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NCAA to pay officials same in both basketball tournaments

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Baylor vs Gonzaga

April 5, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Scott Drew cuts the net after the national championship game in the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA will pay basketball officials for the women’s tournament the same amount it pays the officials for the men’s competition.

“The national office continues to prioritize gender equity and has taken steps to correct the disparity of pay for officials selected to work the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships,” the NCAA said in a statement. “All basketball officials, regardless of the gender of sport participants, will be receiving equal pay for championship games officiated in 2022 and beyond.”

Gender equality in college basketball returned to the forefront last season after the NCAA failed to provide similar amenities to the teams in the men’s and women’s Division I tournaments.

The NCAA commissioned the Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP law firm to create a gender equity report last summer. The firm issued a 113-page document that had a series of recommendations for changes in the women’s tournament that included expanding the field to 68 teams and using the phrase “March Madness.”

Officiating was not brought up at all in the report, but the NCAA noticed in budgeting meetings that the referees had a pay difference and decided to make a change.

“Happy the NCAA recognized that this was the right thing to do for NCAA Tournament officials,” selection committee chairwoman Nina King said. “It was almost low-hanging fruit. Why aren’t we paying the officials the same to do the same work on the men’s tournament? Pretty easy rationale to put forward. I’m really pleased that we got the approval to do that.”

This isn’t the first time that officials have made the same in the NCAA Tournament. From 2001-2012, the two tournaments paid the same, but as men’s referees starting making more in their conference games the NCAA had to increase the pay in the tournament to get the best officials, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to speak publicly on the matter.

The pay for women’s officials increased, but not nearly at the same rate as they make less in conference play. Unlike professional sports leagues, college officials are independent contractors.

The NCAA also said it will pay softball and lacrosse equitably as compared to their counterparts for men’s games. The other 21 sports already had equitable pay.