NCAA tap dances while passing the buck on inequities

(l-r) Lynn Holzman and Mark Emmert
Photo by Charles Hallman

NCAA top officials, whenever pressed over inequities issues, too often offer vague excuses. At the Minneapolis Women’s Final Four earlier this month NCAA President Mark Emmert claimed gender inequities “are the result of conscious decisions rather than historical accident.”

Emmert and Vice President Lynn Holzman took questions from reporters, including the MSR, for almost 30 minutes March 30, mainly on inequity issues. He pointed out that talking about such things is “not a very sexy topic” for casual college sports fans, but rather the NCAA’s critics.  

“The NCAA as a whole, college sports as a whole, is in the midst of really dramatic changes,” promised Emmert, “and that’s a good thing.”

“The infrastructure around the [women’s] championship…its values and its attributes will be part of the strategic analysis,” added Holzman. 

However, asked for specifics both Emmert and Holzman reminded this reporter of those old Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dancing movies as the two officials seemingly ‘tap-danced’ through their responses. Such as when the MSR asked them about the changes made to this year’s women’s tournament in light of last year’s NCAA gender equity review, which on the surface seemed more cosmetic than intended to make a big difference. 

“Some of the things you see are visible, tangible changes. There are a lot of things that you don’t necessarily see that aren’t cosmetic, but they’re important to those players,” responded Emmert.  

ESPN pays the NCAA approximately $34 million a year in broadcast rights for 29 sports championships, including WBB. CBS/Turner meanwhile pays approximately $1 billion per year for the men’s basketball championships. 

When asked what plans, if any, the NCAA has for changing the current financial setup, where the men seem to get far more than the women’s teams, Emmert told the MSR, “There have been the beginnings of discussions around whether or not there should be economic distributions around the tournament opportunities, and whether or not it should look like the same thing on the men’s side.” 

He also pointed out that the ESPN contract expires in 2024. “The best and biggest change,” the NCAA president continued, “will be when we get to renegotiate our media contracts around the tournament and all of our championships, including all the other women’s sports.”

Holzman added that “long-term sustainable change” can emerge by “enhancing the infrastructure of the championship. That’s something that’s not as sexy.”

Then the two wrapped up the press conference with the governing body’s historical buck passing—it’s not up to the NCAA but others for change to occur. “The schools in Division I now have a great opportunity to sit down and say, starting next year or the year after, what do we want to do there?” said Emmert.