The pinnacle of this coronavirus pandemic-disrupted women’s college basketball season — the national tournament for Division I teams — will be contested entirely in Texas, the N.C.A.A. said Friday.
The association, which had already planned to hold the Final Four of the women’s tournament in San Antonio, said that it would use five venues for the competition’s 63 games. In addition to San Antonio, games will be played in two cities just up Interstate 35, Austin and San Marcos.
“Like the 2020-21 season, we know the championship will have its challenges, but we feel we have the necessary structure and safeguards in place to ensure a quality student-athlete championship experience,” Nina King, a top athletics official at Duke who also leads the N.C.A.A.’s Division I women’s basketball committee, said in a statement.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said officials would “deliver the best, safest and most memorable experience possible,” and college sports executives and the public health authorities have spent weeks refining testing protocols for players, coaches, officials and others essential to the games. Organizers said Friday that they had not decided whether fans would be allowed to attend.
The N.C.A.A.’s plans for the women’s tournament are similar to the strategy for the association’s men’s tournament, which will be played exclusively in Indiana this year. The association had said in December that the women’s tournament would be staged in one region, with the San Antonio area seen as the favorite, but it was not until Friday that officials detailed their plans.
Although some notable women’s basketball programs, including Duke, Vanderbilt and Virginia, have already opted not to play this season, teams will be selected for the tournament on March 15. The tournament’s first round is expected to be held on March 21 and 22, with games in Austin, San Antonio and San Marcos. Beginning with the second round, scheduled to begin on March 23, all games will be played in San Antonio, with the Alamodome the setting for all games once the field narrows to 16 teams.
In a customary season, games in the first and second rounds are hosted on campuses of top-seeded teams before later games are played at predesignated sites. With San Antonio long set as the championship host, Albany, N.Y., Austin, Cincinnati and Spokane, Wash., had been poised to hold regional games until the pandemic prompted a rethinking of the model for this season.
For this year’s tournament, all 64 teams will stay in the San Antonio area, with entire hotels reserved for people associated with the competition and tested under the N.C.A.A.’s guidelines. And all practices will be in San Antonio, where nine courts will be available in a convention center.
The N.C.A.A. canceled last year’s men’s and women’s tournaments as the virus took a firmer grip in the United States, and board members were told that hosting competitions like them could fuel the escalating crisis. The cancellations carried enormous financial consequences, in part because the men’s tournament and its television rights deal account for most of the N.C.A.A.’s annual revenues, and the association acknowledged last month that it had posted a loss of almost $56 million in its most recent fiscal year.