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NCAA admits work remains in effort towards equality

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 10:56 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - The conversation of equality in athletics always seems to come back to money.

Money made.

Money spent.

Money lost.

According to the Kaplan report, the structure the NCAA had in place, created a ‘losing game’ for the women’s tournament.

“The Kaplan report was extremely exhaustively researched and they put together some really terrific material,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert. “Not all of which we were happy to read because it was hard. Some of it was just hard stuff to read and their critique was severe in a lot of ways but that doesn’t mean it was wrong.”

The Kaplan report found that the NCAA spent $53.2 million on the 2019 men’s tournament, compared to $17.9 million on the women’s.

The report explained the many disparities, “limited the growth of women’s basketball.” And that the lack of investment “perpetuated a mistaken narrative that women’s basketball is destined to be a ‘money loser’ year after year.”

“We certainly still know that we have a ways to go,” added Emmert. “This certainly isn’t a finished task or anything remotely close to it but in the time that was available and the resources that were able to put in I think you’ll all be able to see and recognize there were a fair amount of changes that occurred.”

The factor coaches at the women’s Final Four seemed to agree is the biggest financial hurdle is the distribution scheme currently in place, which financially rewards men’s schools and conferences for success in the NCAA tournament.

“It doesn’t have to be the same, we just need to be treated correctly,” said Louisville women’s basketball head coach Jeff Walz. “As long as their given the same experiences, that’s what we’re fighting for.”

“Now as they’ve discussed it would be great to see shares of revenue given out as you move on in the NCAA tournament for the women as well,” added Walz. “And it might not be the same amount as the men. See I’ve never been a big proponent of ‘everything has to be the same.”

The NCAA’s revenue distribution scheme awarded $168.5 million in 2019 based on their performance in the men’s basketball tournament and $0 for success in the women’s tournament. And according to the Kaplan report, that creates an incentive for schools and conferences to prioritize men’s programs.

“I do believe we should incorporate a unit structure over the next ten years where we have a financial reward for the teams being successful,” agreed Stanford women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer. “I think that would help with the resources on each campus.”

But that decision to add revenue distribution lies with the conferences.

“There’s a group working on it right now,” explained Emmert. “That’s part of this being a great moment to have this transformation committee working and the new constitution because I do believe it’s really important that they look at it that they look at how can we get the resources that we need in this championship and other women’s championships overall by the way.”

The hurdle in getting the women’s programs compensation is the question of where the money comes from.

One possibility is it being taken from the same pool as the men’s funds but the Kaplan report also suggested the next TV contract, which will begin in 2024, could be renegotiated to create a new pool of money where a women’s basketball performance fund could grow on its own.

“For so long it feels like we’ve acted like when it comes to women’s sports it’s sort of like rocket science and it’s like ‘how do we grow viewership?’ Very easy. Right?” said ESPN host Elle Duncan. “You grow viewership by more robust coverage. You grow viewership by making people fall in love with these players, by talking about storylines, and by giving them a platform, right?”

The NCAA has sold out eight of the last nine women’s championships and the Kaplan report recognized an already growing viewership for women’s basketball with this year’s numbers proving their projection right.

ESPN reported this year’s title game was the most-watched season finale in nearly two decades, up 18-percent from last year’s title game and 30-percent from 2019′s.

“If you build it they will come,” said Duncan. “If you make people interested in the game, they will come and watch and it hasn’t hurt that we have had fantastic competition.”

While money is a major factor in the final few gaps the Kaplan report highlighted, some of the women’s games’ most successful and experienced coaches have still more suggestions they feel have an even greater impact on the athlete and the product.

“Look there are things that don’t involve money,” offered UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma. “The teams that played Monday night in the NCAA tournament, we got home at 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning and we left Tuesday to come out here and we practice Wednesday, Thursday for the biggest game of the year.”

“The guys finish Sunday and they have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and they play Saturday,” added Auriemma. “I don’t see that in the report. So all the things that people talk about, that does nothing to make your team better. The swag bag and the weight room and all the other crap that we talked about last year. That doesn’t help these kids get ready for Friday night’s game. An extra three days would help. So we should be talking about that stuff.”

One of the final pieces the Kaplan report suggested was moving the men’s and women’s championships to the same location but every coach and player we spoke with at the Final Four disagreed with the suggestion. Confident the women’s tournament has, and can stand on its own.

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