The NCAA has adequately addressed nine of 23 recommendations for creating comparable NCAA Tournament experiences for men’s and women’s basketball players, according to a progress report released Wednesday.
College sports’ largest governing body hired a third party to evaluate its response to a scathing report issued almost a year ago that criticized gender inequality in the tournaments.
Among the most visible changes noted in the progress report were “March Madness” branding and increased cross-promotion for both tournaments in 2022, as well as the addition of four teams to the women’s tournament to create a “First Four” event to bring it in line with the men’s tournament structure.
The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball committees jointly rejected a recommendation to hold simultaneous Final Fours in the same city, the report said, and NCAA leadership decided against changing the Division I basketball administrative structure. That means vice president of women’s basketball Lynn Holzman continues to report to senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt.
An outside firm was hired to conduct the assessment and that the NCAA was honoring the firm’s request to not be identified, as per company policy, NCAA Associate Director of Communications Meghan Durham told The Associated Press in an email.
“The findings of this assessment illustrate our commitment to advance gender equity at NCAA championships. Thanks to a collaborative spirit, significant accomplishments were achieved this past year,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “We have said it before — our work is not finished. Gender equity must remain a priority for leaders throughout college sports and we look forward to continuing to support these efforts moving forward.”
The initial report published in August was done by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, which was hired after the NCAA failed to provide similar amenities to the teams in the 2021 men’s and women’s Division I tournaments.
The tournaments were played in “bubbles” because of the pandemic, and players blew up social media with complaints that showed disparities between men’s and women’s weight-training facilities, food, lounge areas and gifts — prompting apologies from NCAA executives.
The Kaplan report said the NCAA failed to uphold its commitment to gender equity by prioritizing its cash-cow men’s tournament “over everything else” and put forth the recommendations that the NCAA has enacted or considered.
The issues that women’s players drew attention to have been addressed, the progress report noted. And in addition to the branding improvements, the NCAA increased full-time staff working on women’s tournament; improved communication between men’s and women’s basketball committees; began a program to identify and track areas that need to be the same, comparable and different in men’s and women’s tournament experiences; hired a third party to produce an annual report on gender-equity initiatives; and issued statements on how gender-equity issues are or will be addressed.
The progress report also pointed out the NCAA increased the 2022 women’s tournament expenses budget by $6.1 million and that an additional $1 million would be added.
Among areas in progress: hiring a full-time employee to focus on women’s and gender-equity issues; initiating third-party assessments of gender-equity progress every five years; emphasizing new corporate sponsorships for the women’s tournament; pursuing promotional and marketing opportunities that benefit both tournaments; building on the increased branding visibility with “March Madness” courts and hoops at the women’s First Four and first and second rounds.
In the future, the NCAA is looking to pursue standalone rights for the women’s tournament once existing media and marketing contracts expire in 2024, the report said, as well as hiring a senior vice president for revenue focusing on both tournaments and creating a women’s tournament revenue distribution plan that’s more in line with that of the men’s tournament.
NCAA revenues surpassed $1 billion in the year before the pandemic and almost $900 million of that was tied to the media rights deal with CBS and Turner for the men’s tournament.
The women’s tournament is part of a package with more than two dozen other NCAA championships that ESPN owns and pays about $34 million per year for through 2023-24. But according to an assessment done for Kaplan by a team of sports media and marketing experts, the women’s tournament will be worth between $81 and $112 million annually beginning in 2025.