UConn coach Geno Auriemma sounds off on two-region NCAA Tournament format: ‘Dumbest thing ever’

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has plenty of reasons to dislike the two-regional format after his team landed in the West coast bracket two years in a row, but the 11-time national champion has qualms beyond his own long plane trip.

UConn is a 3-seed in the 2024 tournament, marking the program’s first time entering lower than a 2-seed since 2005. The Huskies’ Portland 3 regional is headlined by 1-seed USC, the Pac-12 Tournament champion, and 2-seed Ohio State.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma calls out to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Seton Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

The Buckeyes upset 2-seed UConn as a 3-seed in the Sweet 16 at last season’s Seattle regional.

“It makes absolutely no sense for anybody. I think it’s the dumbest thing ever and I hope this is the last year we do it. Or if we keep doing, have both of them in Chicago where everybody has to go halfway,” Auriemma joked.

“But in all seriousness, I think the game is at a point now where decision shouldn’t be made just for television. People are proving that they’ll watch no matter what.”

The women’s NCAA Tournament moved from four regional sites to a two-regional format in 2023, and the Huskies were also sent west to the Seattle regional last season rather than to the east coast site in Greenville, South Carolina.

This season the difference is even more dramatic for UConn, which will have to travel more than 3,000 miles to Portland if it reaches the Sweet 16 while the other half of the bracket heads to Albany, New York — less than 150 miles from Storrs.

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“You have to earn the right to play close to home, and we certainly know how that feels because we’ve done it so many times,” Auriemma said. “It’s a real challenge for teams that have to travel that far, but you go where you’re told to go and you play who you’re told to play and whatever happens, happens.

We’ve won in Lincoln, Nebraska and Dayton, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Greensboro, North Carolina. You’ve just got to go where you’ve got to go, and if you’re good enough you keep playing.”

Host cities for the two-site format have already been set for 2025 and 2026, but the NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee will reevaluate before 2027. Next year’s sites are Birmingham, Alabama and Spokane, Washington, while Sacramento, California and Fort Worth, Texas will host in 2026.

Women’s basketball is hitting an all-time high in popularity, currently outperforming men’s college basketball viewership on FOX for the first time ever. Auriemma argued the two-site format isolates so many games on the coasts that fans throughout the rest of the nation are robbed of an opportunity to see their team play nearby.

“The game of women’s basketball has never been better and never been stronger … so you limit how many places you can watch it?” Auriemma said. “You go to Albany or you go to Portland and everybody in the rest of the country goes, ‘What about us?’ …

There’s a lot of fans across the country that would love to be able to go to these games, but it’s a huge expense to go to these games.”

The Huskies will still host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Gampel Pavilion, beginning with its opening game against 14-seed Jackson State.

UConn would face the winner of 6-seed Syracuse vs. the 11-seed winner of a First Four game in the second round, and Auriemma said the team needs total focus just to get through those first two games.

UConn has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 every season since 1993 — two years before Auriemma won his first national title.

“Talking about Portland and talking about Albany, what gets lost in the conversation is that you still have to win two games,” Auriemma said. “You still have to beat two good teams before you even entertain where you might go, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves a little bit. The Storrs regional is our No. 1 goal right now.”

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