A legal firm was hired to examine gender equity concerns at NCAA championship events. Tuesday's report included a scathing recommendation that the men's Final Fours be held at the same location and offered financial incentives for schools to improve their women’s basketball programs.
Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP was eagerly awaiting the review. After the NCAA failed provide similar amenities for the women's and men's Division I basketball tournaments, the firm was hired by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP in March. This situation was highlighted on social media, with player complaints, and led to apologies from NCAA officials, including President Mark Emmert.
The 113-page report concluded that "with respect to women's basket basketball, the NCAA had not lived up to their stated commitment to diversity, inclusion, and gender equity among its student athletes, coaches, and administrators."
The report found that disparities did not exist in just this year's tournaments. It also noted that the NCAA's financial deal with its member schools was partly to blame. Kaplan stated that the NCAA's structure, systems and structures "are designed to maximize and support the Division I Men's Basketball Championship as primary source of funding for both the NCAA" and its members.
The NCAA's revenues exceeded $1 billion in the year prior to the pandemic. Nearly $900 million of those was due to the media rights agreement with Turner and CBS for the men’s basketball tournament.
According to the report, the women's tournament is part of a package that includes more than 20 other NCAA championships. ESPN also owns them and pays them $34 million annually. According to a team made up of marketing and sports media experts, Kaplan's women's basketball tournament is expected to be worth between $81 and $112 million each year starting in 2025.
The NCAA was criticized for not recognizing or preparing for this growth in value. According to the report, the NCAA's media deal with the men's tournament leads to the event being prioritized over all other events in ways that normalize, perpetuate and create gender inequalities.
Kaplan stated that hosting the Final Fours on the same site would promote the events better and allow sponsors to be more active in each tournament.
The NCAA distributes most of the CBS/Turner deal's revenue back to member schools. A large portion of "units" is earned by conferences based upon individual school performance in tournaments. Kaplan suggested that schools could benefit from a similar distribution for the women's tournament. However, this is not the case.
For years, the NCAA has been struggling with equity for marquee tournaments. Several suggestions have been made to improve the situation.
This year, the issue was brought back to the forefront.
Female coaches, players, and staff criticised the NCAA for not providing full weight training areas for women's teams in San Antonio. They also pointed out that the problem was not present for men's teams in Indianapolis. Due to the pandemic, both tournaments were held at single locations.
Kaplan discovered that the issues with the weight room, as well as other differences between the events (COVID-19 testing protocols and meals, signage, and outdoor recreation) were mainly due to a lack in staffing for the women's tournament, and poor coordination between the organizers of both events.
According to the report, "The women's team member responsible for game operations and credentials had around 30 other tasks with approximately eight men's counterparts who she was supposed to coordinate."
Emmert and others apologised and ordered an investigation. Another complaint was made at the Omaha women's volleyball tournament and the Oklahoma Women's College World Series.
For the next five years, the NCAA will be conducting an annual assessment to monitor progress in gender equality.