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NCAA tournament units mean payouts for men’s teams only. This will change soon.


It seems that women’s basketball is no longer just have a moment. The sport arrived and then established itself in the American sporting psyche.

Monday night, Iowa vs. LSU attracted an average of 12.3 million viewersaccording to ESPN, making the Elite Eight game the most-watched women’s game on record. Caitlin Clark It was the rising tide that lifted all boats. Paige Bueckers And Angel Reese are also household names, and JuJu Watkins is on the way. As of now, despite much progress, schools still receive no dollars for their women’s teams participating and advancing in the NCAA tournament.

The situation is entirely different on the men’s side, where “units” are awarded to conferences for each game played, then distributed to member schools. Through the unit program, the men’s Final Four teams – Connecticut, Purdue, Alabama and North Carolina State – have already earned approximately $10 million each for their conferences, which will be paid out over the next six years (starting in 2025).

What did South Carolina, Iowa, Connecticut and NC State gain for their conferences and themselves by competing in the Women’s Final Four in Cleveland? Nothing.

But with the NCAA new TV deal with ESPN, units are expected to arrive in women’s basketball in the near future, perhaps by next year’s tournament. NCAA President Charlie Baker said so. The media deal, signed in January, is for eight years and worth $920 million, including women’s basketball and a list of non-profit sports. Women’s basketball is valued at $65 million per tournament, about 10 times more than the contract that ends this year.

“It’s not a question of if. I think that’s when,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday. “To me it shows the maturation of an incredible game and the growth we have all benefited from. Now how to execute it? Where do the dollars come from? How do you assess the value of units, et cetera? Having these kinds of conversations reflects the elevation of women’s sports.

“But this must be the beginning of these talks, not the end. There’s a lot more to sort out.

A vague roadmap for potential implementation, according to an NCAA spokeswoman: The NCAA Finance Committee is working on models for a women’s tournament unit program. Some key questions, among others, are when it would start, what the value of each unit would be and how and when they would be paid for. For example, the NCAA could decide to begin payments the same year the units are earned (rather than waiting a year like on the men’s side).

Later this month, after the tournaments are completed, the finance committee is expected to meet with the women’s basketball oversight committee and the Division I women’s basketball committee, which manages the tournament. NCAA officials also appeal to conference commissioners because conferences would control payments. This will be a frequent topic of conversation in Cleveland. That would allow the finance committee to finalize a proposal by August.

After that, because it concerns revenue distribution, it would require a full vote of Division I members at the NCAA conference in January. And if the vote is positive, units could be proposed to participate in the 2025 tournament.

“Give us the units. Why shouldn’t we have the units, right? USC women’s coach Lindsay Gottlieb said at the tournament site in Portland, Ore., last weekend. “Direct investment – ​​people love money. They like the return on investment. People are starting to understand that women’s basketball is not only a value proposition, although it’s great theater and great entertainment, but there’s also a monetary aspect to it.

In any conversation about women’s basketball units, it’s important to understand how they work for the men. The NCAA pays out 132 units per men’s tournament, one for each game a team plays. This means that each team that participates in the tournament earns one unit for its conference. So far, the Connecticut, Purdue, Alabama and NC State men’s teams have earned units for reaching the Round of 32, Round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Oven.

Last year, the SEC led the pack with 17 units. Units are then paid out over the next six years, meaning this year conferences earn on units from 2018 through 2023 (excluding 2020 as the tournament was canceled due to the corona virus pandemic).

During this five-year period, ACC led with 83 units, amounting to $28.4 million in payments. Each unit in the current tournament is expected to be worth just under $2 million. They will be split between 2025 and 2030. Most conferences, like the ACC, split the money evenly among all teams. But there are exceptions. Gonzaga, for example, makes more money per unit than other West Coast Conference schools. This was negotiated when Gonzaga threatened to leave for the Mountain West in 2018.

Yes, the details go into a bit of detail. But the takeaway is that schools clearly have a financial incentive for their teams to excel in the men’s tournament. Adding that to the women’s side should lead to even greater investment in a growing sport.

“There has to be a correlation,” Phillips said. “When the result is more resources for your institution and your athletic department, it wouldn’t make sense. »

“I’ve joked about it, but it would be fun to do the math on how many times we’ve been to the tournament and how far we’ve come,” said Stanford coach and all-time NCAA leader Tara VanDerveer. . . “If, in fact, this was a program, how much would it have benefited Stanford? »

It’s been three years since Sedona Prince, then an Oregon player, posted a viral video which exposed the inequalities between the configurations of the men’s and women’s tournaments. In Portland last weekend, VanDerveer pointed out that with such rapid growth, “we haven’t necessarily kept up with every change.” The coaches were frustrated with having eight teams spread across two regional sites, preferring to have four in four different cities.

There was one number of missteps over the past month. Progress is rarely linear (or a three-point perfect arc).

Bernadette McGlade, commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference, has been fighting for women’s basketball for decades. She is of course in favor of women’s tournament units. But she also wants the NCAA to split the Final Fours into two different weekends, giving sponsors and fans the opportunity to fully indulge in each. Others have advocated combining the Final Fours at the same site in the same week. Perhaps this is where the discussion will take place next.

“The units have been overdue for a very long time,” McGlade said. “But it’s not enough to add units.”


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