Connecticut and South Carolina marched all the way into the women’s title game in Minneapolis, and along the way, they did not earn a cent from the NCAA that they could perhaps spend on scholarships, athletic facilities or other costs.
But Kansas and North Carolina, the teams in the men’s championship on Monday night, each likely earned their leagues at least $10 million these last few weeks.
With the Division I men’s tournament generating multimillion-dollar paydays, women’s basketball coaches and their allies believe that administrators are far more likely to invest in men’s teams instead of women’s squads, which do not earn their leagues any direct money from the NCAA, even if they are among the nation’s best.
The disparity within the NCAA’s financial arrangements has existed for decades, with the association awarding “units” that, over time, turn into millions of dollars as teams reach and then advance in the men’s event.
Now the system’s future is the subject of an intensifying debate inside the college sports industry, which attracted a public furor and congressional scrutiny after players at last year’s men’s tournament received better amenities and facilities than the athletes who competed in the women’s event. 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 the association deployed its “March Madness” branding for the women’s tournament.
But those changes are, in relative terms, miniscule next to potential shifts in the NCAA’s payment structure.
“I really think to really make changes, we have to have similar unit structure,” said Tara VanDerveer, who has won three national championships as Stanford’s women’s coach. “I mean, I love the crowds. I love the sign.”
But, she added, “I really think the bottom line is, it’s a television package and it’s a unit structure. When that happens, then we’ll know that it’s serious.”
The NCAA president, Mark Emmert, declined to say this past week whether he supported an overhaul but said it was “important” that the schools that govern the association consider changes. At least one NCAA committee is studying the issue.