BY: EMILY COSTANZO
When college sports fans turn our calendars to March, there is typically one thing on our minds—March Madness. We think about where our favorite teams will land after Selection Sunday, or our odds of creating a perfect bracket, or, in the words of the late Al McGuire, about the overall excitement that surrounds the “Big Dance.”
Up until the NCAA’s recent decision, however, this iconic March moniker was reserved for one group of collegiate basketball players and one group only—the men. Despite the fact that the NCAA’s trademark registrations afforded them the ability to use the “March Madness” brand for both sides of the tournament, the governing body of collegiate athletics chose to use it solely for the men.
This trend ended last week, largely in part due to the NCAA’s wise—and long overdue—decision to bring in Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to develop a gender equity report focused specifically on the two NCAA collegiate basketball tournaments. As a part of their analysis, the firm conducted “listening sessions” with participants including, but not limited to, current and former student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, senior woman administrators, college/university chancellors and presidents, conference commissioners, and NCAA staff, committee, and board members.
The findings were disheartening. The firm determined that the NCAA “has not lived up to its stated commitment to diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators.” One action step the NCAA is taking as a result? The women’s tournament will now also don the “March Madness” slogan, but with slight alterations from that used for the men’s tournament. The most notable distinction between logos will be the subtle orange accents used in the women’s brand, a powerful nod to the now-famous orange WNBA hoodies.
The thorough report held nothing back as it delved into the specific figures of the men’s tournament versus that of their female counterparts. According to the document, the NCAA has a longstanding contract with CBS/Turner for the media rights to the men’s tournament, while they sold the broadcast rights for the women’s tournament to ESPN. The CBS/Turner contract is worth $850 million; the women’s contract was sold for $34 million.
The report further criticized the NCAA’s treatment of its male versus female student-athletes in saying that its structure and systems “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.” Despite the currently vast discrepancy, experts believe that the women’s tournament has an earning potential between $81 million and $112 million by 2025.
After the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, this disappointing assessment is far from surprising. After multiple tournament attendees shared a series of now infamous photos which highlighted the stark inequities between the amenities provided to the men’s versus the women’s Final Four teams, the NCAA could no longer turn a blind eye. Fortunately, multiple coaches stood behind their athletes as they spoke out against the subpar accommodations, including Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, and Oregon’s Kelly Graves.
“I guess [Kaplan] just put out there what we already know. The food options, the hotels you stay in, the weight room facilities, the gift bags…I mean, come on. I can’t believe we’re still having to see disparities in those areas,” Graves stated.
In a time where many within the world of collegiate sport are standing up against gender inequities seen in and out of their respective competitive arenas, many more are still left to wonder—does the change stop here?
Luckily, the Kaplan report offered multiple solutions extending far beyond the extension of the March Madness slogan which suggest that the fight for change is far from over. Among other game plans (no pun intended), the firm suggested that both Final Fours are held at the same site, that the men’s and women’s basketball and oversight committees conduct regular joint meetings, and that the NCAA offer financial incentives to institutions to improve their women’s programs.
The overwhelming response to this report demonstrates that the fight for gender equity in sport will not stop at a simple rebranding of March Madness. In fact, Kaplan has already announced that they will conduct a “Phase II” of this assessment, wherein the firm will examine gender equity in NCAA championships in sports other than basketball. We may be at the bottom of the mountain, but at least we have begun the climb.
 https://www.wsj.com/articles/ncaa-tournament-march-madness-basketball-11632925775  https://ncaagenderequityreview.com/gender-equity-review-phases/  https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/31951330/long-awaited-ncaa-gender-equity-review-recommends-combined-final-four-mens-women-basketball-same-site  https://www.wsj.com/articles/ncaa-tournament-march-madness-basketball-11632925775  Id.  Id.  https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/31951330/long-awaited-ncaa-gender-equity-review-recommends-combined-final-four-mens-women-basketball-same-site  Id.  https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/31952609/women-college-basketball-coaches-hopeful-kaplan-gender-equity-review-instigates-change