NCAA Budget for Men's Basketball Tournament Almost Double Women's Tourney Budget

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The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament budget for the 2018-19 season was $28 million—almost twice as much as the women's budget, which was $14.5 million, according to ESPN

The 2020-21 budgets are expected to be similar.

In light of recent scrutiny of disparities between the men's and women's basketball tournaments, ESPN and The New York Times requested the NCAA tournament budgets for this season, but NCAA officials said that the most recent and available data is from the last set of completed championships (2018-19). 

The data showed that the men's tournament brought in a total net income of $864.6 million while the women's event lost $2.8 million, which is the largest loss of any NCAA championship.

"They have different budgets, but the difference in the budgets is because of the scale of the two tournaments," Kathleen McNeely, the NCAA's chief financial officer, told ESPN on Friday, "... and the nuances in the delivery, which tend to be committee decisions on how they're going to deliver those championships. I'm not saying there might not be minor issues, but in my opinion, there is a lot of parity between the men's and women's basketball tournaments as we look at it from an individual student-athlete experience, which tends to be our focus."

The NCAA announced it hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent gender-equity review of the tournaments across all three divisions and all sports. McNeely told ESPN this review will help determine if budgets are part of the issue.

Typically, the budgets are created each year. The 2020-21 season's budget was decided last June, but it underwent changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The NCAA estimated it cost $14 million to create the men's "bubble" experience, including COVID-19 testing, and $16 million for the women's bubble. The NCAA will not know the final financial implications until the tournaments are over. 

McNeely estimated that the NCAA is paying the same amount (roughly $2 million each) for testing at both tournaments. It was previously reported that men's teams had been receiving PCR tests while the women's received antigen tests, which are a less expensive and less accurate tests. 

The women's tournament is not the only sport to lose money, though. Only five of the 90 championships across the three divisions generate any profit. The men's basketball tournament pays for almost every NCAA championship across all divisions except for four in Division I—baseball, men's ice hockey, men's lacrosse and men's wrestling.