South Carolina’s Dawn Staley: ‘Now is the time’ to invest in women’s soccer

As NCAA cheats on gender equity at women’s tournament, Staley acknowledges modest gains from letting women use trademark “March Madness” and providing players with gift bags as expensive as men receive. But she said meaningful progress won’t happen until the NCAA changes how it sells women’s broadcast rights and distributes revenue.

“The signage is nice. The branding is nice. The loot bags — all that — is good,” Staley said this week. If we really want to invest in women and invest in our championship, now is the time. Now is the time for a change because we are as hot as we have been for a long time.

Staley, 51, who led his highest-ranked Gamecocks to their fourth Final Four since 2015, including their march to the 2017 national championship, might be among the sweetest coaches in the sport’s highest ranks. But she can’t keep quiet when she sees an injustice or something that doesn’t seem fair or right to her.

How the NCAA markets women’s basketball is one of them. And Staley addressed his vision for the game’s next frontier throughout the playoffs. She explained this week as South Carolina, which features National Player of the Year contender Aliyah Boston and a stifling defense, primed for Friday’s semifinal meeting with Louisville in Minneapolis.

Significant change begins, Staley believes, with the TV deal.

And it starts, according to her and several top coaches, with the NCAA changing the way it sells women’s basketball broadcast rights. Currently, women’s basketball broadcast rights are bundled with all Division I sports except men’s basketball and soccer — an outdated business model, according to Staley, that keeps women’s basketball from knowing its true value. Who knows what could generate an overbidding between networks?

Even the NCAA has acknowledged that its clumsy approach has undervalued women’s soccer.

“I would like women’s basketball to be autonomous in obtaining a TV package.” said Staley. “We are in high demand; we are very closely watched. Our sport is at a place where it will take off; this East to take off. We missed opportunities to capitalize on revenue.

Then, she argues, the NCAA needs to start distributing broadcast revenue for women’s programs the same way it does for men.

The NCAA uses a “performance-based” formula to pay out more than $160 million in tournament revenue annually for men’s tournament success.

This money, distributed in “units” that increase with each round, is allocated to each team’s conference, which, in turn, redistributes the profits to member schools.

But there is no performance-based system to reward success in the women’s tournament. This disparity, for example, means the Connecticut women’s success in reaching this Final Four (the Huskies’ 14th straight) will not enrich Big East coffers the way Villanova’s men will reach this year’s Final Four. .

North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart explained the fundamental inequity in his team’s play in the Greensboro area.

“The unit problem is a big problem,” Banghart said. “If I’m our athletic director and my university makes more money if my men’s team progresses, I’m going to be in the men’s game and I’m going to invest more money in the men’s program because it’s basic math. . Women get a pat on the back — “Thank you for doing a great job!” There’s no financial incentive for our team to be great, is there?

Staley said, “It’s a systemic cycle that holds women back.”

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer pointed to the same inequalities when asked about the NCAA’s steps toward gender equity in the Spokane-area playoffs.

“To really make changes, we need to have a similar unit structure,” VanDerveer said. “I mean, I love the crowd. I love the signage. … At the end of the day, it’s a TV package and it’s a unitary structure. When that happens, we’ll know it’s serious.

Staley and other top women’s coaches emphasize that women’s basketball doesn’t need to be guaranteed by men’s basketball. Given the ability to market itself robustly, it can stand on its own. And it’s high time the NCAA let women’s basketball prove that networks (and streaming services), corporate sponsors and fans are willing to pay for their product.

Staley flexed similar muscles in the way she approached her contract negotiation with South Carolina last fall. His basic requirement: a salary equal to that of the male coach (then Frank Martin). She hired a lawyer well known to university decision makers to represent her.

The goal, as she explained, was not to enrich her bank account but to set a benchmark for other schools’ investment in women’s basketball – and to send a message to all women on the importance of knowing their worth.

This message resonated with his players.

“Coach Staley – what a queen, first of all!” Boston said when asked about Staley’s contract. “She’s done so much for basketball, so whatever she gets, she deserves it. And she deserves more.

Leader Destanni Henderson, entrepreneur in his own right as founder of Clothing by HPAgreed.

“She’s done some work over the years,” Henderson said. “I feel like when you do that, you can demand things and get there. She’s in this position to do these things because she’s helped so many people and just brought in and created a family for the University of South Carolina as a whole.