Knight Commission Urges NCAA to Immediately Implement Gender and Race Equality Measures
WASHINGTON, DC — The Knight Commission on Monday urged the NCAA to act immediately on two proposals aimed at correcting racial and gender inequities in the distribution of NCAA athletics revenue, and the group strongly believed that the organization didn’t have to wait for a new NCAA president to do so.
According to knight’s commission, the NCAA allocates 28% of its annual revenue distribution, or more than $160 million, based on the victories of Division I men’s basketball teams and their participation in the NCAA Men’s March Madness Tournament. In contrast, the NCAA does not award any money for performances by women’s basketball teams in the tournament.
The commission, which initially proposed an equal distribution of income in September 2021, doubled down on its call for the implementation of a principle of gender equity which would require that any distribution of income based on the performance of athletics from the NCAA offers equal rewards for the performance of women’s and men’s teams.
“I personally find it very disturbing, to say the least, that the NCAA Division I Board of Directors has still not corrected this glaring multi-million dollar gender inequality in the distribution of its income,” said commission co-chair Nancy Zimpher, chancellor emeritus of the State University of New York. “Every college president on the board knows full well that financial incentives reflect values and influence priorities, and that would be an easy fix to do right now.”
The Knight Commission also recommends that, to qualify for academic awards, institutions must first demonstrate that the gap between the success rates of their black and white athletes is no more than 25 percentage points.
If this new racial equity criteria had been implemented in 2019, 66% of Division I schools would have qualified for the academic award instead of 79% of Division I schools, according to commission data. About 1 in 8 schools that currently qualify for academic awards would fail the racial equity graduation gap benchmark.
“We are now at a time where you have a transformation committee that is rethinking governance as it relates to college sports, and in doing so there is also a need to realign values and principles,” said the former veteran of the Maryland All-American and NBA Len Elmore, co-chairman of the Knight Commission. “And from a values perspective, there’s nothing more important than equity, both from a gender perspective and a racial perspective. So why don’t we, well-meaning, well-meaning people, take a look at these issues now and recognize that it’s time to be on the right side? And I believe the time is right. I think our voice and advocacy has been strong. And I think the impact will be felt.
The commission recommended that the NCAA Division I Board of Directors implement these major changes to the NCAA’s athletic and academic performance incentives, which total more than $200 million annually, in time to amend the income distribution of 2023.
A press release from the Knight Commission said that if the Division I Board of Directors “does not act, the Board of Governors should consider whether Division I is operating in accordance with the new NCAA constitution.”
The Knight Commission is pushing for change at a time when the NCAA itself is in the midst of monumental change, including a complete restructuring of its governance and the search for a replacement for outgoing president Mark Emmert.
Former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, co-chairman of the commission, called the NCAA’s governance structure “broken”.
“There’s an urgency to these things,” he said, “and they shouldn’t wait until there’s a new president at all.”
Asked about Congress’s role in NIL, Duncan said he doesn’t know of a single industry, corporation or nonprofit that says, “Let’s pass the floor to Congress.”
“I think everyone would prefer to regulate themselves,” he said. “Congress only steps in when it sees a dysfunction, when it sees a lack of leadership. … It’s absolutely in the NCAA’s interest not to just sit back and wait for Congress to maybe do something, don’t do something, and Congress can never understand these issues, and the people who care about them actually do.”
The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to recognize that schools with large racial graduation gaps among athletes are still eligible for academic awards. According to the commission, based on the most recent public data from 2019, nearly 80% of the approximately 350 institutions in Division I would qualify for the academic award by meeting one of three criteria for academic achievement.
However, 47 of those schools had a gap of more than 25 percentage points between their graduation success rates for black and white athletes.
“The NCAA should stop sending millions of dollars to schools that fail to close these gaps,” Elmore said.
After high-profile inequities at the 2021 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, the NCAA engaged the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP for its external review of gender equity issues relating to the NCAA, especially its championships. Although it has acted on most of the other recommendations of the August 2021 Kaplan Hecker report, the NCAA has not adjusted its revenue distribution formula.
“The general principle should be that if money goes to men’s teams for any reason, it should go to women’s teams for the same reason,” said Robbie Kaplan, the firm’s founding partner.
“We’ve had a lot of at-bats here, and the clock is up,” Zimpher said. “Waiting for new leaders to make these decisions will not allow us to recruit the kind of leadership the NCAA needs and deserves. … This needs to stop and voices need to be heard, and it really comes down to a matter of leadership. In this case, since we are looking for a new individual leader, the leadership rests on our shoulders.”