Monday, June 24, 2024

Women winning in front of no one: Students say female NCAA athletes 'underappreciated'

March 17, 2023
Photo Illustration, photos by Jonah Brown
Photo Illustration, photos by Jonah Brown

The NCAA announced that the women’s Division I tournament was allowed to use the term “March Madness” in their title in 2022, . The iconic phrase has been a part of the men’s tournament since 1982.

This same year, the NCAA expanded the women’s March Madness to 68 teams competing in the tournament. The men’s was expanded to 68 teams in 2011.

There has long been discourse surrounding how female collegiate athletes are treated compared to their male counterparts. Some students believe there is still a long way to go to make the NCAA more equitable for women. 

Elementary education sophomore Tristyn Guerrero said the injustice that women face in the sports industry is absurd and is clear to see from an outside perspective.

The ways that men are treated compared to women within sports, especially collegiate basketball, “shows the history of how women have been treated," Guerrero said.

“Overall, women in sports are treated completely differently,” Guerrero said. “They get less attention … they get fewer resources.”

Investigators found that, for a 2021 men's tournament, the NCAA spent $125.55 per player in the first two rounds, whereas for the women’s tournament, the organization spent $60.42 per player, according to a report by The New York Times. The money they spent included signage and decor items, such as banners and posters.

Human biology sophomore Andy Kuo, who played competitive basketball until high school and has consistently watched college basketball for years, believes that the NCAA shows favoritism to men, especially when it comes to the March Madness tournament. 

“I think that men get a lot of favoritism when it comes to watching and promoting the sports,” Kuo said. “The (MSU) women’s team is fantastic, and they are underappreciated all the time. They do not get a fair chance at the same advertisement and promotions that our men’s team does.”

The Kaplan Report, an assessment that the NCAA created, was constructed to track the gender disparities between the men’s and women’s tournaments. The budget for the 2019 March Madness tournament was one aspect of the report. The NCAA spent $28 million on the men’s tournament, while it budgeted $14.5 million for the women. The budget included advertisements, promotions, games and more.

Early education freshman Hayden Braun said she sees the NCAA is corrupt in the ways that they “scam” women, saying that the NCAA cares more about the men’s tournament because men “get more viewership”. 

“It’s been a problem for a while, but I don’t think it’s a problem that has been highlighted until recently,” Braun said. “In the world of NCAA, they’re going to get the money any way they can.”

The report concluded that “the NCAA’s organizational structure and culture prioritizes men’s basketball, contributing to gender inequity.” But other ethical questions have been raised about how inequity is created for female athletes. 

The NCAA has a revenue distribution for men, called the “Basketball Fund,” according to the Kaplan Report. The fund, in simple terms, gives colleges and universities more revenue if they go farther in the tournament. However, there is no similar fund for women. 

The men’s tournament is broadcasted through CBS Broadcasting and Turner Broadcasting, whereas ESPN broadcasts the women’s tournament. CBS and Turner supports all 90 NCAA championships and markets and sells the NCAA’s corporate sponsor program. 

On the other hand, ESPN broadcasts 29 championship games. CBS and Turner control the sponsorship rights for all NCAA championships but incentivize men’s basketball. CBS and Turner deprive women of sponsorships, which leads to less revenue.

CBS and Turner operate the March Madness Live app, which only includes updates about men’s games. The way that the NCAA has allowed this bias is “completely unfair,” Guerrero said. 

Guerrero said that when women are treated equally to men in sports, it makes women feel more “empowered and valued in sports.” She also said that people, especially college students, have to “start shifting our attention” to female athletes more. 

Kuo said giving more attention to the women’s teams is necessary, since the women’s teams, in basketball and in other sports, are just as good, or even better, than the men’s team of the same sport, but do not get the recognition that they deserve.

“We’re not taking for granted how great the women’s basketball players are just for how good they are themselves, instead of just comparing them to the men or comparing them to the best of the best,” Kuo said. 

Kuo also believes the NCAA does not support the women’s teams as much as they need to, and that needs to change soon.

“Women’s basketball is almost treated as a charity instead of an organization,” Kuo said. “You would never hear the phrase ‘We need to support men’s basketball or support men’s football,’ but we do hear the phrase ‘we need to support the WNBA or women’s college basketball,’ which is totally the incorrect mindset and way of looking at it.”

An article by Sports Illustrated reveals that the NCAA potentially left tens of millions of dollars on the table by neglecting to recognize the earning power of the women’s tournament. The Kaplan Report also said that ESPN, which broadcasts the women’s games, does not allow for much free time during women’s games, such as pregame and postgame features and interviews.

Kuo and Guerrero agree that a simple way for MSU students to help gain support for the women’s team is to show up to the game, which is free for students. Kuo said this support would cause a drastic change.

Braun has a few solutions that he thinks may solve the problem of the favoritism between the men’s and women’s basketball teams: lowering ticket prices, playing more games on TV and not overlapping the March Madness games so that it is easier to watch both tournaments. He thinks that if the NCAA does this, there will be progress. 

“I think it’s something that is (going) in the right direction,” Braun said. “We just have to keep working towards the improvement.”

Last year, the Women’s March Madness Final Four was the most-watched Final Four weekend since 2012 for the women’s tournament, with 3.46 million viewers. In addition, the 2022 Women’s March Madness Finals was the most-watched finals for women’s college basketball since 2004, with 4.85 million viewers on the ESPN networks.

In the last few years, women’s basketball has had more recognition, but some students believe more change is still necessary for female athletes to be treated equally.


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