Gender inequity report: NCAA spends far less on women’s championships, hindering their growth potential

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The NCAA spends more money on men’s championships than women’s, especially in sports the NCAA considers to be revenue-producing.

That is the biggest takeaway from a new report released last week by law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (KHF). The NCAA commissioned the firm to conduct an external review after numerous gender disparities were exposed at last spring’s men’s and women’s Division 1 basketball tournaments. Following publication of last week’s report, the NCAA’s Board of Governors released a statement expressing the NCAA’s commitment addressing issues of gender equity across all sports.

KHF’s first report, released in August, focused only on gender inequity in the NCAA’s basketball tournaments. This second report examined the NCAA’s other 84 championships, which are contested across 23 sports and three divisions.

Here are a few of the most significant takeaways. (The full 150-page report can be found here.)

The NCAA spends more money on male student-athletes than female student-athletes

During the 2018-19 season, the NCAA spent an average of $4,285 for each athlete who competed in a men’s Division I or NC (open to all divisions) championship. In comparison, the NCAA spent only $2,588 for women’s tournament participants (a difference of $1,697).

The gap was even greater in the NCAA’s six single gender sports (beach volleyball, bowling, field hockey, football, rowing, and wrestling). In those sports, the NCAA spent an average of $2,229 more on each athlete participating in the men’s championships than the women’s ($5,282 compared to $3,053).

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The NCAA only considers men’s sports to be revenue-producing, but doesn’t have a clear definition of what that means

The only championships that the NCAA considers to be revenue-producing are the men’s championships in baseball, basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling.

This determination has a significant impact on student-athlete experience, and the greatest gender disparities can be found in the sports in which one championship is viewed as having more revenue potential than its gender counterpart (I.e. women’s softball, basketball, ice hockey, and lacrosse).

To put this in perspective, here is how much the NCAA spent on baseball/softball, ice hockey, and lacrosse championships per student-athlete during the 2018-19 season:

Men’s Championship Women’s Championship
Baseball/Softball $9,281 $4,970
Ice Hockey $9,805 $3,421
Lacrosse $4,814 $1,939

Last week’s report also found that, while women’s volleyball and women’s gymnastics bring in more revenue than their male counterparts – and the NCAA thus spends more money to stage the women’s version of those tournaments – the student-athlete spending was far more balanced:

Men’s Championship Women’s Championship
Gymnastics $1,489 $2,050
Volleyball $3,590 $3,970

While KHF found that the NCAA has divided sports into three categories based on their perceived ability to produce revenue, “there appears to be no formal or consistent definition of these categories, and no process or mechanism for either reviewing a championship’s assignment or moving a championship from one category to another,” the report said.

The NCAA isn’t giving women’s sports the same opportunity to generate revenue

Because the disparate budgets play a role in how much is spent on branding, marketing, and promotion, the result is that the women’s tournaments aren’t provided the same chance to produce revenue.

For example, in 2019, the NCAA spent approximately $53,211 on general promotion for the men’s Division I lacrosse tournament compared to $17,396 for the women. The report detailed examples of billboards and TV promotion of the men’s tournament, while the women’s tournament didn’t have any comparable marketing.

The report also explained the way disparate spending impacts the growth potential of the women’s tournaments:

Championships in the earlier stages of growth and development—as are many of the women’s championships—are not considered by the NCAA to be its largest, most revenue-producing championships. Nevertheless, they deserve a fair shot to get there, which they cannot do without sufficient resources.

Even when the dollar figures weren’t as high, there were still discrepancies. For example, in 2019, the NCAA spent $3,586 on signage for the men’s water polo tournament compared to $1,960 for the women’s. “These differences can have a material impact on the student-athlete experience by giving one gender’s championship a more professional and exciting atmosphere than the other’s,” the report said.

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NCAA’s deal with CBS/Turner is partially to blame for gender inequality

Building off findings from the first report, last week’s report explained how the NCAA’s agreement with CBS/Turner encourages – and results in – uneven investment in women’s championships:

Because CBS/Turner controls the sponsorship rights for all 90 championships, but only the broadcast rights for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, it is incentivized to focus its efforts on developing sponsorships for men’s basketball above all other sports.

