March Madness arrived with visions of Cinderella teams dancing in athletic directors’ heads. Survive and move forward, they say, and conference revenue will flow. For schools participating in “basketball-based” conferences, this is where they make their money.

But for women’s basketball teams (even high-level ones like South Carolina), there’s a different set of expectations buried deep in NCAA culture. Female athletes and teams are excited to compete for an NCAA championship, but the pressure is different. Unlike men, there are no financial expectations. From the perspective of many college athletes, the men’s tournament simply means more money, more attention, more institutional prestige.

As March Madness begins, why not the same expectations for women?

Entire Division I conferences have been built on creating depth and success in the men’s basketball tournament. As one president told me, “All the decisions we make are geared towards this (success in the men’s basketball post-season)”. The men’s earnings confirm this: each win in the 2023 tournament is worth around $340,000. If four teams from the same conference win and advance, the conference receives $1.36 million over a 6-year average total (2108-23) at least. Although it’s not FBS football money, it still matters.

The old logic is simple to follow: a basketball-centric conference is a conference where male basketball is a major goal and source of pride for its member institutions, and where the conference as a whole is known for producing high quality basketball teams and players.

Conferences have always been formed around the power and potential of men’s basketball and soccer alone. It is time for this to change.

Enter the Kaplan report

After Sedona Prince released his famous 2021 TikTok video on the differences between the men’s and women’s tournament experiences, the NCAA commissioned a detailed three-part report focusing on the organization’s lack of growth with regards to promotion and supporting the women’s game.

Known as the “Kaplan Report”, the report highlights a lot discrepancies in how the organization viewed and treated women’s basketball versus men’s basketball.

A sample:

  • Men’s basketball has a dedicated senior vice president and 11 full-time staff;
  • Women’s basketball has a vice-president and 7 incumbents, including the vice-president and her executive assistant;
  • Men’s basketball employs outside contractors like Populous, who provide logistics, signage and construction services (totaling $942,688 in 2019 alone);
  • The women’s side usually doesn’t (except for 2021);
  • The differences in the amount spent on each championship are staggering – in 2019, the NCAA spent $53.2 million on the men’s tournament and $17.9 million on the women’s tournament.

It’s clear that the NCAA has been heavily focused on increasing revenue from the men’s tournament – ​​that’s how the staffing imbalances have been justified.

Knight Commission CEO Amy Perko says they were told the NCAA Transformation Committee would address equity issues in its final report, but it only “acknowledged that the distribution formula would need to change. It remains mired in committee review. This coming April, two payout cycles (with more than $330 million in payouts) will have passed since the NCAA Board of Directors received Kaplan Hecker’s equity report and recommendation to change its payout formula. inequitable distribution.

Slow to adapt and change

While Transformation is the word frequently used to describe this new era of college athletics, it’s clear that there are very few focused on the growing popularity of women’s sports. Women’s basketball, volleyball and softball are leading viewership trends and, if leveraged as outlined in the Kaplan, Hecker & Fink report, could bring in $1.2 billion over 10 years in NCAA vaults.

Why doesn’t the NCAA leadership, made up mostly of university presidents from all divisions, jump at this opportunity? Presidents and athletic directors to like more money. Every conference, division and institution is always looking to increase its income. The ACC in particular is in the midst of a very public discussion about income, both earned and distributed.

A potential explanation for this intransigence may lie in the NCAA’s attitudes toward change in general. The structure of the conference organization is that gender-only men’s sports make money, so that’s how we’ll align conference membership. Our attention will focus on the amount of national media attention given to our men’s programs. There has been little movement toward adapting to the noticeable changes in both the media landscape for women’s sports and in fan behavior.

Reminder: This is the same organization that asks Congress for antitrust exemption and/or legislation for a multitude of items, including NIL regulations.

How might conference membership and alignment work now that a number of institutions are placing greater emphasis on their already successful women’s basketball programs? Simple. Apply the same analysis stated above: female basketball is a major goal and source of pride for its member institutions, and where the conference as a whole is known for producing high quality basketball teams and players.

have you see Iowa City’s College Game Day pregame show? It was electric.

Connecticut and Tennessee are prime examples of teams that accelerated the national profile of an institution in the early 1990s. Today, superstars like Aliyah Boston, Angel Reese, Grace Berger, Cameron Brink and Caitlyn Clark are a staple on TV when their teams are playing. Should South Carolina, LSU, Indiana, Stanford and Iowa receive larger shares within their conferences because they have had more success in the tournament recently? Or should revenues be shared equally to increase the depth of each conference?

It’s not just women’s basketball

You could ask the same of the Nebraska volleyball program or the Oklahoma softball program. These teams have had a national impact and attract large audiences to their games. Nebraska plans to hold a volleyball game on August 30, 2023 inside Memorial Stadium, hoping to draw the largest crowd in NCAA history. Chancellor Ronnie Green commented “we are now preparing for another great opportunity to fill the stadium and show the nation that the epicenter of college volleyball is in Nebraska.” A bold vision, to be sure.

Many advocates are correct that raising the profile of women’s sport is a moral and ethical imperative. Title IX requires equal treatment of men and women in all aspects of their educational experiences.

But it may be a little more fundamental than that. If commissioners, athletic directors, and presidents are leaving over a billion dollars on the table, are these top executives properly fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities? Or are they perpetuating an inefficient and skewed revenue model?

It’s time to start asking the tough questions. It’s time for women to play for money.

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