ST. LOUIS - The popularity of the women's game continues to grow, as evidenced by the fact that the next two Final Fours will be played in San Antonio's Alamodome and in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
Donna Noonan, vice president of the NCAA Division I women's basketball championship, said that after nine straight sellouts in conventional arenas, the tournament committee elected to experiment with the larger domed settings.
Noonan, however, was concerned that the bigger building might take away some of the intimacy of the game, noting that the 2004 Final Four will take place in the 20,000-seat New Orleans Arena, not the Louisiana Superdome.
And Noonan added that the Alamodome, which can hold more than 40,000 for basketball, will be configured to seat 30,000 for next year's Final Four.
"We're not sure the domes are going to work for us," said Noonan. "You do lose the ambiance of a basketball arena in a dome, and the committee is sensitive to that. We also want to have flexibility in where we can go, since there aren't many domes west of the Mississippi."
The men's tournament committee elected in 1997 to stage Final Fours in only domed stadiums.
Noonan added that the committee is considering moving the Final Four from a Friday-Sunday format to a Sunday-Tuesday format in conjunction with spreading the regionals out from being staged entirely on Saturday and Monday to over a four-day period, as the men do. Pending approval from the NCAA Management Council, the earliest such a change would be made would be for the 2004-2005 season.
Maryalice Jeremiah, the chair of the tournament committee, said she hopes to get Management Council approval to predetermine the sites for the first and second rounds, rather than the current format, where the top four seeds in each region host first- and second-round games.
Schools could bid on hosting but would not be able to host more than two years in a row in a three-year span.
The long and winding road
Jeremiah defended the committee against charges that it had put Southwest Missouri State, the fifth seed in the West, at a disadvantage by placing the Bears in a bracket that forced them to go to Rutgers for a subregional, then to Spokane for the West Regional, before returning home late Monday. The Bears arrived here late Wednesday for the Final Four.
SMS coach Cheryl Burnett said her team was tired after its 81-64 loss to Purdue on Friday.
"If the seeds had held, Southwest Missouri wouldn't have been on the travel circuit," said Jeremiah.
Jeremiah, the senior women's administrator at Cal State-Fullerton, was once the women's coach at Indiana, and took note of the all-Indiana championship.
"There's a certain sweetness inside of me," said Jeremiah. "I talked my way out of a lot of traffic tickets by saying I was the basketball coach at Indiana, so I know how important basketball is there. I think the whole state will be here." ...
Referee Sally Bell worked her fifth championship game and has worked 10 of the 20 women's Final Fours. Both marks tie her with June Courteau, who worked a semifinal game Friday night.