As a result, there is no system in place to encourage sponsors that might be interested in investing in NCAA championships outside of men’s basketball. And for potential sponsors that have interest in any other championship, the structure of the joint sponsorship is often cost prohibitive.

Broadcast rights for women’s basketball and other NCAA championships are undervalued

While CBS/Turner currently owns broadcast rights for men’s basketball, ESPN owns the rights for 29 other championships (including women’s basketball).

In its first report, KHF commissioned media expert Ed Desser to conduct a valuation of the Division I women’s basketball rights. Desser estimated that, by 2025, the rights of that singular tournament will be worth “between $81 and $112 million… multiples more than ESPN currently pays annually to broadcast 29 championships.”

While Desser did not provide a valuation on the NCAA’s other 28 championships, his findings – and Tuesday’s report – concluded that the NCAA is losing out on substantial and crucial revenue that it could be earning.

The NCAA doesn’t have a system in place to evaluate or ensure gender equity

Nearly fifty years after Title IX was enacted, the NCAA doesn’t currently have the infrastructure necessary “to effectively monitor, assess, and ensure gender equity.” The report continued:

[I]nternal and external efforts to increase gender equity have fallen short because the NCAA does not have the systems in place (and the infrastructure to support them) to ensure transparency and accountability around gender equity.

In its recommendations, KHF suggests the NCAA increase the number of staff with expertise in Title IX and gender equity. 

NCAA decisions impact quality of competition

Tuesday’s report found multiple examples in which the NCAA made decisions that could impact the quality of the competition.

For example, in softball, teams that make it to the finals of the Women’s College World Series had to play nine games in seven days. In comparison, baseball teams played the same number of games, but in 11 days. “The abbreviated schedule for softball required some teams to play doubleheaders, sometimes late into the night, which affected the student-athletes’ health, safety, and performance,” the report said.

In ice hockey, the women’s tournament bracket is assembled with travel cost as a consideration, while the men’s is not. The report explained:

While the top four women’s teams are seeded “1-4 at the time of the selection call,” the remaining four teams will be paired with teams 1-4 according to their relative strength only if “such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided.”

The men’s tournament, by contrast, seeds and pairs teams to maximize “competitive equity, financial success and the likelihood of a playoff-type atmosphere at each regional site.”

Gender disparities decline when men and women compete side-by-side

In sports like track & field and cross country, where the men’s and women’s championships are held in the same days at the same location, there are almost no notable gender disparities.

“[W]e have seen that combining at least some portion of the men’s and women’s championship for a given sport enables more coordinated planning, increases equity in the goods and services, facilities, and resources provided at the championships and eliminates or reduces disparities between the ‘look and feel’ of the tournaments,'” the report said.

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Women’s Golf Day founder Elisa Gaudet continues her mission to provide opportunity and community through golf


Women’s Golf Day – the global initiative designed to engage, empower and support women and girls through golf – is celebrating its eighth anniversary this year, and Tuesday marks the culmination of the week-long celebration with more than 450 events around the world.

Founded in 2016 by Elisa Gaudet, president of strategic consulting and marketing firm Executive Golf International, WGD is a one-day, four-hour event with iterations held nationwide and globally that serves as the perfect introduction to women and girls looking to learn the game as well as build community.

“You don’t have to be a great golfer or a golfer at all — you can just show up,” Gaudet recently told On Her Turf. “You can look on social media and see people all around the world wearing red and white, joining together …on the same day, or the same week, doing the same thing and it literally gives you goosebumps.”

Gaudet noted the event is inclusive of all ages and abilities, and also is intended to transcend race, religion, language, geography or economic status. What’s more, she said she hopes her efforts will enlighten more potential sponsors and members of the golf industry to recognize the potential to not only bring more women to the game, but also keep them engaged in the sport.

“At the end of the day, it’s economics, and I’m hoping that businesses see that women have a lot of economic power,” she noted. “And, you know, we don’t need handouts. We just need opportunity. And that’s one of our main things with Women’s Golf Day: opportunity. Unity and opportunity.”

To that end, Gaudet joined with industry representatives from Acushnet, Titleist and FootJoy, plus LPGA player Danielle Kang and Olympian Leslie Maxie to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on May 31, officially kicking off the 2023 WGD celebration.

“Obviously, it’s a great honor,” she said of being at the NYSE. “But above and beyond, I always say that it’s just showing, ‘Hey, here’s the point.’ Here are women showing everyone what’s possible.”

