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The NCAA dropped the ball on women’s basketball

In March of 2021, many people on social media saw the videos and images highlighting the differences between the men’s and women’s Division I Basketball Tournaments. The nature of conducting the tournaments in the time of COVID, testing, isolation bubbles, limited in person events, allowed for these differences to be starkly visible, however they were not new.

Kaplan Hecker & Finn LLP (KHF) was retained to investigate of the disparities between the men’s and women’s tournaments and their report was released in early August. KHF’s found that there are several causes of the gender inequity between men’s and women’s basketball.

  1. The structure of the NCAA’s media arrangements perpetuates gender inequity

  2. The NCAA’s revenue distribution model prioritizes and rewards investment in men’s basketball

  3. The disparity in participation opportunities for men’s and women’s basketball further impacts the student-athlete experience

  4. Fewer disparities exist in Division II and Division III men’s and women’s basketball

The recommendations provided by KHF address a range of systemic issues. One which is crucial to the NCAA achieving results in gender equity is consideration of how rights to the respective rights Division I Basketball Championships are marketed and sold. The current structure heavily rewards investment and sponsorship of men’s basketball through the agreements with CBS/Turner and ESPN. While this issue may not be applicable to many sports organizations, many of the other recommendations made to the NCAA are worth consideration to other sports organizations to ensure they are working towards gender equity.

The recommendations focused broadly on 7 themes:

  1. The investigation found several discrepancies in the amount of financial and staffing support given to women’s basketball when compared to men’s. In addition, the men’s and women’s staff were siloed and provided little support and engaged in little communication with each other.

  2. Second, the investigation found a lingering perception that men’s basketball is more valuable than women’s. Equitable investment in women’s basketball and marketing and branding would allow for a more accurate valuation of women’s basketball which has been shown to have great profit potential.

  3. Third, there are significant differences in the student-athlete experience at tournaments that can be addressed.

  4. Fourth, there must be gender equity in revenue distribution. The existing revenue distribution model rewards performance in only the men’s championship, not the women’s.

  5. Fifth, the differences in the overall number of participation opportunities made available by the NCAA to both current and prospective women’s basketball players should be addressed.

  6. Sixth, the NCAA should take steps to enhance gender equity in Division II and III basketball.

  7. Seventh, to ensure progress on gender equity there is a need for transparency and accountability. Reporting mechanisms should be implemented to assure this.

Ensuring equal opportunity, and resources is key to ensuring gender equity. Any athletic organization can be served by conducting an audit of their funding to ensure there is equal funding, opportunity and experience being provided to men’s and women’s programs. This will require communication between staff who manage men’s and women’s programs and an understanding of what all parties are doing. An organization ranging from a school, community sports team, a provincial or national sports body can take these types of actions to ensure they are promoting gender equity and not missing valuable opportunities to support athletes or engage their communities.

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