FIBA changes way teams qualify for Olympics

NEW YORK (AP) — FIBA is changing the way women’s basketball teams qualify for the Olympics and world cup.

The International Basketball Federation announced Sunday the new system that will give more countries a chance to qualify for both major international events.

“It will give more teams a chance to play and host tournaments,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, who is on the FIBA executive board.

First round qualifiers for the Olympics will be held in November 2019. Those tournaments will be geographically based with contests in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. The Oceania region that includes Australia will now play as part of Asia for these tournaments.

Sixteen teams will advance to play in four mini-tournaments around the world in February.

The top three finishers in each of those mini-tournaments will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, making up the 12-team field. Japan already has an automatic berth as the host nation and the winner of the world cup this fall will also get a bid to the Olympics.

“In the past we’d have a mini camp, three or four days of practice, now it’s practice and competition,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said in a phone interview.

“It’s much more meaningful and there is more purpose to when the team gets together.”

The Americans have won the last six Olympic gold medals and the past two world championships — now called the world cup.

The players are in favor of the change.

“Who wants to practice?” Angel McCoughtry said laughing after her WNBA team practiced in New York on Monday. “It will definitely get more players to want to attend so that they can play.”

McCoughtry, who has played around the world in various leagues, has seen the sport grow.

“There are definitely more talented women playing across the globe now,” she said. “This could help grow the game even more.”

All of women’s basketball will take a break in November and February for the tournaments. While it won’t really change the WNBA schedule, it will allow players who compete in Asian leagues to come back and train with their national teams.

The same process will repeat itself in 2021 to determine what teams make the following year’s world cup.

There will also be FIBA women’s Continental Cups played in the summer of non-Olympic and world cup years.

“We definitely will play in the Continental Cups,” Callan said. “It will give more of our players a chance to gain experience.”

The only countries that will be hurt by the change are ones that use college players on their national teams as the November and February tournament dates conflict with the NCAA season.