Aug. 3 (UPI) -- An external review of the NCAA's basketball championship events released Tuesday found that the collegiate sports governing body "significantly" undervalues women's basketball as an asset while prioritizing men's basketball.
The report by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, a law firm that specializes in employment and discrimination matters including Title IX and gender equity, found evidence of "systemic gender inequity issues" in the NCAA's handling of the sport and made recommendations including that the organization alter its leadership and promote the men's and women's championships equally.
"The NCAA's organizational structure and culture prioritizes men's basketball, contributing to gender inequity," the report states. "As a not-for-profit, member-led organization, the work of the NCAA is conducted by internal staff and member committees. In both areas, men's basketball is prioritized over women's basketball."
NCAA officials repeatedly refused to allow organizers for the women's college basketball tournament to use the phrase "March Madness" in promotional materials and spent $2.4 million on signage promoting the men's tournament compared to $783,000 for the women, according to the report.
The NCAA also pursued corporate sponsorships with Pizza Hut, Wendy's and Buffalo Wild Wings to provide food for players in the men's tournament, but not for the women.
"Gender inequities were baked into the very fabric of the tournaments and how the tournaments were viewed by the NCAA," the report said.
Following reports of disparate provisions for weight rooms during the basketball championships last year, the NCAA released data saying women's basketball lost substantial amounts of money compared to the men's game.
The report found those calculations were "skewed" as the NCAA incorrectly allocated revenue only to men's basketball and engaged in sponsorship agreements that prioritized the men's tournament.
Further, the report noted that a "Basketball Performance Fund" that distributes money to athletic conferences based on the performance of their men's basketball teams causes the disparate treatment to affect how individual universities treated their women's basketball programs.
"The primary reason, we believe, is that the gender inequities at the NCAA -- and specifically within the NCAA Division I basketball championships -- stem from the structure and systems of the NCAA itself, which are designed to maximize the value of and support to the Division I Men's Basketball Championship as the primary source of funding for the NCAA and its membership," the report states.
The firm recommended the NCAA "maximize value through gender equity in marketing, promotion, and sponsorships" by using the term "March Madness" for both the men's and women's championship tournaments and considering holding the men's and women's Final Four at the same location.
They also recommended that the NCAA make changes to its leadership structure, increase gender equity in basketball staffing and conduct a "real-time gender equity audit" of the men's and women's basketball championships as they are being planned and executed every year.
The NCAA board of governor's issued a statement Tuesday stating it was "wholly committed to an equitable experience among its championships" and directed the organization's president to address organizational issues.
"We know that has not always been the case and the instance of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship is an important impetus for us to improve our championship experience so it is not repeated," the board said.