MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A year after gross inequalities were exposed at the NCAA Women’s Tournament and less than two weeks after heavy criticism from Congress, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday he was pleased with the institution’s progress, but said there had only been “preliminary discussions” on the distribution of tournament revenue to women’s programs.
Emmert said upcoming work to improve conditions for women’s basketball includes negotiating a new television contract for the women’s tournament and potentially a revenue distribution protocol similar to that of the men’s event.
Emmert was careful not to call for specific changes ahead of discussions from hundreds of NCAA member schools, and he declined to offer his own perspective.
“It’s up to the schools and what they want to do about it,” he told the Women’s Final Four website in Minneapolis. “It’s a complicated relationship because the championships on the men’s side, the relative weight of advancing in the tournament has gone down over time. Those of the members who think there shouldn’t be so much emphasis on the victory in the tournament.
Sending money to women’s programs is something coaches are asking for. Men’s conferences receive hundreds of thousands of dollars per tournament game involving one of their teams, money that they then redistribute to schools. Such a system does not exist on the women’s side.
Emmert said adopting such a payout structure will not be a silver bullet and will require approval from multiple NCAA committees.
“There are really only preliminary discussions about it,” he said. “Hopefully these are decisions that can be made in the next calendar year, for example. If by this time next year there is an idea of a direction to go, that would be great.
Emmert said that wouldn’t mean it could be implemented immediately.
“There’s no reason why they can’t start this debate and this discussion,” he said. “But it’s a very difficult debate between the schools. Once you start talking about how you’re going to allocate resources, it gets tricky.
It’s easier to pay the men thanks to the NCAA’s deal with CBS and Turner. The initial contract averaged $770 million per year, with an extension in 2016 raising that annual average to $1.1 billion in 2025.
The women’s tournament is currently bundled with other women’s championships for TV rights. The current contract with ESPN expires in 2024. ESPN is giving each game in this tournament its own window on one of its channels, with four games on ABC for the second consecutive year.
“It’s obviously in the interests of all college sports people to maximize the revenue you can generate from media deals, recognizing that you want to balance that with also making sure you get the right coverage,” said said Emmert. “So it’s not just about the money, of course.”
A law firm hired to examine gender equity issues at NCAA championships highlighted the differences between men’s and women’s events in a searing report last summer. It came after social media posts from 2021, including that of Oregon forward Sedona Prince, exposed some of the glaring inequalities.
Three congressional lawmakers sent a letter to Emmert this month accusing the organization of making “insufficient progress” in addressing the “historically disparate” treatment of male and female athletes.
Emmert and NCAA Vice President for Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman highlighted positive changes this year, including the use of the phrase “March Madness” for the women’s tournament and the expansion of the field to 68 teams. to equal men.
“Participation in the rounds leading up to the Women’s Final Four, we set records with those,” Holzman said. “Our broadcast partner ESPN’s ratings also set records, but it’s all a testament to women’s basketball, the leadership that happens on campus with our coaches, administration, and most importantly, our student-athletes. .”
Both Emmert and Holzman said many of the changes adapted this year were more behind-the-scenes pieces focused on branding and meaningful things for student-athletes.
“A lot of the effort isn’t particularly visible, and indeed it’s not necessarily aimed even at this particular year,” he said. “But making sure that we have a sustainable and integrated model that provides the kind of continuity of these championships in the future.”
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