The Next Battlefield for College Basketball: How to Spread the Money

Update: South Carolina schloen UConn to win his second national championship.

MINNEAPOLIS – A quartet of elite college basketball teams met Friday in Minneapolis for the final four of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The Powerhouse programs – Connecticut, Louisville, Stanford and South Carolina – had done it by winning all four games during the competition.

But reaching one of the biggest stages in college sports did not earn them a cent from the NCAA, which they might spend on scholarships, athletic facilities, or other expenses. In contrast, their teammates who made it to the Final Four in the men’s tournament on Saturday have all possibly earned their leagues at least $ 10 million in recent weeks.

With Division I men’s tournaments generating multimillion-dollar paydays, women’s basketball coaches and their allies believe that administrators are much more likely to invest in men’s teams than women’s teams, whose leagues do not directly earn NCAA money, either. if they belong to the best of the nation.

The difference in the NCAA’s financial arrangements has been around for decades, with the association awarding “units” that, over time, turn into millions of dollars as teams reach and then advance to the men’s event.

Now the future of the system is the subject of an intensified debate in the college sports industry, which has been the subject of public outcry and congress after players at the men’s tournament last year were given better facilities and facilities than athletes competing in the women’s event have got. The NCAA has taken steps over the last year to promote and improve conditions at the women’s event; This year, for example, was the first time that the association used its branding “March Madness” for the women’s tournament.

But these changes are relatively few besides potential changes in the NCAA’s payment structure.

“I really think in order to really make changes, we need to have a similar unit structure,” said Tara VanDerveer, who has won three national championships as a Stanford ladies coach. “I mean, I love the people. I love the signs.”

But, she added, “I really think it’s support, it’s a television package and it’s a unit structure. If that happens, then we know it’s serious.

The NCAA, which spends most of its money from television rights to men’s tournaments, distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year through a series of funds. Two of them, who make up nearly 36 percent of the association’s approximately $ 625 million in distributions this year, are directly and exclusively associated with participating in the men’s tournament.

Conferences raise funds from these funds by having their teams play in the men’s event, with programs winning tournament players earning additional units for their leagues as they advance through the competition. For example, UConn’s men’s basketball team, which lost its first round of the tournament in New Mexico State, earned a unit that would likely lead to around $ 2 million for the Big East Conference; the last tournament run of UConn’s women’s team, which won its 14th consecutive Final Four Friday and advanced Sunday night’s national championship game against South Carolina, drew nothing for the conference.

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

And while the wealthiest conferences earn most of their money from their own television contracts for regular-season football and basketball, the NCAA dollars are still the largest source of income for any college sports league.

The College Football Playoff, which is not controlled by the NCAA, allocates approximately $ 500 million a year to the conferences it holds, based on a formula that affects Schossel’s participation and, to a much lesser extent, academic performance. .

When it comes to basketball, the question is not whether NCAA savings will continue to be shared among conferences, but how – even if there is no guarantee that a newly built system will raise more money for women’s basketball or any other women’s sport leads. Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in almost any educational environment, does not require dollar-for-dollar funding for men’s and women’s sports, and the NCAA does not currently regulate how conferences spend performance-based funding. .

But coaches argue that a system that rewards conferences for great play in women’s basketball urges administrators to offer their programs more help – encouraging equity and potentially leading to a better product and eventually greater windfalls.

In a report released last August, a law firm hired by the NCAA to study gender inequality in college sports said the existing system “sends a clear and disturbing message to female student-athletes that they not as valuable as their male counterparts – quite literally., in monetary terms that can translate into millions of dollars.

The company, Kaplan Hecker & Fink, called on the association to replace its current system, and it outlined an approach outlining the distribution of an account over 10 years of gradual change. It has been estimated, based on recent results in men’s and women’s tournaments, that a handful of Division I leagues, including some of the most prominent, will get more in distributions. Five would not see any changes. Eighteen of the 32 Division I conferences would sacrifice at least some money unless their ladies basketball teams improve in the postseason game.

Others have proposed creating a new system in conjunction with the next television rights contract for the women’s basketball tournament, which is currently bundled into a multisport deal that will pay the NCAA about $ 43.5 million this tax year.

Media advisers and college sportsmen believe that the current deal, which is scheduled to expire in August 2024, dramatically underestimates women’s basketball – possibly by tens of thousands of millions of dollars a year. This year’s women’s tournament set record highs and drew some of its highest television ratings in decades.

A bigger pot of money, possibly through a sweet media deal, could change the political path for the system.

“I think the power that could see the value of a new fund,” said Richard J. Ensor, commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference since 1988 and one who has long been among the leading supporters of women’s basketball and the Management rank of the college sport was. . “The timing could be excellent to inform this formula with a new broadcast contract.”

A newly designed distribution formula to link a new television deal could also help defenders of women’s basketball defend long-standing criticism: that they only want a slice of the huge revenue from men’s tournaments expected to earn $ 870 million from CBS and Turner . this year.

A fundamental philosophical question – whether payments are linked to profit at all, for everyone – revolves around the debate at a time when the industry is facing some of the most sustainable and vocal pressures in its history.

“We must first ask, should we reward performance? Should we reward teams and conferences in significant ways?” Said Julie Roe Lach, Horizon League commissioner.

She added, “I’m not quite going to keep up with that. I think we’ll have to see if that fits in with our mission and vision.

NCAA President Mark Emmert declined to say last week whether he supported reform, but said it was “important” that the schools governing the association consider changes. At least one NCAA committee is studying the issue.

“If there is a notion of a direction to take next year by this time next year, that would be great,” Emmert said Wednesday. “It does not mean that it can be implemented immediately, but there is no reason why they could not start the debate and the discussion. But it is a whole challenge between the schools. When you start talking about how you divide resources, then the difficult.

In fact, there is also the question of whether sports other than basketball payouts should be related to the postseason game. Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeast Conference, for example, said in an interview that his league would be interested in discussing the creation of performance funds linked to baseball and softball, two sports in which his conference has flourished for a long time. Other leagues, he said, may want to offer incentives linked to other sports.

“We need to be careful about communicating value broadly,” Sankey said.

This discussion could take time, he and others have accused. But one of the most successful coaches in any sport in the Sankey League, Dawn Staley of South Carolina, has already made it clear that she wants an urgent consideration of the model for women’s basketball.

Asked last month what changes she wanted to see immediately, she replied: “the units.”

“The units,” she added, “equal dollar signs.”

Reporting was by Kevin Draper from Wichita, Kan., Rémy Tumin from Greensboro, NC, Natalie Weiner from Spokane, Wash., an Billy Witz of Nashville.

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