Husker women support changes to championships, coverage
Nebraska’s women’s basketball team will travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament this week with hopes of receiving a bid to compete in the NCAA tournament. But the conference’s eye will not be focused entirely on the games themselves.
Instead, the Big Ten will be looking at how the gender equity gap can be closed in men’s and women’s sports.
“We’re thinking through what are the ways we can again amplify all of our sports but especially from a gender equity standpoint,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said. “I think there will be some really exciting opportunities here over the next couple years to kind of meld our men’s and women’s sports.”
Members of the Nebraska women’s basketball team are in favor of several proposed solutions to the inequalities recently revealed by student-athletes.
Specifically, Oregon redshirt junior Sedona Prince exposed the drastic disparities between the weight rooms of the 2021 men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments in a Twitter post.
“I was shocked and disappointed just to see how bad it was,” junior Nebraska guard Sam Haiby said. “It was just really disappointing.”
But weight rooms are not the only problem.
An external review of the NCAA’s gender equity practices prepared by Kaplan Hecker & Fink, a New York-based law firm, found that facilities unfairly differ between men’s and women’s championships and the NCAA is ‘significantly undervaluing women’s basketball as an asset.’
An independent analysis cited in the report places the television value of the NCAA women’s basketball championship between $81 and $112 million in 2025; however, the current deal is valued at only $34 million annually and combined with 28 other championships.
While the student-athletes do not earn a dollar from television deals, they ultimately feel the effects of the undervalued media rights and limited coverage in an era where they own their likeness.
According to Opendorse’s name, image, and likeness data, women’s sports accounted for only 32.6% of total compensation as of Dec. 31.
An expanded television deal can help narrow this gap.
“[More media rights] are really probably the key parts of increasing NIL exposure for women’s basketball, which would benefit all players and athletes,” Haiby said.
To fix the inequality in facilities and coverage, the NCAA and Big Ten have each said they are exploring combining men’s and women’s championships in crossover sports, as recommended by the report. Doing so would aid in efficiency and provide greater cost savings.
“There would similarly be an advantage from a monitoring perspective since it would be a lot easier to determine whether hotel rooms, food, locker and weight room facilities, or signage are comparable if they are all in the same city,” the report says.
It’s an idea the Huskers women’s basketball team fully supports, drawing similarities to sharing Pinnacle Bank Arena with the men’s team.
“Our fans know that it is a great environment to come watch our games and the production around the game is similar for both men’s and women’s basketball,” Haiby said.
Sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne, who has played in two Big Ten tournaments, said she believes women’s games get a boost in attendance when played in the same arena as men’s games.
“They have the consistency of coming to the same arena to watch both men’s and women’s basketball,” Bourne said. “It makes it easier for fans to come watch our games.”
Thus, the idea that combining championships to play in the same arena over the same time period is born under the notion that the women’s tournament can generate more buzz by drawing fans in town for the men’s tournament.
The Big Ten will hold the both the men’s and women’s tournaments at Gainbridge Fieldhouse this year, but one week apart. While the dates were determined prior to the Big Ten’s exploration of combined championships, Warren claims there are still affecting factors to consider from the educational side of college sports.
“We’re not able to have a ten day tournament where student-athletes are away from class, but we are working through to see how we can combine events,” he said. “It is a puzzle where I want to make sure anything do only brings value and positive energy to our women’s sports.”
There is no perfect solution, but exploring new media rights deals and combined championships for equal facilities is the first step in the right direction.
Bourne and the Huskers have big goals for how this could play out.
“We want this to lead to a greater following of women’s basketball around the world,” she said.