Since its inception, Women’s Golf Day has taken place in more than 1,000 locations in nearly 80 countries. This year’s event features more than 200 locations in the U.S. including such iconic venues as North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, which has participated in Women’s Golf Day annually since 2016, and Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, which currently hosts a stop on the PGA Tour Champions. Notable international venues include Italy’s Marco Simone Golf and Country Club (site of the 2023 Ryder Cup), and Bonanza Golf Course in Zambia, one of four new countries participating in WGD in 2023.

And while more locations equal more women trying the game, for Gaudet, she hopes the WGD events translate to quality experiences for its participants. Events are a mix of golf – playing, instruction, even retail opportunities – and a social component that may include charitable elements.

“I hope it’s about quality time spent, and experiencing that,” said Gaudet. “I also think it’s about not pushing. You don’t have to play 18 holes. If you only have time for nine, play nine. If you only want to play five times a year, that’s good, too. … At the end of the day, it’s social golf, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do — just make it as fun and inviting as possible.”

What’s the format for Women’s Golf Day?

Women’s Golf Day events are personalized by each host and venue, but events follow two general formats: one for on or at a golf course facility and one for off the course, like at a retail location or driving range.

At golf courses hosting WGD events, participants have the option of either two hours of lessons (one hour on the driving range and one hour focused on short game) or two hours of play (like a nine-hole scramble or stroke play), followed by two hours of socializing. The social part of the day generally includes networking and distribution of information regarding lessons, league play and ways to get involved in golf. Community members and organizations involved with golf are encouraged to contribute, and in some locations, events include speakers, local college or high school women’s golf teams, corporate networking groups and more.

At events away from the golf course, participants can expect up to four hours of basic instruction and lessons along with the same socializing opportunities. Women and girls can rotate through simulators or at the driving range, get products demonstrations and coaching on basics like grip, set up and aim.

What’s new for Women’s Golf Day in 2023?

This year, Women’s Golf Day welcomes four new countries to its campaign: The Gambia, Greece, Peru and Zambia. Also of note, Japan boasts a significant increase in participation for 2023. After hosting just three events in 2022, Japan boasts a whopping 139 WGD events for this year, making it the second biggest participant in Women’s Golf Day behind the United States.

More Women’s Golf Day fun facts

  • The theme of this year’s Women’s Golf Day is “Finding Your Inner Superhero,” which WGD celebrated with an 80-minute digital event on May 31 called WGD Palooza.
  • In 2017, WGD experienced a 68-percent increase in participation from its inaugural year, with events at 711 locations in 46 countries.
  • In 2020, Women’s Golf Day hosted a virtual event during the pandemic closures and raised more than $20,000 for Doctors without Borders. Additionally, organizers gathered a treasure trove of inspirational and educational videos from golfers and industry professionals around the world, which have since been preserved in the WGD Virtual Library.
  • In 2021, Women’s Golf Day founder Elisa Gaudet – along with representatives from along with Callaway and Topgolf — rang the opening bell from the iconic podium at the NYSE for the first time. The event marked the start of WGD’s first online event, “WGD Palooza,” which generated more than 4.2 million impressions for #womensgolfday in less than three hours.
  • In 2022, the hashtag “#womensgolfday” reportedly reached 79.1 million unique users, generating 94 million impressions worldwide, and saw an impressive 501-percent increase in engagement across social channels compared to 2021. The 2022 edition of WGD also included new locations on six continents.

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Li Li Leung talks USA Gymnastics’ cultural transformation, challenges still to come and embracing her AAPI heritage

Head of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung.
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Li Li Leung joined USA Gymnastics as president and CEO in March 2019, when the organization was reeling from the fallout of Larry Nassar’s widespread sexual abuse and the subsequent revelations of larger cultural issues within the sport. Since then, Leung has seen USAG through an ongoing transformation, one that hinges on the work of the survivors and staff around her, whom she is quick to credit. That evolution, as she calls it, has included instituting new norms and standards at all levels of the sport, particularly in matters related to athlete safety.

Among the notable USAG initiatives that Leung has brought to fruition is the Athlete Bill of Rights, established in December 2020 as a tool “to unite the full gymnastics community around a shared vision of behavioral expectations.” At the same time, USAG instituted a protest policy for national team members aimed at supporting athletes who choose to use their voice on public platforms. Both initiatives were among the first of their kind in sport.

