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The NCAA Plans to Fund and Host a Women’s NIT

  • The NCAA plans to sponsor a WNIT, as it currently only pays for the men’s NIT.
  • The discussions are part of a broader effort to rectify gender inequities.
Erin Woodiel / Argus Leader

The NCAA’s Division I women’s basketball committee is planning to host a tournament similar to the men’s National Invitational Tournament (NIT) — a secondary event to March Madness, according to minutes of an August NCAA meeting that Front Office Sports reviewed. The minutes confirm an Athlon Sports/D1 Ticker report.

The NCAA did not have an additional comment.

While there currently is a WNIT, it’s owned or operated by a separate corporation called Triple Crown Sports. The NCAA only funds a men’s NIT — a major gender inequity.

  • The committee minutes note that the tournament will consist of 32 teams, and “mirror” the men’s NIT structure.
  • “The subcommittee will turn its focus to the estimated finances, estimated revenue and the governance process moving forward to establish such an event,” the minutes read. 

The discussions are part of a widespread effort to rectify major gender inequities in women’s basketball that were set off by a fiasco at the 2021 women’s tournament. After the tournament, the NCAA commissioned a gender equity report with dozens of recommendations — one of which was that the NCAA should sponsor a women’s NIT, given that it sponsors a men’s NIT. 

The current WNIT consists of 64 teams. Triple Crown Sports requires teams to pay the first $12,000 worth of travel and fund costs for “extra” travelers, according to the gender equity report. The NCAA covers costs for NIT participants, as it does for all championships.

UCLA women’s basketball players complained of gender inequities at the 2022 NIT, as the L.A. Times reported at the time.

The NCAA also has a financial incentive structure for the NIT similar — though less lucrative — to its Basketball Performance Fund, which awards prize money for prowess in men’s March Madness. In 2019, schools were awarded “units” worth more than $5,000 each for the men’s NIT. Again, given that the WNIT isn’t owned by the NCAA, women’s teams don’t receive units.

While the NCAA’s motivation is likely related to gender equity, it also might be a good business move. 

As Athlon Sports pointed out, the NCAA is gearing up to renegotiate its media rights contract with ESPN, which expires in 2024. Estimates have already suggested the package, which includes women’s March Madness, will be worth millions more than its current rate. And ESPN is definitely interested in renewing, sources previously told FOS. So the NCAA might be able to beef up its women’s basketball offerings with a WNIT.

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