Nearly a year ago, Oregon forward Sedona Prince took to Twitter to expose some of the more glaring inequities between the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments — an unwelcome viral moment for the organization and one that it is still responding to.
The NCAA has made major changes to its women's basketball tournament. Many of the changes have been relatively easy to do, such as expanding the tournament to 68 teams and using the phrase “March Madness” — once limited to the men's tourney — in branding.
“This year there will be numerous and notable enhancements to the championship,” said Lynn Holzman, the NCAA vice president of women’s basketball. “What those have translated to is an enhanced women’s basketball student-athlete experience and fan experience.”
Prince was happy to hear it.
“Making those changes is incredible and I hope it continues to be that way, and not just from a massive scandal, and a player exposing them on a national stage,” she told The Associated Press. “Things shouldn’t be fixed that way. ”
There is still a lot of work to do, such as TV rights and revenue disbursement, just two of the issues outlined in a blistering report released last summer that looked into the inequities. The differences between the two tournaments were stark.
The NCAA said it has made a major effort to make the two tournaments more equitable, on and off the court. While the organization wouldn't give an exact dollar amount, it did say it has spent millions more on the women's tournament this year, with the Final Four set for Minneapolis. The men's Final Four is in New Orleans.
“The zero-based budgeting exercise mentioned in the gender-equity report has been very detailed and time-consuming in a good way,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “We've taken every budget line for men's and women's basketball championships and compared and contrasted them. Where there have been discrepancies, we've had significant discussions about the equity stand point. In many cases, they've been adjusted to the tune of millions of dollars.”
Starting in the regional rounds, which are played at neutral sites after earlier rounds are hosted by higher seeds, there will be "March Madness" logos on the courts instead of “Women's Basketball.” The Final Four logos will be gender specific, too.
Other changes include:
— Gifts for each team will be the same. In previous years, while they were comparable in value, they were packaged and presented differently.
— Fan events at the Women’s Final Four have been expanded to be more similar to the men, including having an open practice the day before the championship game.
— Officials are being paid the same at both tournaments.
The NCAA has plans for changes next year. They hope to move the selection show back to its Monday night slot after shifting it to Sunday this year, where there is the potential for it to get dwarfed by the men’s show. The NCAA also hopes to have a neutral site for its opening round play-in games, similar to the men's event in Dayton, Ohio.
Three things that were brought to light last year by Prince's video and other social media posts were disparities in the lodging, food and weight rooms.
Organizers said most of those discrepancies occurred mostly because of the set-up of the tournaments, with both hosting every team in single cities amid the pandemic instead of at sites across the nation. Still, the NCAA said it would ensure both tournaments will have equitable hotels and food this year.
Earlier this year, the NCAA announced it would not combine the two Final Fours, a recommendation from the Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP report. There are other possibilities, including potentially moving one of the two to a different weekend.
Looming for the women's tourney is a full discussion — or new deal — for TV rights, the lifeblood for hundreds of schools. On the men's side, CBS and Turner’s original contract with the NCAA was for 14 years at $10.8 billion ($770 million per year). They signed an eight-year extension in 2016 that gives them the rights through 2032, and the per-year average will jump to $1.1 billion beginning in 2025.
Currently, the women's tournament is bundled with other championships when it comes to TV rights, and many wonder how much money it could fetch if it stood alone in negotiations. The current contract with ESPN is not up until 2024.
Giving women's teams revenue for winning games in the tournament — which would be similar to the men's tourney — is a topic that has not been explored.
“If you get more money when your men win than when your women are winning, then you have to care more about the men winning,” said North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, the vice president of the Women's Basketball Coaching Association. “It’s just financial optics things. Right?”