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How do they select the NCAA Tournament field?

There are 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament, but how do those 68 teams get selected to be part of the field for March Madness? Here is an explainer for the biggest event on the March sports calendar.

There are two types of teams that qualify for the NCAA Tournament, those that win their respective conference tournaments and those that are given an ‘at-large’ bid by the Selection Committee – a group that is largely made up of commissioners and athletic directors from the various conferences.

For conference tournament winners, there are 32 of those, and those events take place in the two weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. The conferences that provide automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament for their winners are the America East, American Athletic, Atlantic 10, ACC, Atlantic Sun, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big Ten, Big West, Coastal Athletic, Conference USA, Horizon League, Ivy League, MAAC, Mid-American, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Pac-12, Patriot League, SEC, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit League, Sun Belt, West Coast, and Western Athletic.

Five of those tournaments – for the American Athletic, Atlantic 10, Big Ten, Ivy League, and SEC – don’t wrap up until the afternoon of Selection Sunday, creating some extra drama for potential at-large teams.

At-large teams determined by Committee

And in total there are 36 teams that qualify for the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid. Those 36 teams are chosen by the Selection Committee at the conclusion of all the conference tournaments, with those decisions based on how well the teams played during their regular season and postseason schedules. Some at-large teams are obvious selections, such as those that did not win their conference tournament title but are nationally ranked. Some are borderline choices, and the final few are usually hotly debated.

Once the Selection Committee has decided on the 36 at-large teams they are added to the 32 conference champions to make up the 68-team field for the NCAA Tournament. The committee ranks those teams from 1 to 68 and divides them up into brackets based on four loose geographic regions.

Eight of the 68 teams are assigned to the First Four ‘play-in’ games, which take place on the Tuesday and the Wednesday leading up to tournament tipoff at the University of Dayton. The winners of those four games then advance to the final 64-team bracket, and the tournament gets underway in earnest on the Thursday and the Friday with first-round matchups spread out over eight sites around the United States.

For 2024 those first-round matchups (along with the resulting second-round matchups) will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the CHI Health Center in Omaha, the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, the Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, and the FedExForum in Memphis.

The regional finals for the 2024 NCAA Tournament will be in Boston, Dallas, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

2024 Conference Tournament Dates

America East – March 9-16
American Athletic – March 13-17
Atlantic 10 – March 12-17
ACC – March 12-16
Atlantic Sun – March 4-10
Big 12 – March 12-16
Big East – March 13-16
Big Sky – March 9-13
Big South – March 6-10
Big Ten – March 13-17
Big West – March 13-16
Coastal Athletic – March 8-12
Conference USA – March 12-16
Horizon League – March 5-12
Ivy League – March 16-17
MAAC – March 12-16
Mid-American – March 14-16
MEAC – March 13-16
Missouri Valley – March 7-10
Mountain West – March 13-16
Northeast – March 6-12
Ohio Valley – March 6-9
Pac-12 – March 13-16
Patriot League – March 5-13
SEC – March 13-17
Southern – March 8-11
Southland – March 10-13
SWAC – March 13-16
Summit League – March 8-12
Sun Belt – March 5-11
West Coast – March 7-12
Western Athletic – March 13-16

2024 NCAA Tournament Dates

Selection Sunday – March 17
First Four – March 19-20
First Round – March 21-22
Second Round – March 23-24
Sweet 16 – March 28-29
Elite Eight – March 30-31
Final Four – April 6
Championship Game – April 8

The Final Four and the Championship Game will be held at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

With zero championships between his MLB, NHL, and NFL teams over the last 30 years, Dave keeps one foot in the past while shaking his fist at the present. Having provided content to all manner of sports websites over a 20-year career in the industry, Dave brings to Attiq an eye for all things editorial and a disdain for all things New York Yankees. Click here for Dave's posts.