A highly anticipated external review has found that the NCAA has treated women's games unfairly, both undervaluing and underfunding them for years.
Led by New York law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, the report recommends reforms to the NCAA's basketball programs. It calls for a combined Final Four tournament and changes to the organization's leadership structure, media contracts, and revenue calculations.
The review was prompted in March, when the NCAA came under fire after a video of the minimal equipment in the women's weight room at the organization's championships was posted by University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince. The video, which immediately gained traction on TikTok, showed that the NCAA did not provide the women's Division I basketball teams the lavish amenities that it did for the men's tournaments. The NCAA commissioned the review shortly afterward.
Now, the 113-page report has found evidence of "systemic gender inequity issues" at the NCAA.
"With respect to women's basketball, the NCAA has not lived up to its stated commitment to 'diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators,' " the report states.
The report describes the undervaluing of women's teams as "perpetuating a mistaken narrative that women's basketball is destined to be a 'money loser' year after year. Nothing could be further from the truth."
It notes increasing television audiences and female players' "huge followings on social media," and says the NCAA could negotiate far higher fees for coverage of the women's games.
The report found numerous instances of gender inequity in the NCAA's treatment of women's teams, including providing women's teams less effective COVID-19 tests and poor quality food while also seeking corporate food sponsorships with Wendy's, Pizza Hut, and Buffalo Wild Wings to feed men's tournament players.
The NCAA spent $2.4 million on signage for the men's tournament, but only $783,000 on signage for the women's tournament, adding to the list of things that make the two events' "very different in their look and feel," the report says. The organization repeatedly denied women's tournament organizers the use of the March Madness trademark on any promotional materials.
After the disparities at the women's tournament were exposed this spring, the NCAA apologized but also pointed out that the women's game generated less money than the men's. However, the review found the NCAA had "skewed" the calculations the organization had published in a fact sheet claiming women's basketball lost them money.
The external review found that systemic disparities are partly due to the root financial deal for the NCAA and its member schools, which according to the report, is "designed to maximize the value of and support to the Division I Men's Basketball Championship as the primary source of funding for the NCAA and its membership."
A statement by the NCAA Board of Governors said the organization is "wholly committed to an equitable experience among its championships."
"We know that has not always been the case and the instance of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship is an important impetus for us to improve our championship experience so it is not repeated," the statement reads. "This report provides useful guidance to improve our championships."
The statement added that the board had directed the NCAA president to "act urgently to address any organizational issues" and called on him to begin work this week to outline the NCAA's next steps.
Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.