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| Nov 04, 2021

The NCAA’s Gender Equity Report … Here’s An Idea

By Marc Riccio | Photo by John Strohsacker

With the post of a short video, University of Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Prince put in full view what so many others knew: there is gender disparity in how the NCAA was funding the men’s and women’s division I basketball tournaments. The now well-documented video illustrated the stark differences. 

That put in motion an independent multiphase assessment conducted by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (“KHF”). The independent review, commissioned by the NCAA, studied how the NCAA ran its basketball and other championship tournaments. Lacrosse is a revenue-generating sport and was one of the sports KHF reviewed. 

Some of the relevant lacrosse findings include:

  • The NCAA spent almost $3,000 more per participant in the NCAA Division I men’s championships ($4,814) than the NCAA Division I women’s championships ($1,939) in 2019
  • The NCAA spends three times more for marketing, branding and promotion for the men’s championship ($53,211) than the women’s championship ($17,356) annually
  • A major difference between the two championships is the tournament structure and championship venues. The men’s championship culminates with a three-day weekend featuring the Division I, II and III championships, generally played in an NFL-sized stadium. The women’s championships for each level are split with the Division I final played in smaller college campus stadiums

There was a great deal of outrage and frustration when this report was released. All justified. I am mission focused, and I’m commercially minded. And that is where my solution points.  Equaling the gender inequity in the NCAA championships is the right thing to do – we know that. But to achieve sustained change, we must build a sustainable commercial model.

Commercially speaking, to grow any enterprise value, you must maximize market opportunity. To achieve this, lacrosse must, in part (1) Grow our addressable audience and (2) Create large lacrosse moments that elevate brand, revenue, and mission. The NCAA championship provides this opportunity and has tremendous upside. 

Lacrosse must maximize, and not splinter, its fan base whenever possible. What if lacrosse held its championship every year with all genders and all divisions – in the same location? A multi-year commitment to one location would allow that host city and sponsoring organizations to invest in facilities. Better facilities and host city support results in easier practice schedules and housing. This results in a better player/coach experience, and enhanced year-over-year fan experience. 

Under this model, media partners can manage costs and invest in infrastructure to produce first-class production and monetization models; sponsors can budget and market with more predictability to a wider audience in one location; the pro leagues (Athletes Unlimited, Premier Lacrosse League and National Lacrosse League) can engage current and new fan bases more efficiently and; USA Lacrosse can develop player, coach, and officials programming around a tentpole week of boys’, girls’, men’s, and women’s lacrosse.

This model brings our audience and event seekers to one location. It creates consumer value and scale; scale drives revenue; revenue drives growth and reinvestment. Rising tides raise all boats. 

As you visualize this event don’t define it under the current models. If we could start over, what would it look like? This lacrosse celebration can be done over more than three days to ensure the women’s and men’s players get proper practice schedules and equitable game times. The fan bases can come for a day or stay for the week’s events, depending on preference. 

What if a mixed gender pro league team played a mixed gender USA Lacrosse national team in an exhibition or skills contest? There are a lot of fun possibilities. Regardless, the major costs are consolidated, as are the major revenue opportunities, making for a smarter commercial model.

For some, change is hard. However, going through the pandemic has taught us all the rules can change if we want them to. To get different outcomes, we must take different actions. I’m confident college administrators, coaches and the NCAA ultimately do want the best, equitable experience for ALL student athletes. On behalf of USA Lacrosse’s nearly 400,000 members, donors, and corporate partners, we will work with these leaders, and other important lacrosse stakeholders, to continue advocating and executing equal opportunity in this great game.

Marc Riccio is the CEO of USA Lacrosse