When the March madness kicks in, it’s time for women to gamble for the money

March Madness has arrived with visions of Cinderella teams dancing in the minds of athletic directors. Survive and thrive, they say, and the conference proceeds will flow. For schools in “basketball-centric” conferences, that’s how they make their money.

But for women’s basketball teams (even high-profile ones like South Carolina), there are other expectations that are buried deep in the NCAA’s culture. Athletes and teams relish the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship, but the pressure is different. Unlike men, there are no financial expectations. From the perspective of many collegiate track and field athletes, the men’s tournament simply means more – more money, more attention, more institutional prestige.

Why not have the same expectations for women when March Madness begins?

Entire Division I conferences have been built around creating depth and success in the men’s basketball tournament. As one President told me: “All of the decisions we make are centered around that (success in men’s basketball postseason).“. The men’s earnings bear this out: each win in the 2023 tournament is worth around $340,000. If four teams from the same conference win and advance, the conference earns $1.36 million, which aggregates into a 6-year (2108-23) moving average. at least. While not FBS football money, it still counts.

The old logic is easy to follow: A basketball-centric conference is one where Men’s Basketball is a major focus and source of pride for its member institutions, and where the conference as a whole is known for producing quality basketball teams and players.

Conferences have always been formed around the power and potential of all-men’s basketball and soccer. It’s about time that developed.

Enter the Kaplan report

After Sedona Prince released her famous 2021 TikTok video about the differences in men’s and women’s tournament experiences, the NCAA commissioned a detailed, three-part report that focused on the organization’s lack of growth in promoting and supporting women’s soccer .

The report dubbed the “Kaplan Report” pointed this out many Discrepancies in the way the organization views and treats women’s basketball versus men’s basketball.

A sample:

  • Men’s basketball has a dedicated senior vice president and 11 full-time employees.
  • Women’s basketball has a vice president and 7 full-time players, including the VP and her assistant to the management;
  • Men’s basketball employs outside contractors such as Populous to provide logistics, signage and construction services (totalling $942,688 in 2019 alone);
  • The women’s side does not usually do this (except 2021);
  • The disparity in spending between championships is huge—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 was heavily focused on reaping greater revenue from the men’s tournament – this is how the staffing imbalances were justified.

Amy Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission, says they were told that the NCAA’s Transformation Committee would address equity issues in its final report, but only “acknowledged that the distribution formula should be changed. It gets stuck in committee review. By April of this year, two payout cycles (with more than $330 million paid out) will have elapsed since the NCAA Board received Kaplan Hecker’s equity report and his recommendation to change its unfair payout formula.”

Slow adaptation and change

While transformation is the word often used to describe this new era of collegiate athletics, it is clear that very little of it is geared towards the growing popularity of the women’s sport. Women’s basketball, volleyball and softball lead attendance trends and when used as described in the Kaplan, Hecker & Fink report, could bring in $1.2 billion over 10 years into the coffers of the NCAA.

Why isn’t the NCAA leadership, which consists mostly of college presidents from all divisions, taking advantage of this opportunity? Presidents and Sports Directors Love more money. Every conference, department and institution is always striving to increase its revenues. The ACC, in particular, is in the midst of a very public discussion about revenue — both earned and distributed.

One possible explanation for this intransigence could be the NCAA’s attitude toward change in general. The structure of how conferences are put together is based on sexism – only men’s sport makes money, so we will base conference membership on that. Our focus will be on the how much national media attention our men’s programs receive. There has been little movement to adjust to the notable changes in both the women’s sports media landscape and fan behavior.

As a reminder, this is the same organization that is asking Congress for an antitrust exemption and/or legislation on a variety 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? Simply. Apply the same analysis as described above: Women’s Basketball is an important focus and source of pride for its member institutions, and where the conference as a whole is known for producing quality basketball teams and players.”

Do you have see the College Game Day pregame show from Iowa City? It was electric.

Connecticut and Tennessee are great examples of teams that accelerated an institution’s national profile in the early 1990s. Today, superstars like Aliyah Boston, Angel Reese, Grace Berger, Cameron Brink and Caitlyn Clark need to be seen on TV when their teams play. Should South Carolina, LSU, Indiana, Stanford and Iowa get bigger stakes in their conferences because of their greater recent tournament success? Or should revenue be shared fairly to increase the depth of each conference?

It’s not just women’s basketball

You could ask the same of Nebraska’s volleyball program or Oklahoma’s softball program. These teams have a national impact and draw huge audiences to their games. Nebraska schedules a volleyball game at Memorial Stadium on August 30, 2023 in hopes of drawing the largest crowd in NCAA history. Chancellor Ronnie Green commented, “Now we prepare for another great opportunity to fill the stadium and show the nation that the epicenter of college volleyball is in Nebraska.” A bold vision, sure.

Many advocates rightly argue that raising the profile of women’s sport is a moral and ethical imperative. Title IX calls for the equitable treatment of men and women in all aspects of their educational experiences.

But maybe it’s a little more fundamental than that. With commissioners, athletic directors and presidents leaving over $1 billion on the table, are these senior executives adequately fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities? Or are they busy maintaining an inefficient and one-sided revenue model?

It’s time to ask tough questions. It’s about time women gambled for money.

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