Many of us have seen photos from the NCAA training rooms that highlight the disparity between genders in sports funding: The men’s training room here in Indianapolis was spacious, well-lit and equipped with everything the athletes would need to work out effectively before their competitions. The women’s basketball teams in San Antonio had a rack of barbells and a few yoga mats.
Social media blew up over “gender inequality,” and public pressure soon led to an apology and a greatly improved training room for the women basketball players.
But was it really gender inequality or simply a matter of economics?
Men’s basketball generates several times the amount of revenue as women’s basketball. In fact, men’s basketball is the workhorse that carries the bulk of the load of providing funding for all the other programs that the NCAA supports.
The NCAA claims that only five of the 90 Division I championships break even or earn a profit: Men’s basketball; men’s ice hockey; men’s lacrosse; wrestling; and baseball.
(Division I college football playoffs and bowl games are independently operated, and the NCAA does not benefit from those.)
A quick trip through the NCAA website reveals much about the money behind the games. Follow this link: https://www.ncaa.org/about/where-does-money-go. It gives a nice breakdown of funds generated and how they were allocated pre-COVID.
In 2019’s Final Four, the women’s basketball games set area attendance records. Additionally, television ratings for their games rose 24% between 2016 and 2019. However, their numbers were still well below those for the men’s teams.
The latest figures showed the men’s basketball NCAA revenue at $933 million and women’s at $266,183. That’s a huge difference. Attendance average for the men’s games was 4,659 versus 1,625 for the women. Viewership also showed a significant gap: 10.5 million for the men’s and 3.6 million for the women’s.
An additional factor is that the championships don’t just support other NCAA sports, they also boost the economy of the cities hosting them. By comparison, Indianapolis expects a $100 million economic boost from hosting the Division I men’s basketball championship. The San Antonio Local Organizing Committee (SALOC) estimated a boost of $27.2 million from hosting the women’s basketball championship.
If this is not a convincing argument, look at the amenities offered to other sports teams such as fencing, swimming, bowling, archery and gymnastics, and you’ll find no significant difference between the training rooms or the meals provided.
These are just a few of the “lesser sports” that the Men’s Basketball Championship supports in college athletics. Until recently, when some celebrities attempted to “buy” their children’s admission into some of the better schools and used fake athletic accomplishments to boost their chances, most of us never noticed these low-profile sports. Quite frankly, most of us just don’t find these sports interesting to watch.
When most of us sign up our children for team sports, we look for those that will improve their health and fitness and teach them about teamwork and how to follow rules. We also tend to look at sports we enjoy watching or at least understand. Occasionally, however, a child will exhibit a talent and a passion for a sport that parents know little about. One of the first questions they ask the child’s coach: Are there college scholarships available for this?
NCAA Division I and II schools pay out more than $3 billion annually in scholarships which is largely due to the public’s love and support of Division I men’s basketball. However, only some college sports departments can offer “full” scholarships, and those who receive partial scholarships are covered by the same restrictions governing those with full scholarships on how they can earn outside income.
There are problems and inequities within NCAA sports, and the organization has a long way to go to resolve these. However, it should be noted that the root cause of most of these problems can be summarized in one word: Money.
A lifelong resident of Hancock County, Linda Dunn is an author and retired Department of Defense employee.