Prior to joining USAG, Leung served as a vice president at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where she was responsible for building and managing key partner relationships around the world. She continues to use that experience in her roles as vice chair of the National Governing Bodies Council of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Executive Committee.

Leung, who began competing in gymnastics at age 7, was a member of the U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She was a four-year member of the four-time Big 10 champion University of Michigan gymnastics team and was an NCAA Championships participant.

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, On Her Turf sat down with Leung to talk about her journey with USAG, the challenges still to come and how being a member of the AAPI community has shaped the person she is today.

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This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your journey since joining USA Gymnastics in 2019. What have the last four years been like for you?

Li Li Leung: This was just an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. And I really mean that because I started in the sport when I was 7 years old and did it for 15 years. It’s taught me all of these different skills that I apply to my daily life, both professional and personal. It feels a little bit like I’ve come full circle, and honestly, never in a million years did I think I would find myself in this role. … I joined at a time when it was a tumultuous time for the organization. It’s been just a little a little over four years now, and it has been an incredible journey — and believe it or not, I have enjoyed it. While it hasn’t been easy, I actually have enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to make it not just me. One thing that’s important to note is that — I had even said on my first interview with the board — it will take a village to accomplish what we need to accomplish. This is not a one-person job. And I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a leadership team that has been incredible, and also retain the staff that we have retained, as well as hire other new staff members. And it’s because of them and some really key volunteers that we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.

OHT: Can you talk a little more about this cultural transformation that the organization has experienced and your approach to tackling this all-encompassing change?

Leung: When I was interviewing for the position, I actually met every single board member. It was really critical to both sides that they felt that I matched the role and their needs and also I had to be confident in the board believing in the ultimate mission of the organization and what we wanted to achieve. So that the culture really does stem from the well – from the top down and everything in between as well. And when I was looking for leadership team, … one of the characteristics I was really looking for was they couldn’t have an ego. The job couldn’t be about themselves or about what they would personally get out of the role. It had to be about them believing in the bigger picture and believing in what we collectively wanted to achieve. I knew that we would only be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish if people were willing to roll up their sleeves and just do whatever needed to be done, so that was one of the key things in terms of having no ego.

Since 2018, we’ve turned over more than 70 percent of our staff. We’ve been able to retain the really key members of our staff, who have been critical to our success, but also have been able to really bring in new thinking, new blood, new perspectives. Because the other thing I was looking for when I was hiring for the leadership team was diversity in perspectives. That was critical because I did not want to be surrounded by “yes people.” I wanted to be surrounded by people who would be willing to have really robust conversations and engage in difficult conversations, because ultimately, you end up in a better place because of that.

In 2020, we reset our mission to be about building a community and culture of health, safety and excellence, with athletes who thrive in sport and in life. So we were no longer about developing technically superior gymnasts who perform well in gym. We reset our focus to be about helping set our athletes up for success with the skill sets that you learn in gymnastics, and when we come to the office each day, that’s what we’re thinking about. …

The other piece is we also know from a community standpoint that our national team coaches are the most visible representation (of USAG), and a lot of coaches model them. So we’ve been working really hard in terms of working on educating our national team coaches. We work with Positive Coaching Alliance to do educational training with them as well. And we also have introduced training specifically for young coaches coming in, because we know when they come in and they’re new, that they’re eager to learn, and that’s when you can start training and moving them in a way. So our thinking is with this top-down and bottom-up strategy, eventually the middle will meet.

OHT: You noted how the coaches can be some of the most visible representatives of USAG. Regarding the addition of 2008 Olympic silver medalists Chellsie Memmel (USAG technical lead) and Alicia Sacramone Quinn (USAG strategic lead), how have those women impacted the program?

Leung: The addition of Chellsie and Alicia has been fantastic. They have been phenomenal to work with, and the fact that they have firsthand experience of having gone through it themselves – that also gives them a very good idea of what they would change and what they wouldn’t change, at the same time. It has been a phenomenal addition to be able to have this perspective of firsthand, high-level, high-performing athletes to be able to lead our high-performance team. And the athletes are saying it as well. They’re saying, “We trust them; we feel confident in their decisions; we can relate to them” — all of those things that historically haven’t really happened before.

