In a late-afternoon second-round tournament clash, Ohio State edged North Carolina on a last-second bucket. Shortly thereafter came another taut contest, Miami’s upset of No. 1 regional seed Indiana, followed by Colorado’s overtime conquest of Duke.
“And the games were so good,” Brooks said, “I just couldn’t stop watching them. ... They were so good we just sat around the house and watched them and then clicked to another one. I was cheering for [ACC rival] Miami like I was a Miami alum.”
What Kenny and Chrissy Brooks watched last Monday, and what the Hokies have contributed to, is a wave of parity that, while not to the level of the men’s game, is much needed in women’s college basketball.
Similarly, Miami advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1992. Colorado and Villanova (both since 2003), Utah (2006) and Ole Miss (2007) also ended long droughts.
The latter’s upset of Stanford in the second round Sunday was the first time since 2009 that a No. 1 regional seed failed to make the Sweet 16. When Miami toppled Indiana the next day, the bracket was absent two No. 1 seeds in the regional semis for the first time since 1998.
But even in years with a few postseason surprises, the NCAA women’s tournament has been the most predictable championship in sports.
Thirty-one of the event’s 40 winners were No. 1 regional seeds. The “lowest” seeds to hoist the trophy were No. 3s, North Carolina in 1994 (at Richmond Coliseum) and Tennessee three years later.
Only eight teams seeded lower than No. 4 in their region have ever reached the Final Four, most recently No. 7 Washington. The only one of those squads to make the championship game was No. 5 Louisville in 2013, and the Cardinals lost that contest to No. 1 Connecticut by 33 points, the largest margin ever in an NCAA women’s final.
Conversely, 27 men’s teams seeded below No. 4 have advanced to the Final Four, including No. 8 North Carolina last season and No. 11 UCLA in 2021, when the Bruins joined VCU as the only clubs to go from the First Four to Final Four.
Twenty-six of the last 40 men’s national champions, Virginia in 2019 among them, were No. 1 seeds. The lowest seeds to win the tournament were No. 6 N.C. State in 1983, No. 6 Kansas in 1988, No. 7 UConn in 2014 and No. 8 Villanova in 1985.
Brooks believes the transfer portal will accelerate parity in women’s basketball, and indeed, he complemented high school recruits such as Liz Kitley and Georgia Amoore with transfers such as Taylor Soule and Kayana Traylor. They are the Hokies’ top four scorers.
“That’s the recipe,” Brooks said of using the portal to fill roster voids.
A refashioned television contract could also foster parity.
The Division I women’s basketball tournament has long been part of a bundled package of championships the NCAA sold to ESPN. Administrators such as Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade contend that selling the tournament separately would generate a windfall and allow the sport to follow the men’s lead by awarding revenue shares based on tournament success.
Financial incentives could well lead schools to invest more in women’s basketball, giving top prospects more viable options.
The NCAA’s contract with ESPN expires in 2025, and this year’s second-round tournament action fuels the case for restructuring. Viewership increased 30% over last season, according to ESPN.
No matter the avenue, the sport needs greater parity to engage more fans.
As Brooks said: “I think it’s wonderful for women’s basketball.”
Photos from the Virginia Tech women's basketball season