NCAA seeks financial rewards for women's teams

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CLEVELAND — NCAA president Charlie Baker said Sunday that he is shooting for unit distribution for the NCAA women’s tournament beginning with the 2024-25 season.

Currently, teams that make the women’s NCAA tournament currently do not earn anything financially, unlike teams that make the men’s NCAA tournament, where units are awarded to conferences for each game played before being distributed to schools. Women’s coaches have been asking for years for that system to change, not only for equity’s sake, but as a way to acknowledge the growth of the game.

Now it is on the verge of happening, thanks in part to a new eight-year contract with ESPN to broadcast 40 NCAA championships — including women’s basketball.

“We just signed a new contract with ESPN and women’s basketball is a big and important part of that deal,” Baker said. “It will also send a huge signal to women’s basketball generally about the fact you play in the tournament, you do well, you will benefit financially as well as in the other ways.”

While nothing has been approved just yet, Baker said the finance committee targeted 2024-25 after the ESPN deal got done.

There remain multiple committees that need to discuss how exactly the units would be distributed and how conferences would be involved. A full Division I membership vote would then be required in January during the NCAA convention.

Going forward with unit distribution would be another nod toward not only the growth but increasing interest. Over recent years, ratings have continued to increase — including the Elite Eight game between UConn and Iowa on Friday, which drew a record 14.2 million viewers. Attendance for the first and second rounds set another record for this year’s tournament.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, for one, has discussed repeatedly over the past several years that women’s basketball has been completely undervalued and wanted to see the sport get its due.

“You look at what the 68 teams are going to divide up, I think I saw $170 million between the 68 teams,” Staley said Saturday during her pregame news conference. “When you start bringing in revenue like that, it will move your campus in a different direction when it comes to women. So we’ve got to fight for that.”

“I know we’re going to get units coming up here pretty soon. That can’t come soon enough,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Saturday. “Why are we waiting to put that in? Let’s do it now. Why wait? I think change has to happen a little bit quicker than what — they want to move.”

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