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This Proposed NCAA Policy Could be a Game-changer for Women’s College Basketball

The NCAA Division I Transformation Committee has recommended rewarding schools for their success in the women’s NCAA Tournament. Here’s what that means.

If you want to set College Basketball Twitter ablaze, propose expanding the NCAA Tournament. Then, just sit back and watch the world burn.

When the NCAA released its Transformation Committee Report on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened. One of its recommendations was to expand access to Division I championships to 25% of membership — in men’s and women’s basketball, that would mean a 90-team NCAA Tournament.

No one in their right mind wants that, and folks spent plenty of time hooting and hollering about it yesterday just to make sure you know that in all caps.

But amid that hooting and hollering, maybe the most intriguing point from the report was almost entirely overlooked.

On page 15, one bullet point could transform how NCAA institutions view women’s basketball — and, perhaps, Olympic sports on the men’s and women’s sides. The committee is urging the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors to:

Refine the Division I revenue distribution program to reflect contemporary Division I values and account for athletic performance in more sports than men’s basketball. When redesigning the program, consider: (a) gender equity; (b) implementation timeline; and (c) commitment to broad-based sports sponsorship.

What is the Division I Revenue Distribution Program?

For the purposes of this report, the Transformation Committee is referring to the NCAA’s Basketball Performance Fund, which doles out money to conferences based on how its teams perform in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Boardroom broke down the numbers behind the fund earlier this year.

Here’s the quick version:

  • The NCAA’s March Madness broadcast and streaming deal with Turner Sports brings in $1.1 billion per year.
  • A fraction of that is given back to each Division I conference through two funds: the Equal Conference Fund, which distributes its money equally to each league, and the Basketball Performance Fund, which is based on how many tournament games conference members play in.
  • In 2022, the total amount in the Basketball Performance Fund was $169,443,000. That was broken into equal-sized distribution units, and handed out based on the success of conference’s members over a rolling six-year period; conferences then awarded the units to their teams.

Such a program incentivizes schools to prioritize men’s basketball — the more games you win in March, the more money you receive. For now, such a program does not exist in women’s basketball.

According to the report, that could soon change.

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What Could This Program Look Like in Women’s Basketball?

We don’t know for sure, mainly because (through the NCAA’s own failing) we don’t know what the women’s NCAA Tournament is worth in real terms. The NCAA is nearing the end of a $500 million deal with ESPN to broadcast dozens of its championships, with the women’s tournament lumped in with other sports like track and field, bowling, and fencing, as well as international rights to the men’s NCAA Tournament.

In doing so, the NCAA cheated itself out of millions of dollars per year that it could have made simply by packaging the women’s tournament separately for prospective media partners.

This current deal will expire in 2024, and it’s expected that the NCAA will shop the women’s tournament on its own after that.

While we don’t know for sure how much the NCAA can make off the women’s tournament, the famed Kaplan Report found that it could be worth between $81 and $112 million per year — and that estimate came over a year ago, noticeably before the 2022 tournament shattered ratings marks from the year before.

The Kaplan Report outlined exactly how that revenue could be distributed, too. It suggests phasing women’s basketball into the overall Basketball Performance Fund over the course of 10 years. To start, 95% of the money from the fund would be awarded based on men’s basketball success, compared to just 5% for success in the women’s tournament. That gap would then close by 5% each year until achieving a 50/50 split in year 10.

This is going to increase the total pot in the basketball fund, but decrease the value of an individual unit, as there will be twice as many to hand out. This should incentivize schools to invest in both men’s and women’s basketball in order to maximize their overall revenue haul.

The Impact

This probably won’t affect what schools do too much on the Power Five level. Some quick math shows that schools in the SEC, for example, made almost $1.5 million each last year in NCAA Tournament distributions; they also took home $55 million each in media rights money. A couple extra hundred thousand based on women’s tournament performance isn’t going to make or break the Florida Gators.

Thankfully, however, most SEC schools invest heavily in women’s basketball as it is.

This could mean everything, however, in a conference like the Atlantic 10 — traditionally solid in men’s basketball, lacking in women’s basketball, and without a robust media rights deal to hold them up. Over the past six years (including the canceled 2020 tournament), the A-10 has accrued 16 distribution units for men’s basketball, meaning that this year, each A-10 school will receive a little over $310,000 from the Basketball Performance and Equal Conference funds. Meanwhile, the A-10 would have only earned six units over five tournaments in women’s basketball, had the proposed policy been in effect.

There’s no need to speculate how much money the A-10 stands to lose if it does not improve its women’s basketball product — the Kaplan report lays it out. Assuming the same level of success in both tournaments, the Atlantic 10 would earn $2.8 million less per year if the men’s and women’s units are doled out equally.

This is how you’re going to get schools that are lagging behind to invest in women’s basketball.

This is how you continue to grow the game.

Click here to read the full NCAA Transformation Committee report released on Jan. 3, 2023.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.