LEAD EDITORIAL: the NCAA Needs to Step Up It’s Game

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In March 2021, Sedona Prince of the University of Oregon’s women’s basketball team posted a video of the sparse weight room prepared by the NCAA for the female athletes competing in the 2021 championship tournament. The post served as a catalyst for countless student athletes and coaches to scrutinize the NCAA’s unfair treatment of women athletes. Although the organization has responded to criticism by athletes, administrators and fans seeking improvements in the valuation of women’s athletics, they are still not doing enough.

Although representatives of the NCAA apologized for the inadequacy of the women’s weight training facility and promised an improvement in response to the backlash, the event showed a marked difference in the way that the NCAA treats male and female athletes.  An internal equity review in regards to their management of men’s and women’s sports revealed that there is inherent sexism within the governing body of official college athletics. 

The NCAA’s internal analysis revealed that when it came to budgeting for championship tournaments, the amount spent on NCAA men’s baseball team expenses (injury insurances, scholarships, committee support, travel fees etc.) totaled over $16 million as opposed to about $6 million spent by the NCAA on the women’s equivalent sport, softball. Such drastic differences can be seen in the spending differentials of other NCAA sports, including ice hockey ($3.5 million) and lacrosse ($800,000), with the men’s teams having far larger spending than their female counterparts.

Photo courtesy of Adam Smith.

On a more favorable note, analyses of expenses for  NCAA gymnastics ($320,000 for men’s; $1,000,000 for women’s) and volleyball ($376,000 for men’s;$3.8 million for women’s) and a comparison of men’s and women’s soccer championship budgets ($2.4 million for men’s; $3.4 million for women’s), revealed that in some areas, women’s teams were favored with expenses. 

However, to truly establish an even playing field that will lift both men’s and women’s sports to the same tier in all NCAA sports, women’s and men’s teams in the same sports should be afforded comparable. Establishing gender equity in the budgets between sports would be a stepping stone toward greater fairness between the treatment of women’s and men’s sports by the NCAA. It would also set an example for the greater sports community regarding funding of women’s athletics. 

Broadcasting has also been a topic of much discussion. Importantly many NCAA sports are broadcasted on ESPN’s channels due to the NCAA’s decision to sell ESPN the rights to air 29 of its sports’ championships. Although ESPN has the ability to share the sports on their main channel or any of its sister channels, men’s sports are given more airtime on primary channels while women’s teams are not afforded the same opportunity. Division I men’s championships are simultaneously broadcasted on ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPNU, to name a few, and garner audiences of around 100,000 viewers per day. In contrast, Division I women’s championships are only shown on one of these channels, which alone earn a significantly less (about 50,000) views per day.   

It is up to both the NCAA and ESPN to do better in this regard. The NCAA needs to advocate for the broadcasting of women’s sports on mainstream channels as much as the men’s championships are.. This would give women’s sports more opportunity to gain equal viewership to men’s sports. Facilitating possibility for equal airtime and views for women’s college athletics would importantly illustrate the significance of women’s sports alongside men’s, rather than diminishing them as is currently the case with broadcasting of NCAA sports.

The review also highlighted the branding disparities. When posting information about upcoming sports championships and events, the men’s and women’s events are often distinguished with gender modifiers. For instance, for men’s ice hockey the championships are referred to as #FrozenFour. The women’s championships are then modified to #WFrozenFour.

There is clearly room for improvement, and the NCAA is attempting to make that change by placing systems into effect to establish gender equity. On ESPN’s website, some of the new initiatives listed include collecting data on the championship facilitations, eliminating gender modifiers, increasing staff to expand equity review and implementing a “zero-based” budget for the next five years. 

Although these actions are commendable, there needs to be even more urgent action to ensure that women’s sports are receiving equal treatment by the NCAA, associated college athletics organizations and broadcasting networks. The increase in monitoring of spending on both genders, and the elimination of gender modifiers is a great place to start. However, there is still so much that can be done to bring NCAA women’s sports to the same acclaim and valuation of men’s sports, such as increased airtime on mainstream networks for women’s sports and better budgeting and pay for women’s sports and athletics. These changes are essential for aiding women’s college sports in gaining the widespread recognition and promotion they deserve.

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