college sports · fitness

NCAA women’s basketball tournament one year later: any progress on equity?

In case you’ve forgotten, or don’t follow women’s basketball, or have just plain been busy, it’s NCAA tournament time. Last year, we were all treated to a low-fi/high-impact Tiktok video by Oregon’s Sedona Prince about the sad state of facilities for the women’s tournament players, as opposed to those for the men. I blogged about it here:

A small victory in a large battle: NCAA women’s basketball weight room gets a tiny bit bigger

And you can view Tiktok heard round the sports world here:

After a fair amount of hemming and hawing, obfuscation, and a 114-page report by law firm Kaplan, Hecker and Fink on gender inequity in the NCAA, Phase 1: Basketball Championships (I’m so happy this report is just the first phase…) the NCAA has made a few changes to the women’s tournament for this year (I got this info courtesy of a New York Times article ):

  • the women’s tournament has been expanded from 64 to 68 teams (the number the men reached in 2011)
  • the women’s tourney will be branded, like the men’s tournament, with the moniker March Madness, a move the N.C.A.A. had previously resisted
  • the men and women players will receive the same/equivalent swag bags
  • the mobile apps for the respective tournaments will be more compatible
  • the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball and women’s basketball staffs are now each 10 members; previously, they were 11 for the men, seven for the women
  • a gap in spending between the tournaments, which Kaplan’s report said was $35 million last year, will be narrowed by millions (although Dan Gavitt, a senior VP for basketball, wouldn’t say by how much)

Does that solve the problem of inequity in college basketball?

Bugs says no.
Bugs says no.

Once you look beyond the details of the tournaments and dig into the financial incentives, payouts and media relationships, you’ll see that women’s basketball has been underfunded in a system that rewards men’s basketball and snubs women’s basketball. Here’s what U. of South Carolina’s women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley had to say:

Dawn Staley, the coach of top-ranked South Carolina, said real change would not occur until the N.C.A.A. changed its revenue distribution model for the men’s tournament, which incentivizes investment in men’s basketball at the expense of the women’s game. The N.C.A.A. last year distributed $168 million to Division I conferences based on a formula that measures men’s tournament success over the previous six years.

The Kaplan report suggested that those funds should be distributed 50-50 based on how well each conference’s men’s and women’s basketball teams performed, though it should be phased in gradually (5 percent per year for 10 years) so as to limit disruptions to current athletic department budgets.

This would incentivize schools (and conferences) to invest in women’s basketball just as the current model has encouraged them to invest in men’s basketball since the 1980s.

“It took a lot of work to keep us where we were,” Staley said of a college sports system that is weighted toward men’s sports. “I don’t get it. We all got that much testosterone? Isn’t our money green?”

I love Dawn Staley. She’s a WNBA veteran, four-time Olympic gold medalist (3 as player, one as head coach) inductee in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and an expert on the politics and economics of promoting gender equity in basketball. She also coaches women’s basketball for my undergraduate alma mater, which makes me a little partial, too.

I also love Sedona Prince, and am very happy that this teenager had the gumption to out the NCAA using just her phone and her wry sense of humor. When UCLA Coach Cori Close was asked if the 114-page Kaplan report would’ve happened without Sedona’s video, she said, “the short answer is no.”

Well okay, then. Many thanks, Sedona Prince. Many thanks, Dawn Staley. Many thanks to all those coaches and players and allies and fans and families and others who work every day to promote gender equity in sports.

And if I may: Go, U. of S.C. women’s basketball team! Good luck in the NCAA tournament!

Hard-driving forward Aliyah Boston of the U. of South Carolina women's basketball team.
Hard-driving forward Aliyah Boston of the U. of South Carolina women’s basketball team.