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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

More NCAA leagues to pay women’s basketball referees equally

The NCAA earned praise last year when it agreed to pay referees equally in its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The gesture only cost $100,000, a tiny fraction of the roughly $900 million the network pays annually to air March Madness.

Now, as the NCAA investigates the various inequalities in the men’s and women’s games, there is increasing pressure to pay referees equally during the regular season. Two Division 1 conventions told the Associated Press that they plan to equalize the pay, and another is considering it. Others are opposing the change, even though the impact on their budget will be negligible.

“Those who are (the salary) are reading the writing on the wall,” said Michael Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

The details of NCAA referee salaries are closely guarded, but the Associated Press obtained data for the 2021–22 season that shows the 15 largest — and most profitable — conventions of the NCAA are paying experienced referees per game for men’s basketball. On average 22% more is paid. ,

According to the 2020 Census, this level of inequality is wider than the gender pay gap in the US economy, where women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. And it’s a colossal loss for women, who make up less than 1% of referees attending men’s games.

University of South Carolina Gamecock head coach Don Staley – the women’s national champion – said referees on behalf of men should “step up” and advocate for equal pay for women referees. “They don’t do anything different,” she said. “Why should our officers pay less to take what we give (inadequate)?”

Those who provided data to the Associated Press for nearly half of the NCAA’s 32 Division I conferences have direct knowledge of the pay scale, and did so on condition of anonymity because the information is believed to be private.

There was wide per-game pay disparity among NCAA league Associated Press analysis in the Northeast Conference, with the most experienced referees earning 48% more for men’s games. The Atlantic-10 paid experienced men’s referees 44% more, while the Colonial Athletic Association paid them 38% more. (Data reviewed by the Associated Press showed only the Ivy League paying veteran executives equally.)

Two of the unequal-pay conferences contacted by the Associated Press — the Pac-12 and the Northeast Conference — said they plan to level the playing field from next season. A third, the Patriot League, which had a 33% pay gap last year, said it is reviewing equity for officials in all sports. “The salary is part of that,” Commissioner Jennifer Heppel said.

According to Associate Commissioner Teresa Gould, the Pac-12 paid referees equally a decade ago, but over time allowed the disparity to grow. She said returning to equal pay is “the right thing to do.”

NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said the decision to equalize pay was an easy one when it was realized that basketball was the only sport where it was not paying referees equitably.

Relative to the amount of money these leagues generate, the cost of bridging the pay gap may seem small.

For example, the SEC pays referees 10%, or $350, for men’s games, which is higher than those for women’s games. Over the course of a season, it would cost the SEC a few hundred thousand dollars to pay them equally—part of a $3 billion deal with ESPN to broadcast all of their games starting in 2024.

The most experienced Division 1 referees – for men’s or women’s games – are well paid. Some make over $150,000 a season, many playing dozens of conferences. New referees earn very little, supplementing income from another job.

All NCAA referees are independent contractors, have no union representing their interests, and all must cover their own travel expenses.

The busiest referees might work five or six games a week in different cities, run up and down the court for 40 minutes a night, get a few hours of sleep, and then wake up at 4 a.m. on their own. Can catch a flight to the next destination.

Dee Kantner, a veteran referee of women’s sports who has worked for several conferences, finds it frustrating to justify equal pay.

“If I buy an airline ticket and tell them I’m doing a women’s basketball game they won’t charge me less,” she said.

“Do you value women’s basketball that much?” Kantner said. “How are we still rationalizing it?”

Several conference commissioners stated that men’s and women’s games do not generate equal amounts of revenue, and that the level of play is not equal, and that referees’ pay is determined accordingly.

“Historically we have treated each referee pool as a separate market,” said Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. “We pay rates that allow us to be competitive for services at our level. I think the league deserves to look at a variety of factors here. I don’t see it as an equity issue – I market it. I see it as an issue.

The Big East pays referees 22% more in their men’s games, and Ackerman said there are no imminent plans to make the change.

Atlantic-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the market-based approach is what enables it to offer some of the highest per-game rates in the NCAA. “We get the most experienced, most qualified officers in the country,” she said.

According to data reviewed by the Associated Press, veteran referees serving at Atlantic-10 are paid $3,300 for men’s games, while $2,300 for women’s games. Last year, seven other conferences had higher per-game rates — and narrower gender gaps — data shows.

Of the nearly 800 referees who conducted women’s basketball this past season, 43% were women, a ratio that has remained relatively consistent over the past decade. But last year only six women competed in the men’s sports – a number that has gradually increased over the years.

NCAA officials’ supervisor Penny Davis said conferences are trying to recruit more women into men’s sports as another way to help bridge the gender pay gap.

But Davis says she wouldn’t like to see even fewer women refereeing women’s basketball. “We don’t want to lose our best and brightest,” she said.

A decade ago, referees working in the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments were paid equally. But as the men’s tournament’s profitability skyrocketed, so did its budget – and so did the pay for referees.

McGlade and Ackerman both praised the NCAA for reinstating equal pay in the March tournament. “We are mindful of what the NCAA did to the tournament,” Ackerman said. “NCAA Tournament games are close, but not entirely a typical substitute experience.”

Ivy League executive director Robin Harris disagrees. “We decided sometime back that it was right to pay them the same amount. They’re doing the same thing.”

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Associated Press College Football writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this story.

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More Associated Press Women’s Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/ Associated Press_Sports

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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