NCAA basketball won’t have ‘true equity’ until women’s teams get paid like the men

March Madness
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(AP) — The phrase “March Madness” is everywhere this women’s NCAA Tournament.

On scoreboards in place of team names during practices. Scrolling on video ribbon boards. On banners inside the arenas. On the courts themselves with a bit of TV magic through the first two rounds. On hats given to both women and men with swag boxes that are equal for both men’s and women’s players this spring after an uproar at the tourney a year ago.

MARCH MADNESS: 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Schedule, Bracket and Scores

It’s a start. It’s also not enough for the coaches and players — and presumably the NCAA. Growing women’s basketball is more than logos, gifts and an equal number of teams, now 68 for both for the first time. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has an idea the NCAA can implement immediately to really help women close the gap with the men.

“The units,” Staley explained, meaning money. “Like men’s basketball, they get units, and those units equal dollar signs. I would like for us to divvy it up like the 68 teams get (their money) divvied up once the tournament ends.”

Men’s conferences get a unit valued this year at $338,210.96 for each NCAA Tournament game one of their teams plays. The money goes to each team’s conference paid out over six years with a true value around $2.03 million. That means the Big Ten will get more than $18 million thanks to having nine teams in this tournament field.

Stanford, the women’s national champion in 2021, got no money for making the tournament field. None of the 68 teams this season will either.

Sending money to the women’s programs is something that has to go through a handful of committees for the NCAA to make that happen.

It’s easier to pay the men thanks to the NCAA’s deal with CBS and Turner’s contract. The original contract averaged $770 million per year with an extension in 2016 jumping that per-year average to $1.1 billion in 2025.

“Now, it’s not going be what the men’s side is,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of revenue sharing, should it happen. “Just something would be impressive.”

The women’s tournament currently is bundled with other women’s championships for TV rights. The current contract with ESPN is up in 2024. ESPN is giving each game in this tournament its own window on one of its channels with four games on ABC for a second straight year.

Belmont coach Bart Brooks noted his 12th-seeded Bruins’ double-overtime upset of Oregon was on national television available to everyone rather than being limited to a regional market as it would’ve been in previous tournaments.

“That was huge, that little girls who have never heard of Belmont maybe say, ‘Hey, that’s a pretty cool little basketball team they have, maybe I’ll look into that school,’” Brooks said. “I think that’s just good for the game, to have that exposure.”

All the changes at this tournament came after 2021 social media posts, most notably that of Oregon forward Sedona Prince, exposed some of the glaring inequities between the men and women. A law firm hired to review gender equity issues at NCAA championship events outlined the differences in a blistering report last summer.

In a letter sent just before this year’s tournament, three congresswomen called out NCAA President Mark Emmert for not shaking up the basketball management structure, including adding a business officer to deal with TV networks and marketing for all championships.

Utah coach Lynn Roberts said she thinks the NCAA is working hard to fix some of the optics with “a long ways to go” systematically. Roberts said the real money comes from media deals and advertising.

“If we are talking about true equity, the resources need to be the same,” Roberts said.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves joked that he threatened to make Prince run after sitting through a 45-minute Zoom call after the bracket announcement detailing the changes to improve equity for this year’s women’s tournament. Turning serious, Graves said the changes were long overdue and he was proud his Ducks feel they can speak up.

“That being said, we still can’t rest,” Graves said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”

For years, Graves has been among those wanting to move from campus sites hosting the first and second round games to neutral sites, which is what the men’s tournament does. The NCAA will use a neutral site for the women’s First Four next year; this year’s inaugural version was played at four different locations that all then hosted early-round games at host schools in the field.

“Whether that’s 16 teams at one site in the first and second rounds, whatever the format, I just think our game is growing,” Graves said. “Our game is really, really strong right now.”

The women’s tournament set an an attendance record of 216,890 through the first two rounds. The home-court advantages didn’t help that much: Eight double-digit seeds won, tying 2018 for the most ever through two rounds. Four top-four seeds lost at home by double digits for the first time.

“I don’t know if we’re totally ready for that entirely yet, but I think getting more games on TV and having these upsets are showing the quality of play,” North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said after her Tar Heels routed Arizona in Tucson on Monday night.

The NCAA selection committee has had not yet discussed moving first- and second-round games to neutral sites. That topic will be talked about after the April 3 championship game in Minneapolis.

“We have to continue to grow attendance and there needs to be more research done,” Women’s Basketball Coaches Association president Cori Close said.

For the players and coaches, the constant March Madness logos made home arenas actually feel like the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think we want the exact same thing,” said Arkansas guard Makayla Daniels. “I think we want it to be catered to us. That’s how it should be. It should be different but fit the needs of male athletes and female athletes.”

Truly measuring how the NCAA fixes gender inequities will be something to watch over the next few years.

“Let’s just continue to lift our tournament up, and hopefully we’ll find ourselves in a revenue-producing tournament,” Staley said.

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)


  • 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.”