Equal Pay? Not in the NCAA.

It’s no ~Secret~ that female athletes are underpaid. In fact, the deodorant giant just donated $529,000 to fill the financial gap between the US men’s and women’s soccer teams to prove it.

Last month, Diana Taurasi echoed the sentiment as it pertains to the WNBA, where salaries are maxed out at $117,500.  For reference, the minimum salary requirement in the NBA is $838,464. That’s for a rookie with zero years of professional experience.

There are usually two sets of responses to these numbers. Either something sexist like “Women belong in the kitchen anyway,” “Women’s sports is a joke,” or “There’s a WNBA?” And everyone’s heard all of the stale “sandwich” jokes too.

But you might also say something reasonable like “Well, women’s sports just don’t generate as much money as the men.”

If you go for the latter, you’re right. But what does this have to do with the NCAA? A lot, actually.

 Yes, it’s true that women’s sports don’t generate as much profit as men’s sports. With rare exceptions like women’s vs. men’s gymnastics, you’re absolutely right. But I want to implore you to consider the root cause.

Many people hail Title IX as a savior for women’s sports and while the document has done a lot for female athletes, it falls short of true equity in the NCAA. In fact, the NCAA’s Title IX Frequently Asked Questions page emphasizes that Title IX does NOT guarantee equal funding among programs:

“The only provision that requires that the same dollars be spent proportional to participation is scholarships. Otherwise, male and female student-athletes must receive equitable ‘treatment’ and ‘benefits.’”

The quotation marks aren’t mine. They’re in the original text. So what do “treatment” and “benefits” mean exactly? Certainly not equal funding or equal opportunity.

An NCAA publication entitled “Where are the Women?” notes that just 40 % of women’s athletic programs are actually helmed by women, down from 55% in 1981. Women coaching men is almost unheard of, statistically significant at under one percent.

But here’s where it really gets fun: another report conducted by the NCAA itself indicates that women receive 18% of operating budgets, 30% of competitive opportunities, 41% of scholarship funds, 46% of championship opportunities, and 29% of recruiting dollars. Female head coaches also only earn 25% as much as their male counterparts for an average of over $500,000 in coach salary gaps.

In total, these findings equal out to a $17.2 million spending differential.  

So Title IX doesn’t really do much for women in the NCAA except allow us to play full-court basketball, which wasn’t a thing pre-title IX. Nowhere in the document does Title IX give female athletes the same opportunities as the men.

That’s a problem. There’s no equal playing field in college or professional sports. Women compete on a delayed start line. I like statistics, but you don’t even have to crunch the numbers to see it.

Flip on your TV. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for a women’s college athletic program aired on ESPN? How many more male-centric advertisements do you see? Go to a university bookstore. How many football jerseys do you see? Baseball jerseys? Men’s basketball jerseys? What about jerseys for women’s sports?

How much do you pay for a softball game versus a baseball game at your university of choice? There’s a 40% gap for season ticket deposits here at the University of Texas (softball price here. Baseball price here).

Did you notice that the 2019 men’s basketball championship game was aired at primetime on a weeknight while the women’s championship was aired at 5:30 on a Sunday?

What about the fact that there’s no female equivalent to college football?

We can debate for days about the merit of equal pay and the legitimacy of women’s sports, but one thing is clear: female athletes don’t have a fighting chance against the boys because we’re not marketed the same. It’s a societal problem and it’s another reason repealing amateurism won’t solve half the issues within the NCAA: some images and likenesses are simply less valuable than others.

This is speculation, but I think the NCAA wants to keep it that way to make more room for male athletes to excel. Because they’re more profitable. Because athletic departments want them to be so that’s where the money goes. Do you see the cycle here?

So regardless of where you stand on equal pay or the value of women’s athletics, it’s undeniable that women are competing with a slanted scoreboard. That’s why we’re so passionate about pay gaps. We have to be. It’s not like we get much help from Title IX or the organizations that champion it.   


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