Then in terms of the athletes who are going to college and coming back to compete with USA Gymnastics – there are so many aspects that I think are great about this. One: It’s showing a lengthened career in a sport that historically has not been very long because it’s so demanding on the body. So that means that our athletes are physically healthier, as well, that they can train and compete at a high level for a longer period of time. It also means that they’re enjoying it more because they’re staying in the sport. From an emotional standpoint, they’re finding a lot more joy in the sport, and they’re talking about it, too. And we love the fact that they’re talking about it. We want them to talk about it, and we want them to have voices and feel open and free about sharing what they’re thinking about. I have to say I’ve been really enjoying seeing almost like — I’m not sure if I can go as far as a new era in the sport maybe — but just this evolution of the sport and the athletes changing in front of my eyes.

OHT: What do you consider now to still be the biggest challenge or obstacle for USAG?

Leung: There are a couple of big initiatives on the list. One is we want to build a training and wellness center where all of our disciplines will train under one roof. This is a long-term project, obviously, but my vision around it is that it will be the heart and hub of gymnastics in America. And while this is where national team athletes will ultimately train to some extent, it is going to be a welcoming place for athletes of all different disciplines and all different levels. We want it to be a place where young athletes can come through and see their role models training. We want this to be a place of education for our community and judges. We want to be able to run clinics there for all different levels. We just want this to be a gathering place of gymnastics and to be able to celebrate the sport there at the same time.

We’re also going to reset our foundation. There’s been the National Gymnastics Foundation, but we are going to reset it and basically be much more proactive on fundraising and development to grow the sport and also to raise more money for athletes in their training.

OHT: Turning to AAPI Heritage Month and being named to the 2023 Gold House A100 List (the A100 is named each May honoring 100 Asian Pacific leaders who made the greatest impact on culture and society over the past year). What did that honor mean to you?

Leung: It was such an incredible honor to be recognized by them, and my fellow honorees — when I read the list, I thought to myself, “I don’t belong.” There are some incredible names on that list. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: I owe this honor to a lot of the other people who work [at USAG]. I think the really important thing to recognize is that this was not done by just me. It was done by a lot of other people who are on staff and who aren’t getting the accolades or the recognition. But it was an incredible experience to be, and I’m very, very touched and honored to be on that list.

OHT: How do you identify within the Asian American Pacific Islander community? Did you embrace your heritage growing up and how has that shaped who you are today?

Leung: So I’ll tell you a story that I’ve mentioned to other people recently. I grew up in a town called Ridgewood in Bergen County, New Jersey, and most of my friends had blond hair and blue eyes. When I was growing up, I wanted the name “Nancy Smith,” and I wanted blue eyes. I wanted to fit in. As a kid, you always want to fit in. Then when you get older and wizen up a little bit, you realize that it’s okay and it’s good to be different, that you can use that to your advantage. And so upon growing up, I realized that it’s pretty special to be Asian American and there are benefits to being Asian American, and you should embrace the fact that you are different. In fact, I recently lectured to a women-in-sports-business class, and one of the questions they asked me was about impostor syndrome. I said the same thing that I’m saying to you now, which is absolutely embrace who you are. Absolutely embrace your differences, because those ultimately are embedded advantages to who you are and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. So that’s my philosophy now.

OHT: Do you or your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Leung: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but in the Chinese culture, food is really important. Food is what brings people together. It’s a sign of respect, and that is the ultimate unifying language in a way. So when we do get together as a family, it’s really important for us to get together around a meal, because that’s when we share our stories. That’s when we connect with one another.

OHT: You might have just answered my next question, but I want to ask: What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

Leung: It’s funny, I was actually at a conference last week and you were supposed to find someone you didn’t know in the conference and share a secret talent that you have. I shared that I can eat a lot more than most people think. Food is a really important part of our culture and in my upbringing and family.

OHT: Lastly, I wanted to ask, as we’ve seen an increase in hate-filled actions toward the AAPI community, what does supporting the AAPI community look like for you?

Leung: Well, I think kind of going back to my other answer, it’s just about embracing who you are and embracing your differences. I think part of it is being unafraid of it at the same time, which I know is really difficult. But if you’re going to truly embrace it, and then you can’t be afraid about embracing it at the same time.

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