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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Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”