NCAA Division I women’s tournament selection process

The selection process for the NCAA Division I women’s tournament has some similarties to the method for picking teams for the Division I men’s tournament, but it also differs in areas. Here’s an attempt to explain the process, using the NCAA’s official criteria.

Who’s eligible?

NCAA Division I and II teams that have played at least 20 games against Division I and II opponents and that have a Ratings Percentage Index of .5000 or better.

How many teams make the tournament field?


What conferences get automatic bids?

The CHA, Hockey East, ECAC Hockey and the WCHA. Those conferences have chosen to award their automatic bid to the winner of their postseason tournament.

How are the four at-large teams selected?

The four-member NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Committee chooses them using a series of criteria.

The process starts with a series of comparisons between eligible teams based on a set of criteria. From the tournament selection manual:

• *Rating Percentage Index (RPI) [won-lost record (30 percent), opponents’ winning percentage (24 percent) and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (46 percent)]; including quality win bonus**

• Head-to-head competition; and,

• Results versus common opponents.

*If points awarded for any win lower a team’s average RPI, those points will not count toward the RPI.

**Quality win bonus awarded for wins over the top 12 championship eligible teams in the final selection RPI. attempts to simulate this process with the PairWise Rankings.

From the manual:

When comparing two teams, the committee reserves the right to weight criteria differently based on relative team performance. For example, if there is only a slight difference in two teams’ records vs. common opponents, and a large difference in their results vs. teams under consideration, the committee may weight results vs. teams under consideration more heavily than common opponents.

In situations where a high-impact player is unavailable, the committee may consider this as part of its evaluation of the above criteria.

In the selection process, each of the criteria gives a team one point in the individual comparison with another team, except head-to-head wins. That criteria is worth the net difference (for example, if A has a 3-1-1 record against B, A gets two points).

The committee chooses four teams based on this criteria.

What’s the Quality Wins Bonus?

For the 2016 tournament, the committee decided to replace results against teams under consideration (defined as those at or above .5000 in RPI) with a sliding scale of bonus points added to a team’s RPI for defeating quality opponents.

From a memo on the change:

The proposed Quality Wins Bonus recognizes performance against the strongest competition on a sliding scale, whereas the current “results versus teams under consideration” fails to distinguish performance against the topmost teams in the field from those teams near the median. The existing criteria also creates significant volatility in the selection process due to a cutoff point separating the “teams under consideration” from the rest of the field. The sliding scale of the Quality Wins Bonus would eliminate such volatility. This change brings the criteria in line with the current criteria for Division I men’s ice hockey.

How are the teams seeded?

Once the eight teams are selected, the top four according to the criteria are seeded one through four. From the manual:

The remaining four teams will be placed in the bracket based on relative strength as long as these pairings do not result in additional flights.


Pairings in the quarterfinal round shall be based primarily on the teams’ geographical proximity to one another, regardless of their region, in order to avoid air travel in quarterfinal-round games whenever possible. Teams’ relative strength, according to the committee’s selection criteria, shall be considered when establishing pairings if such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided. The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee shall have the authority to modify its working principles related to the championship site assignment on a case-by-case basis.

The bracket is laid out so that the No. 1 seed would play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed would play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals if they advance. Teams are not reseeded after the quarterfinals.

Which teams host in the quarterfinals?

The top four seeds, assuming their arenas meet NCAA criteria for hosting.

A school that wants to host a quarterfinal game at a facility where it has not played at least 10 home games in that season, the facility must be approved in advance by the committee.

Other questions?

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