While we at SUNY Buffalo celebrate the extraordinary success of our women’s basketball team, it is worth noting that the Bulls’ initial Sweet Sixteen appearance won’t be reaping them any material rewards. As headlines continue to trumpet the incredible revenue the NCAA generates from March Madness – more than $1 billion last year – the recent focus has been on whether the (male) student-athletes should share in the riches. Meanwhile, successful (male) collegiate basketball programs continue to rake in the substantial financial benefits doled out by the NCAA. In 2017, each game a (men’s) team played in The Dance was worth $265,000 EACH YEAR for SIX YEARS, or $1.6 MILLION, which was then distributed to the team’s conference. Conferences are “encouraged”, but not required, by the NCAA to distribute the money equally among all of their member institutions. Last season, Gonzaga walked away with approximately $8.5 million, while fellow MAC institution Kent State brought home a “measly” $1.7 million for their respective conferences. Clearly, it pays, and pays well, to be invited to the Dance, hence the “riches” inherent in being a Cinderella team.
But, what if you are a women’s Cinderella team? Well, don’t give up that day job sweeping ashes. While NCAA member institutions are clearly subject to Title IX, and therefore are required by law to afford equal athletic opportunities to students of both sexes, the same has not been true of the NCAA, a private association. NCAA v. Smith, 525 U.S. 459 (1999) Consequently, the NCAA can – and has – consistently failed to share the wealth with even the most successful women’s basketball programs. How much do winning (women’s) programs earn for their dancing prowess? They don’t. Seriously.
In a society that, hopefully, is increasingly aware of the signficant detrimental impact resulting from even minor acts of disrespect, this complete and deliberate snub of SIXTY-FOUR women’s teams cannot and should not be ignored. While the NCAA may not be explicitly subject to Title IX, it certainly benefits greatly from the membership and participation of all of the institutions that are. It is the height of irony that the NCAA, which purports to be the arbiter of amateurism at its finest, rewards its men’s programs with multi-million dollar riches while giving its women’s programs, well, rags. Maybe that’s also why none of the persons of interest currently facing FBI scrutiny are connected to women’s programs . . .
Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.