Are Schools Paying Too Much To Subsidize Women's Basketball?


Notre Dame upset UConn in women’s basketball, sending the preeminent favorites home from the Final Four with a 36-2 record. The result was shocking, almost as shocking as Geno Auriemma making more than $1.6 million per year. Auriemma is an elite women’s coach. He has won an astounding seven national titles. But, really? He’s making $1.6 million per year in a niche sport?

UConn is women’s basketball’s hegemon, yet the school brings in $4.9 million per year in revenue, running a $723,900 deficit during the 210 fiscal year. Connecticut loses $700k per year and that is the best-case scenario for a women’s college basketball team. Other schools fare worse.

Bloomberg analyzed the 53 public programs in the big six conferences. They found that women’s basketball programs run an average deficit of $2 million, with revenues at about $800,000. No program turned a profit. A major contributor is the absurd amount schools pay coaches.

From Bloomberg:

"Some schools paid their coaching staffs many times what their teams earned, the data show. The Texas A&M staff received $1.36 million, or 114 percent of operating revenue of $1.19 million, and Michigan State paid out $833,931, or 87 percent of operating revenue of $954,779. At Auburn University, salaries and benefits cost $1.14 million, or 1,783 percent of the Tigers’ operating revenue of $64,225, and the program posted a $3.16 million operating loss."

Take Michigan State’s 87 percent and apply it to football. That would be like Alabama paying Nick Saban and his assistants $48.8 million per year. If the great Geno earned merely as much as Connecticut’s president (one of the Top 20 highest paid in the country at $577,500), Connecticut basketball would have turned a profit.

Salaries aren’t commensurate with revenue. Even if they were, women’s college basketball would still drain seven figures per year because of Title IX. Men’s basketball expanded dramatically. As a result, schools must now fly women’s teams across the country to play in national tournaments, use all the same resources and equipment as the men’s teams and play in large arenas they can’t possibly fill. Unlike the men they don’t generate the revenue to pay for it themselves. It’s “equality” but is it helping women?

For argument’s sake, accept every intangible, character-building argument about sports. Do these diminish if Women’s basketball had to live within its means? Does the honor or value go away if women’s basketball had to adopt a hockey or lacrosse-like format with regional sport-specific conferences to reduce travel expenditure and a smaller, though still nationally televised NCAA tournament? Or if coaches were paid a sensible low six-figure salary given the revenue produced?

Funding is becoming increasingly limited. What is more equitable: having 12 basketball players and a coaching staff receive inordinate amounts of funding or women at the university having access to a better education and a wider array of “non-essential” facilities, such as women’s centers?

Expecting women’s basketball to break even is not realistic, but neither is the belief that pumping incredible amounts of money into it will grow it into a self-sustaining, broadly popular sport. Women’s basketball already receives disproportionate coverage and promotion from ESPN. How much more exposure will it get? Does the target audience subject to exposure even exist? Even if revenue tripled, schools would still lose hundreds of thousands per year on women’s basketball.

Title IX sought to further equality by promoting and protecting women’s presence on campus. What it didn’t anticipate in 1972 was Men’s basketball expanding into a hyper-profitable behemoth and schools having to divert millions to subsidize women’s basketball maintaining an equal footing, especially with many athletic departments already reliant on direct subsidy through student fees. Women are equals as students. Students aren’t served in austere times by having millions of vital funding thrust into non-revenue sports.

Forty years later – whether it’s massive expenditures to prop up women’s basketball or restrictions that breed corruption in men’s basketball and football – it’s time for the NCAA to work with lawmakers to reexamine Title IX and modernize it for the present athletic climate. Women’s participation can be protected in sensible ways that don’t place an undue burden on athletic departments, universities and, ultimately, students.

[Photo via Getty]