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NCAA Acknowledges $13.5 Million Tournament Budget Gap

Financial details revealed publicly for the first time show that the N.C.A.A.’s budget for the men’s tournament was nearly double that of the women’s tournament in 2019.

The N.C.A.A. budgeted nearly double for its men’s basketball tournament in 2019 than what it planned for its women’s competition, a $13.5 million gap that will assuredly drive questions about the organization’s commitment to gender equity.

The tournaments vary substantially in their formats and popularity, and N.C.A.A. executives insist that those differences necessarily account for their budgeting decisions. But a financial summary prepared by the association and reviewed by The New York Times, which included figures that a range of college sports executives said they had never seen, showed that the N.C.A.A. devoted far more resources to the men’s tournament, which organizers said had a net income of about $865 million in 2019. The women’s tournament, officials said, lost $2.8 million, more than any other N.C.A.A. championship competition.

The N.C.A.A. has faced sustained outrage for more than a week over its management of this year’s basketball tournaments, which officials said did not have dramatically higher or lower budgets than in 2019. Last week, players and coaches at the women’s tournament, which is being held in Texas this year, released pictures and videos of sparsely stocked workout areas — images that contrasted with the well-supplied facilities made available at the men’s tournament in Indiana.

The association said that it had always intended to upgrade the women’s tournament’s amenities in conjunction with the start of the round of 16, but it apologized for some disparities between the events — the association also acknowledged differences in coronavirus testing protocols but insisted that its medical experts and local health officials had approved the plans — and vowed to improve more quickly.

The public expressions of regret and the urgently constructed workout facilities did not stop the criticisms, which players and coaches voiced and then watched members of Congress, newspaper columnists and fans echo.

But until Friday, the finances of N.C.A.A. championships were largely shrouded in mystery.

According to the summary reviewed by The Times, the association budgeted $28 million for the 2019 men’s championship, a 68-team, 67-game tournament that was played in major cities nationwide. The N.C.A.A. budgeted $14.5 million for the women’s championship, a 63-game competition that was also staged across the country. Most women’s tournament games were held on campuses; men’s tournament games were not.

The N.C.A.A. said that the design of its women’s tournament, which involves much less travel in the first and second rounds because games are staged on campuses, was responsible for $4.4 million of the budget difference with the men’s tournament. The association also said that the cost of hosting the men’s tournament’s play-in games was $1.1 million — the women’s tournament does not have those — and that it pays roughly $1.6 million a year to prepare a football stadium to host the men’s Final Four.

The women’s Final Four, held in a smaller arena, does not require as much in so-called build-out costs.

In an interview on Friday, Kathleen McNeely, the N.C.A.A.’s chief financial officer, said that organizers “really do strive to have parity” between the men’s and women’s tournaments, particularly around the student-athlete experience. But she said that public interest in the men’s competition had fueled more ticket sales and required more spending.

“The men’s tournament is just a larger tournament: 690,000 fans compared to 275,000 in 2019,” she said. “That kind of a difference is going to bring in a lot of little costs that are going to drive the difference.”

Although the N.C.A.A. is a nonprofit with executives who routinely cite the “public trust” of college athletics, the association is not subject to open records laws, as many of its member schools are, and its finances are often opaque, even to many conference commissioners and athletic directors. The N.C.A.A. releases audited financial statements, with revenues and expenses listed in sweeping categories, annually, and its tax return is eventually made public.

Although the N.C.A.A. prepared the summary of its championship budgets, it did not provide specific financial records.

But in audited statements that were released previously, the N.C.A.A. reported more than $1.1 billion in revenues for its 2019 fiscal year, the last budget cycle before the pandemic took hold. Most of the money came from media rights for the men’s basketball tournament. That year, the N.C.A.A. spent almost $154 million on “Division I championships, programs and NIT tournaments.”

The N.C.A.A. asserts that just five of the 90 championship events it holds across its three divisions are profitable: the Division I competitions in baseball, men’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse and wrestling. (The N.C.A.A. does not control the College Football Playoff, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year.)

The association’s emphasis on the men’s basketball tournament is closely tied to a television deal with CBS and Turner Sports that is the lifeblood of the N.C.A.A. The agreement, reached in 2010 and extended in 2016, is worth $19.6 billion and expires in 2032.

The television deal that includes the women’s basketball tournament is far less lucrative. Under that agreement, ESPN is paying the N.C.A.A. $500 million over 14 years for 24 Division I championships each year, including the women’s tournament, and some additional rights.

McNeely said that a third-party consultancy hired by the N.C.A.A. had allocated 15.9 percent of the ESPN contract’s value to the women’s basketball tournament.

Before the turmoil around the women’s tournament this year, the N.C.A.A. was under severe financial and political pressure.

The pandemic prompted the association to cancel its basketball tournaments and other championship events last year. In January, the N.C.A.A. reported that its revenues had fallen about $600 million — even after receiving $270 million in insurance payouts related to the pandemic and the men’s tournament — and that it had posted a loss of nearly $56 million.

Women’s tournament organizers have suggested the pandemic contributed to the issues around their competition this year in Texas, a thought that sports executives have responded to with a blend of acceptance and befuddlement.

The N.C.A.A. announced on Thursday that it had retained Roberta A. Kaplan, a leading civil rights lawyer, to conduct a review of its championship events. Kaplan is expected to prepare preliminary findings late next month, and a final report is likely to be released this summer.

When he announced Kaplan’s hiring on Thursday, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, said officials were “evaluating the current and previous resource allocation to each championship, so we have a clear understanding of costs, spend and revenue.”

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