Congresswomen to NCAA: Gender equity progress has been 'lackluster' and 'inadequate'

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Three congresswomen wrote to the NCAA on Monday urging president Mark Emmert and his organization to address persistent structural inequities between their treatment of men's and women's sports.

In a letter released Tuesday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and two colleagues called the NCAA's progress since last year's gender equity reckoning "inadequate."

In response to blatant disparities between its men's and women's basketball tournaments, the NCAA commissioned a third-party investigation that ultimately exposed its underinvestment in women's hoops. In a scathing 118-page report, the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink detailed how the NCAA’s “structure and systems … prioritize Division I men’s basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize, and perpetuate gender inequities.”

The report included dozens of recommendations for how the NCAA could rectify those inequities. In their Monday letter, the congresswomen acknowledged that the "NCAA has taken some short-term steps to avoid repeating the public relations catastrophe" of last March. But they wrote that the NCAA has "failed to take meaningful steps to correct deficiencies identified" by the Kaplan report and by the congresswomen last summer.

Almost immediately after the report was presented in early August, the NCAA established a “gender equity steering committee” to lead an internal review. The Kaplan report revealed a $35.2 million gulf between men's and women's tournament budgets. Beginning in November, NCAA staff essentially stripped those budgets down to zero and rebuilt them from scratch.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said that multiple departments compiled 2,800 budget line items and identified 65 “gap areas” between the two tournaments. In recent months, staffers worked to correct those discrepancies. According to an NCAA spokeswoman, “more than 50” gaps have since been closed “with new funding. At least a dozen others were addressed with non-monetary changes.”

Two sources briefed on the changes told Yahoo Sports that the women's tournament budget has increased by $5 million. Among the changes, various NCAA officials have said, will be increased signage, more player lounges and Final Four festivities open to the public on the Saturday between the semifinals and final. There will be enhanced team intros and in-arena video boards and news conference transcripts after every game. Awards and gifts will be on par with the men’s. Inequality in referee pay will be rectified.

The NCAA also adhered to some specific Kaplan recommendations: It expanded the women's tournament to 68 teams, and allowed the women to use "March Madness" branding after withholding the signature mark for years.

Progress in other areas has lagged. The congresswomen — Maloney, Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) and Mikie Sherrill (D., N.J.) — noted that the "NCAA appears to have made no progress toward changing the leadership structure of Division I basketball to ensure that women’s basketball leadership has the same level of seniority as men’s basketball leadership." An NCAA spokeswoman confirmed to Yahoo Sports last week that Lynn Holzman, the vice president of women's basketball, still reports to Gavitt, who oversees men's hoops and reports directly to Emmert.

The congresswomen also wrote that the NCAA "has been notably slow to commit to or implement recommendations that will ensure structural, long-term changes to advance gender equity."

Decisions on some potential changes — such as a revamped revenue distribution scheme that would reward women's basketball success, not just men's success — rest not with the NCAA's central staff, but with committees that comprise administrators at various Division I schools and conferences. Others, though, can be made by Emmert at the national office.

The NCAA has published "Gender Equity Updates" on its website since October. The congresswomen argued that the "webpage is not comprehensive and provides too few details to allow for a meaningful understanding of [the] NCAA’s progress toward each recommendation."

These deficiencies, the congresswomen wrote, "rais[e] doubts about your commitment to gender equity in college athletics."

In response to the letter, the NCAA said in a statement: "The shortcomings at the women’s basketball tournament last year have been well documented and extensively covered. Although our work is not done, we are focused on the many improvements made since then that provide students across all our championships with a lifelong memorable experience."

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