ABC to air NCAA women’s basketball title game for 1st time

The NCAA women’s basketball title game will be broadcast this season on ABC for the first time.

The championship game, which usually airs in prime time, will be played at 3 p.m. Eastern on April 2. The women’s Final Four is in Dallas this year.

“Scheduling the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on ABC has been a goal for quite some time in our ongoing efforts to maximize the exposure of women’s sports in collaboration with the NCAA,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’S president for programming and original content. “Women’s NCAA Championships continue to generate strong audiences across the ABC/ESPN networks and this move represents yet another unique opportunity to showcase this marquee event and the student-athletes who are competing for a national championship.”

ESPN said it will have the 2023 and 2024 championship games on ABC and would look at moving the game back to prime time in the future but currently has commitments to entertainment shows the night of the game. Back in the 1980s when the women’s tournament first started, the Final Four and championship games aired in the afternoon on CBS. ESPN took over the entire tournament in 1996 and the title game aired in the evenings every since.

Last season’s championship game, in which South Carolina beat UConn, was the most viewed women’s title game in nearly two decades, drawing 4.85 million viewers. The national semifinals averaged 2.7 million viewers, up 21% year over year, and was the most viewed semifinals in a decade. The full tournament averaged 634,000 viewers, up 16% from the previous year’s coverage.

ESPN has the rights to broadcast the women’s tournament through 2024 as part of the NCAA championships package. The network has aired NCAA women’s tournament games on ABC for the past two seasons but not the title game.

“It’s a benchmark announcement for women’s basketball in being able to showcase the national championship game in Dallas for an expanded audience on ABC for the first time in 2023,” said Beth Goetz, chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and athletic director at Ball State. “We are grateful to ABC/ESPN for the partnership in the continued growth of the game and championship.”

The NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 games last season and this season will have its regionals in two sites, with eight teams playing in Greenville, South Carolina, and the other eight in Seattle. The tournament will follow this format through 2027.

The Division II and Division III championship games also will take place in Dallas on the same weekend as the Division I Final Four. It’s the first time that the three championships have been played in the same city since 2016.

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More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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