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How Many Quarters Are There in Women’s Basketball?

Publish Date: 01.07.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

Men and women’s basketball are functionally the same sport. They use the same rules, have the same format, and play the same way. Still, there are a few discrepancies. Most notably, women’s college games have four quarters instead of the men’s two, 20-minute halves.

That difference may not seem like a big one on paper, but it’s a large shift that greatly separates the two leagues. It alters the flow and changes how teams need to plan for matchups. It also makes women’s NCAA more in line with the pros than men’s.

While the NCAA used the two-half system for both leagues for a long time, they eventually switched women over to four quarters. There were many reasons for that change, and it’s a difference that the NCAA believes has only yielded positive results.

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The Quarter System: Explained

When looking at professional basketball, the structure of the WNBA and the NBA is almost exactly the same. Though a WNBA game does take a bit less time due to having shorter quarters, they both have four periods broken up by a half-time break in the middle.

Women’s and men’s college basketball were also similarly on the same page until 2015, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel voted through a policy that changed the NCAA women’s format from two 20 minute halves to four 10 minute quarters.

That shift was very jarring for college fans, who were used to the flow of two longer periods over four smaller ones. Even so, the committee preferred the rule change because they believed it created a much more cohesive product on the court.

Where college sports used to differ from professional leagues in the way the halves were structured and broken up, women’s college basketball now matches the format utilized in the WNBA. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons for the shift.

The NCAA believed that making college and the WNBA have the same quarter format would make it much easier for players to transition to the big leagues. It creates consistency, which then helps players excel once they hit the next level.

The other big shift in going to quarters is that fouls are handled differently as well. In the two-half system, teams get seven teams fouls a half. If they go over that limit, the other team then gets to shoot a one-and-one. Once they hit ten, the other team shoots two shots on every foul.

When going to four quarters, the game changes. Fouls reset to zero at the end of each quarter, and there is only one bonus. That does away with the one-and-one and makes it so less fouls are shot over the course of the game.

Beyond that, moving from halves to quarters created less TV timeouts and made it so teams were able to advance the ball up to half court if they called a timeout with less than 1 minute left in either the fourth quarter or overtime.

Such alterations were put in place to create a much better flow and better viewing experience. Not only did the NCAA believe less free throws would make games more enjoyable to watch, but less TV timeouts would speed up the game and make it more exciting.

Timing and Breaks

As with any high-level sport, women’s NCAA basketball follows very specific timing rules in order to keep the game at a watchable clip. That was true when it used halves, and it’s still true to this day with the introduction of quarters.

With four 10-minute quarters the game takes place over 40 minutes. That puts it right in line with men’s basketball, even if it’s broken up differently. On top of that, the second and third quarters are split by a fifteen minute halftime, while the first/second and third/fourth each have a two minute break.

Those pauses in the game are incredibly important for a few reasons. The biggest is that they give coaches time to come up with new plays and allow players time to rest. That then creates a more exciting game and also cuts down on injuries from excess fatigue.

Being able to catch a breather is a big part of sports. Going constantly is not sustainable, especially for collegiate athletes who need to push themselves as hard as they can multiple nights during a season. Even a minute or two break can make a huge difference.

Having those pauses also gives fans a break as well. While watching a sport is incredibly fun, it can be a lot for two hours non stop. By being able to take a break, fans have time to pace themselves and better follow the events on the court.

It also makes the in-person viewing experience much better, as the small breaks give fans a chance to get food, go to the bathroom, or discuss the game as it happens. The flow of the quarters is good for athletes and spectators alike.

Cultural and Historical Context

It would be impossible to tackle the question of how many quarters are in women’s basketball without taking a broader look at the sport as a whole. Four long quarters is the standard for every non-men’s college basketball league worldwide, which matters for various reasons.

Moving up to four quarters brought NCAA women’s basketball into the modern world in many ways. Where there was always some friction between leagues due to the half vs quarter debate, that’s now gone and replaced by something much more cohesive.

Something else to note is that, while the WNBA is the ultimate goal for female basketball players, there are many who go overseas. Basketball is becoming more and more of a worldwide sport, with female players leading that change in many ways.

As with moving to the WNBA, it could be difficult to make the transition to a new game format when also going to play in another country. Standardizing the way women’s basketball is played all around the world cuts down on that situation and makes it easier on everyone.

Though there has been some talk of men’s college basketball making the same shift, that’s unlikely. The NCAA likes the nonstop pace for men’s, and has stated multiple times that they want to keep the half system to be more in line with their history.


High level sports always go through various changes. Sometimes it’s a shift in rules and sometimes, as is the case with women’s NCAA basketball, it’s the structure of the game. While two halves were largely the norm, now quarters are the current standard.

That shift was something that took both fans and players some getting used to, but it paid off in a big way. Not only does standardizing the league make it easier for fans to follow, but it made the transitioning from college to pro much easier too.

There’s no telling what women’s basketball will look like in the coming years. However, as the game now has more fans than ever, it’s unlikely to see any major changes. The quarter format has paid big dividends and it appears it’s here to stay.

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