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NCAA Women's Soccer

NCAA Women's Soccer

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Channels licensed to broadcast NCAA Women's Soccer in United States

ESPN
ESPN » Seasons 2019-2033
Following a 12-year contract extension from the 2020-21 season, ESPN will broadcast NCAA Women's soccer matches on its linear TV networks in USA. ESPN will also stream the matches on its OTT platforms ESPN+ and ESPN App for subscribers on computers, mobile devices, games consoles and smart TVs.
Available on:
Altitude Sports
Altitude Sports » Seasons 2012-2020
College Sports Direct
College Sports Direct » Season 2019-2020
College Sports Direct provides video coverage of NCAA Women's soccer games on its website.

 

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About NCAA Women's Soccer

The NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship, more commonly known as the Women’s College Cup, is an annual soccer tournament usually played each November through December in the United States among teams in Division I (the upper level of university sports). Although the Cup was founded in 1982 by the NCAA (the National Collegiate Athletic Association), women’s college soccer actually originated in the mid-1960s at Vermont’s Castleton University (which was previously known as Castleton State College), who established the first-ever senior soccer team in the United States.

The Education Amendments of 1972, commonly known as Title IX, ensured that more soccer programs for women were established throughout the United States, and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) used this federal support to further sponsor sides and set up two informal national championships for teams to compete in. Cortland State won the first in 1980, and UNC-Chapel Hill won what would become the final AIAW-sponsored championship in 1981. Eventually, the AIAW was overtaken by the NCAA, who set up their own championship in 1982 (just like they did with women’s basketball) and all schools moved under the NCAA umbrella.

The first NCAA tournament had just 12 teams and was won by UNC-Chapel Hill. It did not become an exclusively Division I championship until 1988 when the NCAA created two other separate tournaments for Division II and Division III.

Division II, the middle tier of collegiate sports, has 48 teams competing in its Soccer Championship, which takes place in early December after the regular season, which usually runs from August through mid-to-late November, ends. Grand Valley State University and Franklin Pierce University are among the teams who have enjoyed the most success since the Women’s College Cup was founded in 1988. Over 260 women’s soccer teams play in D-II, some of which also offer scholarships, but the overwhelming majority of schools under this umbrella do not provide athletic scholarships.

Division III has 64 teams featuring in its Soccer Championship, which was founded in 1986 and also holds this tournament in early December after the regular campaign concludes. In total, there are over 440 women’s soccer teams featuring in NCAA Division III. Messiah College is one of the most successful teams in this division when it comes to titles won. Unlike D-I and D-II schools, however, D-III schools do not offer athletic scholarships whatsoever.

Meanwhile, over the years, the number of teams featuring in the Division I Women’s Soccer Championship has steadily grown in size. In 1993, it added four more teams, and three years later doubled in size 32; by 1998, this number had grown to 48, meaning that 32 teams had joined the tournament in the span of just five years.

The Women’s College Cup did not reach its 64-team format until 2001. Just as is in the case of other NCAA Division I women’s sports teams (i.e. basketball), the 64 teams who compete in the College Cup come from a much larger pool. There are over 330 soccer teams nationwide who have Division I status that features in 31 conferences including the Ivy League, the Patriot League, Atlantic Coast, and the Pac-12. In addition, there are teams that participate in the season that are recognized as “independents”; that is, they do not belong to a conference for a particular spot.

An example of this is teams that belong in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is the only Division I athletic conference that does not sponsor soccer at all. This means that students do not get a scholarship to play soccer for schools under this umbrella – in fact, not all Division I soccer programs are fully funded, and not all offer scholarships. For example, in the 2019 term, two “independent” teams that featured in the regular season were Delaware State University and South Carolina State University and neither qualified for the championship.

Under the 64-team format, the pool is selected as such: 31 teams receive automatic bids, and 33 receive “at-large” bids. The 31 teams that get an automatic ticket are all winners of either their respective conference tournaments (28) or win their regular conference season titles (3) – notably the West Coast, Pac-12, and the Ivy League conferences do not have separate conference tournaments. As for the other 33 teams, they are selected based on how they perform during the regular season (which runs from August through November). Another major factor is also the overall strength of a team’s conference – so a team competing in a more “difficult” conference will be given favor over a team featuring in an “easier” division.

Once the 64 teams are selected, they are then seeded (ranked) and divided up into four brackets of 16. Unlike in basketball, in which every team gets a ranking, the women’s soccer tournament only focuses on the top 16 teams. In addition, when deciding to make the groups, tournament organizers take into account several factors: teams in the same conference and teams who are seeded can not play each other in the first or second rounds, and also to minimize travel as much as possible.

Being seeded is especially important because it will give a team a home pitch advantage throughout the tournament, especially in the later stages, and the number one seed even gets the honor of having a bracket named after their school. The top 16 teams are ranked based on their regular and post-season performance, so doing well consistently at tournaments as well as in the regular season is vital.

All in all, there are four “number one” seeds, four “number two” seeds, four “number three seeds” and four “number four” seeds after the pool is split into four geographically and conference appropriate groups of 16. The other teams in these groups are not seeded.

Once this is done, the teams play each other in a single-elimination format until each group has a bracket winner. The top seed in the bracket always gets to play all its games on home turf until they get to the actual final four of the College Cup, which will feature the four group winners of the respective brackets.

Side note: Although most fans call the whole tournament the College Cup, the Cup is actually just comprised of the last four teams – but the terms Soccer Championship and College Cup are often used interchangeably.

The winner of this tournament ultimately is crowned the national champion of NCAA Division I women’s collegiate soccer. Players in this tournament also get the opportunity to win the coveted Hermann Trophy, an annual award given to the best women’s soccer player in the United States. Past recipients of this prize include USWNT legend Mia Hamm and Canadian icon Christine Sinclair; more recent winners include Crystal Dunn and Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan.

UNC-Chapel Hill is by far the most successful side in NCAA Division I Women’s soccer history. Although other teams, such as Stanford, have recently enjoyed success lately, they have a long way to go to even come close to matching the monumental haul of titles won by the world-famous Tar Heels. For example, the 2019 final, which was live-streamed online, saw Stanford have to show their mettle in a gritty shoot-out against North Carolina after a tense scoreless match that went to overtime, thus showing that the Tar Heels continue to remain a serious competitor for the coveted title each and every season.

Media Coverage

NCAA Division I soccer has been a reliable source of talent for professional women’s soccer for quite some time. Icons like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, and Brianna Scurry – who were all part of that legendary team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup – all played collegiate soccer and helped pave the way for the likes of Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd. International soccer players like Christine Sinclair also plied her trade in the USA with the University of Portland, as did Venezuela’s young star Deyna Castellanos, who played three years of college soccer at Florida State.

As such, interest in the women’s game has grown exponentially over the years, and TV coverage has naturally expanded at both the local and national level in the United States. The NCAA Division I Women’s College Cup also has seen increased viewership, with live streaming and on-demand options proving to be especially popular with fans who want a more on-the-go experience.

Internationally, such as in Canada and the UK, there are TV broadcasts and live streaming selections on tap for fans throughout the course of the tournament as well as over the duration of the regular soccer season.

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