced to Round 2 for both men and women.

Not only did the same number of teams advance for both genders, the access ratio in the second round once again favored the men at 16 percent compared to 9 percent (despite the women having more teams across the country!).

There were more women’s tennis teams (300) than men’s tennis teams (233) that were eligible for the postseason this year. The brackets for both championships were the same, with each Round 1 starting with 64 teams. The access ratio here favors the men in Round 1 at 27 percent to 21 percent for the women.


USC after winning the 2022 NCAA Stanford Regional. (Photo: USC Women’s Golf)

Frustrations for many in women’s college golf right now center not only around the fact that 27 teams aren’t enough, but that 27 creates a numbers headache.

“It’s a hard math problem when you have six regional sites and 27 advance,” said Ohio State coach Lisa Strom.

The NCAA plans to implement a strength-of-field metric into the selection process “to ensure maximum balance and fairness at six regional sites.” Three sites will advance four teams and the remaining three will advance five.

In addition, the tee sheet at Grayhawk will be imbalanced between the two waves. Advancing 27 teams simply isn’t as clean and workable as an even number like 30.

“I don’t even want to go there,” said TCU head coach Angie Larkin. “I would love for them to change it to 30 right now.”

And there’s plenty of time for the NCAA to reverse course before May.

This will no doubt be a hot topic of discussion next week at the Women’s Golf Coaches Association member convention in Las Vegas.

COC chair Renee Baumgartner, former women’s golf coach at USC and Oregon and current Santa Clara athletic director, reiterated to Golfweek that the decision was based on sponsorship numbers and being consistent across the board. When asked about other sports like tennis and soccer, Baumgartner said, “It’s not apples to apples, in a sense, for bracketing.”

While the bracket portion of golf doesn’t start until the quarterfinals, the number of total teams at Grayhawk (27 and 30) is in the ballpark of a typical Round of 32 bracket in many other sports.

The Women’s Golf Committee certainly could’ve provided more of a statistical analysis when it first recommended the move to 30 teams back in February. Something beyond the fact that the women “deserve” it.

A comparison to other sports and a reiteration that the difference in sponsorship numbers is addressed the first round, and that further cuts shouldn’t be required, needed to be addressed along with the simple question: So what if the women’s championship has 11 percent of teams at Grayhawk compared to the men’s 10 percent?

Women have been and continue to be behind percentage-wise in so many other areas, why does a 1 percent advantage matter so much here?

There are times when a step in the right direction should be celebrated. And while the increase to 27 teams creates more opportunities for student-athletes, this is not one of those times.

“During my four years on the DI Women’s Golf Committee (2003-2007), we continually talked about why the women should have the same number of teams as the men at regionals and the NCAA Championship,” said Pepperdine head coach Laurie Gibbs, whose teams have qualified for regionals for 23 consecutive years.

“With all the discussion of equity over the last three years, it is time for the numbers to be equal.”

There’s a standard being applied to women’s college golf that is not found across the board in the postseason. The Women’s Golf Committee should go back to the COC in short order and again ask for 30 teams. Perhaps it’s also time for student-athletes, especially those on teams who will easily advance to nationals, to use their platforms to push for 30.

There’s simply no excuse for anything less.


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