The first Final Four since last year’s exposure of the longstanding inequity between MBB and WBB tournaments has arrived in town. Minneapolis is for the second time since 1995 hosting the annual crowning of the women’s national champion.
After the NCAA-commissioned 118-page gender equity review by Kaplan and Hecker was released last August, at least five changes have comprised the NCAA’s first step in rectifying the inequities. They include: Both tournaments now have 68 teams and share the same March Madness logo; male and female players have the same gift packages; there are more signings at WBB games; and there are increased cross-promotional initiatives between the two tournaments.
Are these initial changes good enough, at least as a positive first step? Some of us longtime WBB followers easily see them as cosmetic gestures.
Lindsay Gibbs of Power Plays last week wrote, “Sexism is built into every crevice of the NCAA’s framework.” She and I see this as akin to putting lipstick on a pig, or on a systemic sexist problem.
Shall we dig a little deeper and briefly point out the existing inequities between the Men’s Final Four and the Women’s Final Four?
- “The Unit” is a complicated formula that rewards conferences on how many teams are in the tournament, how each team wins and advances. Each team gets one “unit” for each tournament game played. “Units are worth around $300,000,” Gibbs estimated.
“The team’s conference is paid one unit each year for the next six years. That means each game in this year’s men’s tournament could be worth upwards of $2 million for the conference once it is all paid out.”
But no such process exists with NCAA WBB.
- The NCAA men’s final is still top priority. CBS, TBS, TNT, TruTV all show the men’s tourney games up to the Final Four, while ESPN and ESPN2 show only the women.
- CBS pays the NCAA approximately $1 billion per year to show the men. ESPN pays approximately $34 million a year to broadcast 29 championships, including women’s basketball.
Back to the Kaplan report, which noted that the women’s broadcast rights are worth $81-$112 million per year, and that’s a conservative estimate.
- Revenue distribution remains unequal. Last year the NCAA distributed $613.4 million to Division I schools, up from $246.3 million in 2020. According to the 2022 NCAA Division I revenue distribution plan, $625.5 million is expected to go out this year – all due to the men’s games.
The women? No such distribution system exists, which blatantly says the women aren’t worth it to the schools. As the Kaplan report noted, “This sends an obvious and loud message to student-athletes about which sports matter and which sports do not.”
Of course, not a dime goes to the men and women players, but that’s another story for another time.
Arizona State Sports Historian Victoria Jackson told Front Office Sports that NCAA women’s basketball has always been ‘undervalued, underinvested, undersold.”
Gibbs surmised in her lipstick criticism and analysis, “The fact that an NCAA official actually typed the words, ‘There are no more inequities between the men and women tournaments that needs to be addressed,” which we all know is UTTER [expletive deleted].”
“I think it’s really important to note that the work is not done,” stressed Nina King, the chair of the NCAA women’s selection committee. When a reporter asked her to comment if the NCAA had addressed last year’s equity concerns this year, she responded, “We will continue to make sure that we enhance the women’s championship and make sure that it is the very best women’s sporting event in our country.”
Since March there have been 19 women’s basketball coaching changes—nine of them involving Blacks. Last weekend Tamika Williams-Jeter was named Dayton’s new coach after she coached Wittenberg to an NCAC tournament championship; Felisha Legette-Jack was named Syracuse’s new coach after 10 seasons at Buffalo, with five 20-win seasons and four NCAA trips including this season; and Arizona State hired Natasha Adair, formerly of Delaware.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.