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NCAA undervalues women's basketball by millions, report says

UniqueThis 15 Aug 3

By Khristopher J. Brooks

/ MoneyWatch

The NCAA "significantly undervalues and underutilizes" women's college basketball despite the sport being projected to command  $112 million in broadcast rights alone by 2025, according to a new report produced on behalf of the athletic association.

The report comes almost six months after women's college basketball players and coaches complained about disparities they experienced during the men's and women's March Madness tournaments. The weight training facilities, frequency of COVID-19 testing and even game courts were all subpar compared to what was offered for the men's tournament, coaches said

The NCAA later apologized for the tournament shortcomings and commissioned an independent "gender equity" review by an outside law firm. The review, released this week, concluded that the NCAA's gender problems go far beyond mere dumbbells. 

The food offered for the women's tournament as well as fan events, press conference transcripts, meeting spaces and staffing were all inferior, according to the report from New York law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink. The NCAA spent an average $125 on gifts given to men's players during the tournament compared to $60 for women. The association also spent more than $70,000 buying sanitation products, such as disinfectant wipes and sneaker deodorizer balls, for men but didn't spend a penny on that effort for women, the report said. 

A legacy of inequity

Male and female teams are treated unequally during the tournament because the NCAA's money-making apparatus was built decades ago for men's sports, the report's authors said.

"The NCAA's broadcast agreements, corporate sponsorship contracts, distribution of revenue, organizational structure and culture all prioritize Division I men's basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize and perpetuate gender inequities," according to the report.

College athletes profiting off of NCAA policy... 05:00

The NCAA's governing board has directed president Mark Emmert to immediately start addressing the issues contained in the report. In a statement Tuesday, the association said NCAA leaders want to create an equitable experience among all its championship tournaments. 

"We know that has not always been the case, and the instance of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship is an important impetus for us to improve our championship experience so it is not repeated," the association said, adding that the "report provides useful guidance to improve our championships."

The report offered other examples of unequal treatment taking place during the NCAA's annual basketball tournament, including how 64 teams are invited to the women's event compared to 68 for men. The report also suggested that NCAA officials have pushed a false narrative for years that women's basketball is a money-losing operation despite the sport's rising popularity. 

"Television viewership for this year's Division I women's tournament was the highest it has been since 2014," the report said in rebuttal. "This year, for the first time ever, ESPN nationally televised all 63 games of the women's tournament and many Division I women's basketball players now have huge followings on social media that are unrivaled by their male counterparts."

More dollars for women's sports

To help create parity, more NCAA staff members must be assigned to women's basketball, and the Final Four tournament for both genders need to be held in the same city, the law firm recommended, which also advocates sending more NCAA dollars to women's basketball. 

Over the next decade, the association should redirect 5% of basketball revenue to the women's annual tournament so that eventually both genders would enjoy half of the total dollars. The extra funding would make women's basketball more competitive and would bring revenue to colleges that currently don't make money off their women's basketball programs, the report said. 

"Most importantly, changing the funding model in this way would send the strong message to student-athletes and the broader NCAA community that women's basketball is valued and treated equitably," the report concluded.