Even if this year’s Huskies win the tournament, the N.C.A.A. will pretty much ignore them, too. Certainly it will neglect them financially. Over at the men’s tournament, the N.C.A.A. pays for success: Each game a team plays (not including the championship) earns the team’s conference roughly $260,000 this year plus $260,000 each of the five following years. So the total value of a victory in the men’s tournament is approximately $1.56 million. By contrast, a win in the women’s tournament brings a reward of exactly zero dollars. That’s right, zero dollars.
That sends a strong signal that the women’s tournament is less significant and less worthy than the men’s, and it’s a policy that perpetuates a historical pattern of discrimination against women in institutions of higher education. The N.C.A.A. needs to start rewarding women for their victories.
The federal law Title IX requires equal opportunity for each gender in activities (including athletics) sponsored by institutions of higher education that receive federal funding. But the N.C.A.A., a nonprofit that makes its money from selling television rights, tickets and corporate sponsorships, does not get federal funding and is not considered by the courts to be a state actor. It does not have to follow the rules of Title IX.
And it doesn’t. The N.C.A.A. used to seriously encourage the compliance of member schools with Title IX and other regulations through a certification process every 10 years — a collaborative effort that involved faculty, students and administrators. But in 2011, an N.C.A.A. board put a moratorium on that certification process. Though the N.C.A.A. has devised a superficial substitute, there are now no adequate gender-equity compliance reviews in college sports.
The N.C.A.A. also doesn’t protest when its member schools engage in the counting chicanery — unfortunately permissible under federal guidelines — that overstates their numbers of female athletes. Male basketball players who practice with a women’s team can be counted as female athletes. Women who run track can be counted as members of three teams: indoor track, outdoor track and cross-country. Female rowing teams sometimes list as many as 100 members, a preposterously high number that is obviously arranged as a Title IX “offset” to the average squad size of 120 men on Division I football teams.
The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is charged with enforcing Title IX, but it doesn’t have enough resources to fully address all the complaints that come in about specific programs, let alone undertake its own compliance reviews of university athletic departments. Without either the N.C.A.A. or the Office for Civil Rights applying adequate pressure, gender equity has lagged in intercollegiate athletics. Last year 57 percent of all college students were female, yet only slightly more than 40 percent of college athletes were women. Over the past decade the number of male athletes in college has increased by 53,317, while the number of female athletes increased by only 44,474.
The N.C.A.A.’s policy of providing no financial reward for victories in the women’s basketball tournament is emblematic of another problem: Athletic administrators and overseers treat college sports like a commercial venture. If men bring in the money, the thinking goes, then men should get the money. (Well, some men — the coaches, conference commissioners and athletic directors, but certainly not the players themselves.)
This reasoning is faulty on two levels. First, the men’s tournament may have higher ratings and sell more expensive tickets, but the women’s tournament is also a moneymaker: It is broadcast by ESPN and sells out many games. Even by conventional commercial standards, the men shouldn’t get $1.56 million per victory while the women get nothing.
Second, college sports are not supposed to be treated as purely commercial activities. The N.C.A.A. constitution considers college sport an amateur activity with redeeming physical, social and educational value. There is no clause in Title IX that says “except if one gender generates more revenue than the other.”
College sports benefits from preferential fiscal treatment in a variety of forms: no taxes on revenues generated by men’s basketball and football, deductibility for individual donations that are required to buy good seats, exemption on interest payments for bonds to pay for stadiums and arenas, no requirement for player payroll taxes or unemployment insurance and so on. College sports programs also receive millions of dollars of subsidies from state governments annually.
If intercollegiate athletics, under the auspices of the N.C.A.A., wants to continue to receive such preferential treatment, it has to adhere to the educational goals that it purports to represent. This means equal treatment of men and women in all aspects of the educational experience — including granting financial rewards for their March Madness victories. Go UConn!