The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has for years prioritized men’s basketball and taken multiple actions that contributed to gender inequities in the sport, including by undervaluing the women’s annual tournament by millions of dollars, according to an independent report released Tuesday.
The 118-page report was the result of a months-long investigation into the structure and practices of the NCAA, which commissioned the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to investigate it and provide recommendations on how to better promote gender equity.
The probe, which relied on interviews with dozens of NCAA executives and employees and documents provided to the firm, followed allegations of gender inequality in the NCAA after a viral social media video showed stark differences between the weight rooms designated for men's and women's players at their March tournaments.
The law firm said Tuesday that “the gender inequities at the NCAA — and specifically within the NCAA Division I basketball championships — stem from the structure and systems of the NCAA itself, which are designed to maximize the value of and support to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as the primary source of funding for the NCAA and its membership.”
“The NCAA’s broadcast agreements, corporate sponsorship contracts, distribution of revenue, organizational structure, and culture all prioritize Division I men’s basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize, and perpetuate gender inequities,” the report continued.
The law firm specifically noted that as part of the NCAA’s agreement with CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Turner Broadcasting System Inc., the networks are required to pay an average of nearly $1.1 billion annually for the 2024-2032 period to air the Division I men’s basketball championship.
On the other hand, the NCAA is allowing ESPN to broadcast 29 championships, including Division I women’s basketball, for just $34 million per year.
However, the law firm said that based on analysis led by media and marketing expert Ed Desser, the true value for the annual broadcast rights to women’s basketball alone should be between $81 million and $112 million in 2025.
The law firm went on to outline several recommendations for the NCAA, including changing the leadership structure of Division I basketball "to prioritize gender equity and coordination between the men’s and women’s tournaments."
The report also recommended developing equity in staffing across Division I men’s and women’s basketball as well as performing a “real-time gender equity audit of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships as they are being planned and executed each year.”
In response to the report, the NCAA Board of Governors said in a statement that it is “wholly committed to an equitable experience among its championships.”
“We know that has not always been the case and the instance of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship is an important impetus for us to improve our championship experience so it is not repeated,” the board continued, noting that the report “provides useful guidance to improve our championships.”
The board said that it has “directed the NCAA president to act urgently to address any organizational issues,” and “called him to begin work this week with the three divisions and appropriate committees to outline next steps, develop recommendations and effectuate change.”