Last year at this time, we zeroed in on the NCAA’s horrific treatment of women’s basketball players. While the men got plenty of perks, photo ops, swag bags and interviews, Sedona Prince posted the women’s accommodations to her Twitter and TikTok accounts, which involved a few hand weights in an empty ballroom. They also got a few tchotchkes.
Despite Title IX becoming law 50 years ago, it was clear that the NCAA and tournament decision-makers considered the men’s tournament in a different universe than the women’s. Prince’s posts went viral on social media. It probably didn’t mean much to organizers at the time because the NCAA was heavily focused on the fact that student-athletes would soon have the chance to earn money as athletes who play sports.
An internally commissioned study known as the Kaplan report criticized the NCAA for pouring all resources into the men’s tournament to gain support and profit, undervaluing the potential of the women’s tournament. The report went on to say that the NCAA lost out on millions in TV revenue while also angering and alienating fans.
The women ascend
Things have changed since last year. The pandemic is receding. Women’s college basketball is getting high-profile TV slots, with ratings up drastically. And like US Women’s Soccer Team, the sponsors are paying attention: UConn sophomore Paige Bueckers earned over $1 million for an endorsement from Gatorade before she led her team to the Final 4. She’s not alone, with women’s college basketball players second only to men’s football players in sponsorship money. That’s right: women basketball players earn more than their male counterparts.
The NCAA has also stepped up its game with better treatment of female athletes and a tournament that includes 68 teams (the same number as the men). The swag bags are similar. The athletes’ lounges have all the same stuff. And we can now officially refer to the women’s tournament games using “March Madness” branding, which wasn’t the case before for some reason.
What’s next: follow the money
There are still many unaddressed topics on a long list toward equity among the genders, so this is just the beginning. If the past is any indicator, fans and sponsors will usher in the change, dragging the NCAA along.
The women’s $34 million TV contract (the men’s contract is $1.1 billion per year) is up for renewal in 2024. That number will likely more than triple if the package continues to include all college sports except D-1 men’s basketball and football. The sky may be the limit if the NCAA opts to break women’s basketball out as a solo act.