Lubbock, TX (U-WIRE) -- When the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament first started, it did not garner the attention it receives today. There was no selection show on ESPN, and only half as many teams got in.
Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said the direction the game is going and the changes made to the tournament this year is only helping women's basketball become more of a player in capturing American's love for sports and competition.
Upsets have been present throughout the season, and have played a role in the opening rounds of the tournament as well.
The parity that has taken the game by storm this season resulted in powerhouse Texas equaling its total number of losses last season midway through this year.
Tennessee and UConn both dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time in years, and teams like Baylor, LSU and Michigan State cracked the Top Five. Sharp said that parity will help her sport.
"Yes, I think the women's game recognizes that," she said of parity being good for women's basketball. "I think that's why we're trying to take it to more neutral sites."
This year only five teams played on their home court for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
In the past to boost attendance at the women's tournament higher seeds hosted the opening rounds. Tech hosted frequently, until last year when the NCAA went a different direction.
Last year's tournament had predetermined sites when the season started. Sixteen schools hosted the tournament's first two rounds, and it resulted in Tech traveling to Missoula, Mont., Tech could have faced lower seeded Montana on its home floor if the Grizzlies had upset Louisiana Tech.
That system was not well-liked by Sharp, who said teams should deserve the home court advantage in the postseason if it is going to exist.
She did say, however, she is in favor of the continued growth of the game and moving to a system more like the men's tournament.
"I'm a big proponent of what we've done this weekend," she said. "I think to take it to a more neutral site and give people an opportunity to play away from home court is probably the direction to take. The more you do that I think the more upsets will occur."
The tournament has cut down its host sites from 16 to eight, just like the men's tournament, and for the first time in a long time a favorite for the title is hard to pick.
Sharp said the fact that the crown is anyone's at this point makes this year's tournament especially attractive to those who don't follow women's basketball on a regular basis.
"For the first time, there's not a clear-cut choice for a champion, at least within the top three or four, and usually the last 10 years or so you knew who you were gonna have to knock off specifically every single time just to get a chance to play," she said. "That's changed a little bit that's because programs are getting stronger all the way through the country. That's the only way the game's gonna grow."
The growth can be seen in the success of the Dallas sub-regional co-hosted by Texas and Tech at Reunion Arena.
The attendance marks are among the highest in the nation this weekend, and it has brought together a class of coaches that would have never played on the same floor this early in the tournament.
Sharp, a hall of famer, and Texas coach Jody Conradt were leaders in getting the event in Dallas this year, and muster more than 1,300 career wins together.
That's not to mention Georgia coach Andy Landers (633-198) and NC State coach Kay Yow (674-308).
Conradt said this season has been a success all around women's basketball because interest has grown from the parity.
The fact Tennessee and UConn are not runaway favorites spawns interest because it means competition within the sport is growing.
And that's exactly what Sharp and Conradt had in mind when they began coaching women's basketball decades ago - growth for women's basketball and women's athletics.
(C) 2004 University Daily via U-WIRE