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NCAA hoops leagues grapple with unequal pay for women’s refs

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

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Now how The NCAA explores the various differences in men’s and women’s sports., pressure is mounting to also pay referees the same during the regular season. Two Division I conferences have told the Associated Press they plan to equalize pay, and another is looking into it. Others resist change, even if the impact on their budget is small.

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“Those who do (pay equalization) read the writing on the wall,” said Michael Lewis, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business.

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Details on NCAA referee salaries are closely guarded, but the Associated Press has received data for the 2021-22 season that shows the 15 largest and most profitable NCAA conferences paid veteran men’s basketball referees an average of 22% more per game. .

This level of inequality is wider than the gender pay gap in the US economy, where, according to the 2020 Census, women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. And this is an overwhelming disadvantage for women, who make up less than 1% of referees who judge men’s games.

Dawn Staley, head coach of the University of South Carolina’s Gamecocks – the women’s national champion team – said male umpires should “step up” and advocate for equal pay for female umpires. “They don’t do anything else,” she said. “Why should our officials be paid less for what they take (expletive) that we give them?”

The people who provided the AP with data from nearly half of the 32 NCAA Division I conferences have direct knowledge of the pay scale and did so on condition of anonymity because the information is considered private.

The Northeastern Conference showed the largest pay-per-game differential among NCAA leagues analyzed by AP, with the most experienced umpires in men’s games earning 48% more. The Atlantic-10 paid veteran umpires 44% more and the Colonial Athletic Association paid them 38% more. (According to data reviewed by the AP, only the Ivy League paid veterans the same.)

Of the unequal pay conferences the AP contacted, two — Pac-12 and the Northeastern Conference — have said they plan to level the playing field starting next season. Third, the Patriot League, which had a 33% pay gap last year, said it was reviewing fairness for officials across all sports. “Paying is part of that,” Commissioner Jennifer Heppel said.

According to Assistant Commissioner Teresa Gould, Pac-12 paid referees the same ten years ago, but over time this has led to increased disparity. She said returning to equal pay is “the right thing to do.”

NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said the decision to equalize pay was easy to make when she realized basketball is the only sport that doesn’t pay equal compensation to referees.

Compared to the amounts of money these leagues generate, the cost of closing the pay gap may seem small.

For example, the SEC paid referees for men’s games 10%, or $350, more than those who judged women’s games. Over the course of the season, the SEC will cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars to pay them equally — part of a $3 billion deal it signed with ESPN to air all of its sports starting in 2024.

The most experienced Division I umpires – men’s or women’s games – are well paid. Some make over $150,000 a season refereeing dozens of games in multiple conferences. New judges earn much less, supplementing income from other jobs.

All NCAA referees are independent contractors, not represented by a union, and all must cover their own travel expenses.

The busiest referees can work five or six games a week in different cities, running back and forth across the court for 40 minutes in one night, getting a few hours of sleep, then getting up at 4 am to catch a flight to their next destination.

Dee Kantner, an experienced women’s games referee who works at several conferences, finds it frustrating to have to justify equal pay.

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

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

Several conference commissioners have stated that the men’s and women’s games do not generate the same income and that the level of play is not the same, and so judges’ salaries are set accordingly.

“Historically, we have treated each pool of judges as a separate market,” said Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. “We paid at rates that allow us to be competitive for services at our level. I think the leagues have the right to consider different factors here. I don’t see it as a problem with stocks – I see it as a market problem.”

The Big East pays umpires working at its men’s games 22% more, and Ackerman said he doesn’t plan to make changes in the near future.

Atlantic-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the market approach allows her to offer some of the highest rates per game in the NCAA. “We have the most experienced, most qualified officials in the country,” she said.

Veteran umpires serving in Atlantic-10 are paid $3,300 for men’s games, compared to $2,300 for women’s games, according to data reviewed by the AP. The data shows seven other conferences had higher per-game rates and a narrower gender gap last year.

Of the approximately 800 referees who officiated women’s basketball last season, 43% were women, a proportion that has remained relatively stable over the past decade. But last year there were just six women officiating men’s matches, a number that has slowly risen over the past few years.

Penny Davis, NCAA officials curator, said conferences are trying to hire more women to referee men’s games, which is another way to help close the gender pay gap.

But Davis says she doesn’t want even fewer women to referee women’s basketball. “We don’t want to lose our best and smartest people,” she said.

Ten years ago, umpires who worked on the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments were paid the same. But as the profitability of the men’s tournament grew rapidly, so did its budget, and with it the pay of the judges.

Both McGlade and Ackerman praised the NCAA for restoring equal pay in the March tournaments. “We are mindful of what the NCAA did for the tournament,” Ackerman said. “NCAA Tournament games are closer together, but it’s not a typical officiating experience.”

Ivy League chief executive Robin Harris disagrees. “Some time ago we decided that it would be right to pay them the same amount. They do the same job.”


AP College Football writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to the story.


More AP Women’s Basketball: and


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