MSU's Suzy Merchant: Expansion of NCAA women's hoops tourney to 68 teams not enough for equity

Brian Calloway
Lansing State Journal
Michigan State's head coach Suzy Merchant talks with the team on the bench during the second quarter in the game against Bryant on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

EAST LANSING — The NCAA's decision to put its women's basketball tournament on equal footing with the men at 68 teams last week was something Michigan State women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant was pleased to see.

Her players also were happy to see four more teams added for the Big Dance.

But Merchant also believes that's only a starting point and said more needs to be done for the women's tournament to be on par with the men's.

"We should have 68 (teams) for equity purposes, but why are we still playing on people's home courts in the first and second round," Merchant said. "The men don't do that. (They say) it's a financial decision. You think back and it's like they would never put the Big Ten tournament on someone's home court who won the league. It's unacceptable and it's an unfair advantage. ...

"I'm 50% happy, but why do we have to be satisfied with half OK? Why are we playing on people's home courts? I don't care if they say it's because (of finances). At some point we've got to put ourselves out there and at some point maybe we do it a little bit different. Last year playing on neutral courts, there were more upsets in the women's game than ever before because of that. When 87% of teams that host move on to the Sweet 16, that's not  equity. That's not fair and equitable."

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The argument that the opening rounds should be played on the home floors of top seeds for the purposes of having fans in the stands is one Merchant has never understood. She benefitted from home-court advantage earlier during her tenure at MSU. Merchant has also been on the other end and remembers facing a loaded Notre Dame team on their home floor for a chance to reach the Sweet 16.

"Having that home-court advantage just because there's fans in the stands, I don't want to hear Notre Dame fans cheering loudly for Notre Dame," Merchant said. "That doesn't make the environment or the experience better. I've never understood that argument. 

"I'm a little outspoken when it comes to things on the women's side. Why are we waiting? If you're going to move it to 68, move it to neutral sites, too. Figure it out like we figured it out during COVID. Let's figure this out. I've had the opportunity to host and it's helped. And I know it's helped. That's not fair. That's not equitable. That's not what we should be doing right now." 

Merchant hopes upper-echelon coaches can step up and voice a need for changes that will improve the sport. And this is one change she believes will help make the game better.

"I think we have a lot more steps to take and that being one of them," Merchant said. "Is 68 better? Yes. I'm appreciative of that. We shouldn't be playing on people's home courts. We just shouldn't. We should figure something out and find a way to market ourselves and get people to buy into our game a little bit and that would be one of them. More upsets, more exciting for the fans.

" I think there's a way to do that even if they're just regional sites that we have to go to (or) or neutral sites. (It can be) eight neutral sites or six neutral sites, but people's home courts — that's not equitable and fair."

Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.