Last year, during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Oregon forward Sedona Prince set the internet on fire with a TikTok she share to their social media accounts. With the men’s and women’s tournaments held in one-location “bubbles” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince was quick to point out how the men’s teams were better treated, whether by the weight rooms, meal, gamer gifts and more.
As the NCAA quickly tried to save face by bringing in a new weight room for women, the damage was already done. Deep structural differences were exposed, and with mounting public pressure, the NCAA authorized an external report on gender equity in college athletics.
One year after the 2021 tournaments – and with the 2022 tournaments coming and going – athletes and fans can see what, if anything, has changed. They can also continue to look to the future and see if the days of more sustainable gender equity are on the horizon.
Law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink (KHF) provided findings detailing recommendations for the NCAA to use in tournaments in 2022 and beyond to ensure a permanent structure of gender equity. The NCAA’s gender equity page lists recommendations implemented in 2022, as well as others they have planned to implement in the future.
Notably, several of the report’s recommendations centered on accountability and permanent change were missing from the NCAA’s plans, including conducting an annual gender equity audit and conducting another external evaluation in five years. .
“Yes, the NCAA plans to undergo regular audits related to gender equity efforts,” NCAA associate director of communications Meghan Durham told the Daily Universe. “I don’t have an update for you on the specific timing at this point.”
Changes to the 2022 Women’s Tournament
BYU women’s basketball guard Tegan Graham was in attendance at both the 2021 and 2022 tournaments, giving her a No. 1 spot to compare the two. She appreciates the progress made, such as expanding the women’s group to 68 teams and using the March Madness brand in the women’s tournament for the first time.
“Something as simple as using the March Madness brand for the women’s event, just like the men’s, is incredibly powerful,” said Women’s Basketball Coaches Association executive director Danielle Donehew. “This sends a message to our student-athletes, our coaches, our individuals on all campuses, and all the fans and people of our country, our ecosystem, that this is a unified effort to promote and support these two incredible events.”
However, Graham was dissatisfied and frustrated with other changes made by the NCAA that seemed to send with a message.
“(The gear bags were) rather disappointing, because – and I think this is very helpful – they made the men’s and women’s gear bags the same, but the quality just wasn’t good,” Graham said. “Last year, a woman’s handbag was better than the one she had this year. I think the NCAA did it on purpose to push this whole “well, if you want to give women more, then we have to give men less” narrative, and that’s just not the case.
Graham recently completed her master’s degree, where she explored gender equity in college athletics for her thesis to demystify the notion that if women get more, men should get less.
What to watch: media coverage
As Athletic Director of KREM2 Media, Brenna Greene covers men’s and women’s college basketball. She also drew attention to the disparities in 2021 when she showed how the NCAA was providing footage from the men’s games — but not the women’s games — until the Sweet Sixteen. Greene said last year was the first time the NCAA provided this resource because many outlets did not send photographers to games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the NCAA made it seem like it would provide footage for both tournaments this year, Greene couldn’t find any footage throughout the tournaments. She explained that due to NCAA rules, media cannot republish content from broadcasts or team photographers, so not having photos available limited coverage. While KREM2 had a photographer at all games this year, they were unable to add visuals to their recaps of their home team’s women’s games last year.
While media coverage issues have persisted, Greene says it’s not for lack of trying. She and her colleagues do everything they can to cover both genders fairly. Trends over the past year are encouraging, however, as the recent Women’s Championship game between South Carolina and UConn was the most-watched Women’s Championship game since 2004,” Greene said.
Watch: Media rights deal
One of the topics Graham covered in his thesis was NCAA payments to tournament teams. The men’s tournament is structured so that schools receive money for themselves and their athletic conferences based on the number of games they play. The women’s tournament has no such payout. This means athletic departments have less incentive to invest in women’s athletics because the money isn’t as easily repaid.
The next media rights agreement signed by the NCAA for the women’s tournament (the current agreement expires in 2024) has the potential to solve the problem. Donehew explained that if the NCAA receives a larger contract for the women’s tournament, their increased profits can be used to set up a structure for a revenue stream.
Many believe the current deal undervalues women’s basketball. Lindsay Wyson is a Built4Life intern at BYU, where she assists the athletic department with name, likeness, and likeness (NIL) deals. She pointed to a Boardroom report that shows four of the five athletes with the highest NIL earning potential on social media between the men’s and women’s Final Fours were women.
“It just proves that women’s sport has value,” Wyson said. “These numbers make you think, why are these female athletes worth so much on social media?” She thinks the numbers show that women’s basketball is worth far more than the current TV deal.
Donehew and the WBCA are also keeping a close eye on the upcoming media rights deal.
“The WBCA strongly recommends that we pay close attention and help in any way possible to negotiate this important media agreement. It will be very important that as this agreement is renegotiated, the women’s tournament is valued at market value. in the future,” she said.
However, Donehew explained that a new deal is empty without a revenue system flowing from it.
“We would expect that when this deal is very well managed, there would be more money in the NCAA from this deal,” she continued. “When that happens, it would be an appropriate time to begin a distribution of units for women’s basketball success in the tournament.”
While a potential solution has been identified that will hopefully fix much of the income disparity in college basketball, Greene explains that the upcoming media negotiations are not as straightforward as the NCAA having an asking price. higher. Although she has no affiliation with the NCAA, ESPN, or the latest round of negotiations, she understands the basics of media agreements.
“They really just need a strong contender for ESPN because, you see the NFL and the deals they make. The reason they get these huge deals is because everyone wants these rights, so they push each other. That’s where they get all that money,” Greene said.
What to watch for: permanent change
Although the NCAA did not respond to The Daily Universe’s request to verify the information, an NCAA tournament source said meetings are scheduled to assess real-time gender equity. These meetings would be an important first step towards long-term accountability and gender equity.
Looking ahead, athletes, coaches and fans say they are watching closely to see if the recent changes are a sign of lasting improvements or if the NCAA is simply trying to appease the crowd to save face before fall back into old habits. Ultimately, everyone involved believes the NCAA can only be held accountable if they remain under scrutiny.
“I mean I’m hopeful because I feel like this conversation about gender equity has been a hot topic for about a year now,” Graham said of her hopes for permanent change. . “The last decade has slowly (had more coverage of women’s athletics), but I think over the last two years, maybe even three, there’s been a much bigger push. And then after the 2021 tournaments, there’s this massive wave of people because of the public outcry, so I want to say I’m optimistic because of the public pressure.