Report: $13.5M Separates NCAA Tournament Budgets

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In light of the disparities between the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, media organizations have sought the budgets for each event. According to the data reported by ESPN, the disparity between the two events was about $13.5 million for the 2018-19 tournament, the most recent year for which complete data was available. The figures were $28 million for the men’s event, and $14.5 million for the women’s.

The NCAA said the difference was due to “key differences in tournament structures.” The women’s event nets savings in a few different areas. The women’s tournament, for instance, plays first- and second-round games on the campuses of the higher-seeded team. Meanwhile, the men’s tournament plays all games at a neutral site, including the First Four — which the women’s event does not have. The NCAA claims that the cost savings from those measures net the association $7.1 million, including:

  • $2.7 million in travel costs. Sixteen women’s host teams were not made to travel for the tournament, while another 16 were able to drive. By comparison, only seven men’s teams drove to the 2018-19 tournament.
  • $1.7 million in per diem. The NCAA per diem is the same for both men’s and women’s teams, but the association was able to save hotel and food expenses from the 16 host teams not traveling. 
  • $1.1 million for the First Four.
  • $1.6 million for facilities. The men’s tournament converts a football venue into a basketball one for the Final Four — which comes with extra costs for seating and storage. Building out the venue for the women’s Final Four typically costs less than $20,000, per the figures reported by ESPN.

The NCAA has retained a law firm to conduct a review into the events' disparities, which were revealed on social media in recent weeks. The firm — Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP — will look into whether the budgets are a part of the problem, but NCAA chief financial officer Kathleen McNeely told ESPN that the different budgets are legitimate.

"They have different budgets, but the difference in the budgets is because of the scale of the two tournaments," McNeely said, "... and the nuances in the delivery, which tend to be committee decisions on how they're going to deliver those championships. 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."

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