Collegiate Basketball’s Next Battleground: How to Split the Money

Update: South Carolina beat UConn win their second national championship.

MINNEAPOLIS. The four elite college basketball teams met Friday in Minneapolis for the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Powerful programs—Connecticut, Louisville, Stanford, and South Carolina—have been successful, winning four games each during the competition.

But achieving one of the biggest milestones in college sports didn’t earn them a dime from the NCAA to spend on scholarships, sports facilities, or other expenses. By contrast, their peers, who made it to the Final Four of the men’s tournament on Saturday, have likely made at least $10 million in their leagues in the last few weeks.

With the Division I men’s tournament generating multimillion-dollar payouts, women’s basketball coaches and their allies believe the administration is much more likely to invest in men’s teams than women’s, which don’t get their leagues direct money from the NCAA, even if they are among the best in the country.

Inequality in the NCAA’s financial arrangements has existed for decades, with the association awarding “ones” that turned into millions of dollars over time as teams reached and then advanced in men’s competition.

Now, the future of the system is the subject of intense debate within the college sports industry, which has drawn public outcry and congressional scrutiny after players in last year’s men’s tournament received better facilities and amenities than athletes in the women’s competition. Over the past year, the NCAA has taken steps to promote and improve conditions in women’s competition; this year, for example, the association applied the “March Madness” branding for the women’s tournament for the first time.

But these changes in relative terms are minuscule compared to potential changes in the NCAA fee structure.

“I really think that in order to really make a difference, we need to have a similar divisional structure,” said Tara VanDerveer, who has won three national championships as coach of the Stanford women’s team. “I mean, I love crowds. I like the sign.”

But, she added, “I really think the bottom line is that it’s a TV package and a divisional structure. When it happens, then we know it’s serious.”

The NCAA, which makes most of its money from television rights to men’s tournaments, distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year through a series of foundations. Two of them, which will account for almost 36 percent of the association’s roughly $625 million this year, are directly and exclusively related to participation in the men’s tournament.

Conferences receive a share of these funds when their teams play in the men’s competition, and programs that win tournament games earn additional units for their leagues as they progress through the competition. For example, the UC Connecticut men’s basketball team, which lost to New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament, earned a unit that would likely net about $2 million for the Big Eastern Conference; the latest tournament hosted by the UConn women’s team, which entered its 14th consecutive Final Four on Friday and moved into Sunday night’s national championship game against South Carolina, brought nothing for the conference.

Although the NCAA recommends that the leagues split the money equally among their schools, each conference is allowed to make its own arrangements.

And while the richest conferences make most of their money from their own television contracts for regular football and basketball games, NCAA dollars are still one of the biggest sources of income for any college sports league.

The College Football Playoff, which is not controlled by the NCAA, distributes about $500 million a year to the conferences it belongs to based on a formula that takes into account cup participation and, to a much lesser extent, academic achievement.

When it comes to basketball, the question is not whether to continue to share NCAA prizes between conferences, but how to do it, although there is no guarantee that the overhauled system will bring more money to women’s basketball or any other women’s sport. Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in almost all educational institutions, does not require dollar funding for men’s and women’s sports, and the NCAA does not currently regulate how conferences spend money based on results. .

But coaches argue that a system that rewards conferences for the best play in women’s basketball will encourage administrators to offer their programs more help, encouraging equality and potentially leading to a better product and, ultimately, more windfall revenue.

In a report published last August, a law firm hired by the NCAA to look into gender disparity in college sports said the current system “sends a clear and alarming message to female student athletes that they are not as valuable as their male counterparts.” – literally. , in monetary terms, this can be in the millions of dollars.

Kaplan Hecker & Fink urged the association to replace the current system and outlined an approach to equalize distribution across a single account over 10 years of gradual change. Based on the recent results of the men’s and women’s tournaments, it has been estimated that several Division I leagues, including some of the most well-known ones, will receive more in the distribution. Five will not see any change. Eighteen of the 32 Division I conferences would have donated at least some of the money had their women’s basketball teams not improved in postseason play.

Others have proposed creating a new system in conjunction with the next television rights contract for the women’s basketball tournament, which is currently included in a multi-sport deal that will see the NCAA pay out approximately $43.5 million this fiscal year.

Media consultants and college athletic executives believe the current deal, which expires in August 2024, drastically undervalues ​​women’s basketball — likely by tens of millions of dollars a year. This year’s women’s tournament set attendance records and received some of the highest television ratings in decades.

The big pot of money made possible by the sugar-coated media deal could ease the political path to change the system.

“I think those in power can see the value of the new fund,” said Richard J. Ensor, Commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference since 1988 and a man who has long been one of women’s basketball’s leading supporters in college sports administrative positions. . “The timing could be great to introduce such a formula with a new broadcasting contract.”

Tying the revamped distribution formula to the new TV deal could also help women’s basketball supporters fend off a longstanding criticism that they just want a cut of the huge revenue from the men’s tournament, which is expected to bring in $870 million from CBS and Turner this year.

A fundamental philosophical question – whether payments should be tied to winnings for anyone at all – looms over the debate at a time when the industry is facing some of the most sustained and vocal pressures in its history.

“First we need to ask, should we reward performance? Should we reward teams and conferences in such a significant way?” said Julie Rowe Lah, Commissioner of the Horizon League.

She added: “I don’t fully support this. I think we need to take a close look at whether this is in line with our mission and vision.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert last week declined to say whether he supported the overhaul, but said it was “important” that schools running the association consider changes. At least one NCAA committee is looking into the matter.

“If by this time next year there is some idea of ​​where to go, that would be great,” Emmert said on Wednesday. “This does not mean that it can be implemented immediately, but there is no reason why they could not start this debate and this discussion. But this is a very difficult debate among schools. Once you start talking about how you’re going to share resources, it gets complicated.”

Indeed, there is also the question of whether sports other than basketball should have payouts associated with postseason play. Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, for example, said in an interview that his league would be interested in discussing creating performance funds related to baseball and softball, two sports in which his conference has long thrived. Other leagues may want to offer incentives related to other sports, he said.

“We need to be careful about value transfer in a broad sense,” Sankey said.

This discussion could take time, he and others warned. But one of the most successful coaches in any sport in the Sledge League, Don Staley of South Carolina, has already made it clear that she wants to urgently rethink the model of women’s basketball.

When asked last month what changes she would like to see immediately, she replied: “units.”

“These units,” she added, “equal to dollar signs.”

Report has been provided Kevin Draper from Wichita, Kansas Remy Tumin from Greensboro, North Carolina, Natalie Weiner from Spokane, Washington, and Billy Witz from Nashville.