If it’s not one media contract disappointing parts of the college sports fan base, it’s likely another. Many advocates for women’s sports hoped the next deal would spin at least women’s basketball and softball out from the umbrella deal that includes all championship events except the College Football Playoffs, the men’s basketball tournament, and the men’s and women’s golf championships. On Thursday, ESPN and the NCAA announced a new eight-year deal that once again keeps the bigger women’s sports bundled with a total of 40 championship events.
Student-Athletes Take Center Stage!— NCAA (@NCAA) January 4, 2024
NCAA & @ESPN join forces for an 8-year media rights deal, covering 40 championships in 19 men's & 21 women's sports, plus expanded focus on @ncaadii & @ncaadiii championships!https://t.co/lT5qjHYdvj pic.twitter.com/ZdN1FC40BL
The deal is for $115 million per year. While the contract is for eight years instead of 14 like the previous deal, it is for longer than some expected. Most important, though, instead of giving the marquee women’s sports separate contracts that might allow shares to be paid out to the schools as is done in men’s basketball, the issue of money distribution for women’s basketball will be “explored” in the future according to the NCAA press release. No mention of similar exploration for softball or other sports was made.
In 2021, the NCAA’s own gender equity report stated that the bundling of the championships could be hindering the growth of the women’s sports, especially women’s basketball. Others have mentioned the same danger for softball and baseball, arguing that both have the potential to be real revenue sports. At the time the report was issued, the Pac-12 leadership agreed.
“With maybe one exception, we agree wholeheartedly with every one of the recommendations,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said at the 2021 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “We love the fact that March Madness now applies to both the women and the men. We really like the idea of there being a structure within the NCAA so that the two groups that are working on the men’s and the women’s tournament are sitting together, not apart. We like the idea of separating out [the women’s basketball tournament] and selling [it] separately and not bundling with all of the other sports...because I think women’s basketball is maybe the biggest growth sport in collegiate athletics right now and deserves that prominence.”
Kliavkoff reiterated that the women’s basketball tournament, in particular, should not be bundled with the rest of the sports at the 2022 Pac-12 Women’s Tournament.
Just two seasons later and facing the end of the league, former Oregon administrator and Pac-12 official Lisa Peterson was one of the officials being used to sell the new deal.
The NCAA trumpets the additional focus being given to Division II and Division III sports in the new deal. It is also added even more sports to the bundle, including men’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s tennis. Women’s basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball are promised that their final championship event will be aired on ABC instead of ESPN, ESPN2, or one of the other ESPN television or streaming options.
The valuation of the women’s basketball tournament was set at $65 million per year, meaning it makes up almost 57 percent of the value of the deal. Previous estimates were that the women’s basketball tournament alone was worth over $80 million.