Cory Booker Urges NCAA to Share Profits With Athletes as Gonzaga vs. Baylor Looms

Less than an hour before the women's college basketball national championship tipped off Sunday night, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) urged the NCAA to spread the wealth of its profits. Booker said there's a "greater struggle for justice for these athletes."

Booker tweeted his support of the Stanford women's team, who squared off against Pac-12 foe Arizona in the national championship game Sunday night in San Antonio.

"I celebrate the hard work of every athlete who participated in #MarchMadness, especially @StanfordWBB. But we can't lose sight of the greater struggle for justice for these athletes—the NCAA must change and allow these athletes to share in the profits they helped create," Booker wrote.

I celebrate the hard work of every athlete who participated in #MarchMadness, especially @StanfordWBB. But we can’t lose sight of the greater struggle for justice for these athletes—the NCAA must change and allow these athletes to share in the profits they helped create.

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 4, 2021

His tweet comes just 24 hours before the finale of the NCAA's biggest money maker of every year, which is the men's basketball tournament. Gonzaga and Baylor will play the men's championship on Monday night.

The NCAA recently released its figures from the 2018-19 athletic year, and the men's basketball tournament brought in a net income of $864.6 million, which included covering the $28 million in budgeted expenses for the entirety of the men's tournament. The women's tournament budget that year was about half of the men's expenditures ($14.5 million), but the women's tournament didn't generate revenue. In fact, the women's tournament lost $2.8 million, which is the largest loss of any NCAA championships.

Stanford Women's Basketball
The Stanford Cardinal celebrate with the regional championship trophy after the win over the Louisville Cardinals during the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on March 30, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas.The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Louisville Cardinals 78-63 to advance to the Final Four. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The NCAA hosts 90 championships every year. That includes men's and women's sports, and it includes Divisions I, II and III. In all of that, only five of those generate enough revenue to cover their tournament expenses: (All Division I) men's basketball, men's ice hockey, men's lacrosse, men's wrestling and men's baseball.

So NCAA Div. I men's basketball is the cash cow that supports all other men's and women's championships across all divisions. The numbers from the 2019-20 school year weren't available because COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the men's and women's basketball tournaments, and all other spring sports.

Disparities between men's and women's sports got magnified last month when a Stanford coach posted photos of weight rooms and workout facilities at the men's and women's basketball bubbles. The men had a far greater quantity of equipment, and space, than the women had.

The NCAA initially responded by saying there wasn't adequate space, but later reconfigured the women's space with more equipment.

Then last month, prominent coaches and former coaches in the women's game said the gender inequities cut far deeper than just weight room issues at their respective tournaments. They said all of the NCAA's branding for March Madness, Final Four and other tournament-related branding—even the social media—was directly linked to the men's tournament. They went as far to say the men's tournament doesn't include "men" in its title, whereas the women's tournament is gender specific.

The NCAA determines all of its budgets every year, and then it reviews and approves them. In most years, the greater disparity between the men's and women's basketball expenditures come down to a number of factors.

  • The women's tournament usually has 16 host team playing at their home campuses, which means no out-of-town travel for a quarter of the women's field. The men typically play at eight sub-regional sites. Two years ago, only seven of the 68 men's teams drove to get to their locations.
  • The per diem is the same for men and women, regardless of the city in which they're playing.
  • The NCAA paid an additional $1.1 million for the First Four, which is the extra round of eight teams that began several years ago. The women's tournament doesn't have that.
  • Women usually play their Final Four at a smaller venue, and requires about $20,000 to build out that facility for its semifinals and championship games. The men's tournament is usually in a giant football stadium that needed $1.6 million for basketball conversion and storage during the 2019 championships.

The NCAA expects expenses to be more equal this year because of similar tournaments. The women played their entire tournament in the greater San Antonio area while the men's tournament was in the greater Indianapolis area.

"For me, it's important for the fans to understand that the policies around the men and the women's tournaments are the same policies," Kathleen McNeely, the NCAA's chief financial officer, told ESPN. "They have the same rules around how much the schools reimburse for per diem, they have the exact same travel policy.

McNeely said the "goal of all of that is that the experience for the student-athlete is a great experience, it is a like experience and that we are providing the same opportunities for the student-athletes regardless of the tournament they are playing in."

The money they bring in, however, is like comparing the big cash cow to a small, sick calf.

"They have different budgets, but the difference in the budgets is because of the scale of the two tournaments ... and the nuances in the delivery, which tend to be committee decisions on how they're going to deliver those championships," McNeely said. "I'm not saying there might not be minor issues, but in my opinion, there is a lot of parity between the men's and women's basketball tournaments as we look at it from an individual student-athlete experience, which tends to be our focus."

The stark contrast in revenue has to do with ticket sales and media contracts. The men's tournament in 2019 generated $917.8 million, which included mammoth TV deals and 690,000 tickets sold. That same year, the women had 270,000 fans and a much smaller TV contract, resulting in $15 million in revenue.

The money generated from the men's basketball tournament covers 85 other NCAA men's and women's championships across all three divisions. Baseball, men's ice hockey, men's lacrosse and men's wrestling generate enough money to cover their own expenses.