<
>

WBCA has positive first meeting with Division I Women's Basketball Oversight Committee

WBCA executive director Danielle Donehew said the special meeting between the WBCA and the Division I Women's Basketball Oversight Committee on Monday was positive but only the first step in bringing much-needed change to the sport.

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association requested the meeting to go over the inequities between the men's and women's basketball tournaments last month but also to set an agenda for changes to the sport itself -- changes in some instances that have been discussed for 15 years. Donehew stressed it is important both groups work together to get the meaningful change they all want.

"We ... outlined the issues," Donehew told ESPN. "And as we outlined the issues, it just reinforced that it's going to take some time to unpack them, and to propose meaningful changes, it's going to take some time to understand and work together to create a priority list of which ones do we want to recommend first? We thought today's meeting was good and productive. But again, it's just the first of a series of meetings."

As part of the agenda, the WBCA brought up possible expansion of the women's championship field from 64 to 68 teams to match the current men's tournament format, in addition to revenue distribution based on a five-year rolling average of success and the challenges posed by conducting both Final Four events on the same weekend.

These are similar to issues outlined in a 2006 report of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Discussion Group. In addition, many of the pervasive inequities were also outlined in the 2013 White Paper, written by current Big East commissioner Val Ackerman.

During the meeting, several women's basketball coaches spoke to the committee, including Toledo coach and WBCA president Tricia Cullop, UCLA coach Cori Close (WBCA vice president) and North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, as a way to show coaches are committed to the changes as well. Cullop said her overarching theme was capitalizing on the opportunity to make the most out of the disappointment and frustration that the events of the last month put a spotlight on, including the disparity in weight-training facilities, player amenities and COVID-19 testing at the two tournaments.

"... I don't want to look 10 years down the line and not see movement," Cullop told ESPN. "I would really like for us to work together so that we find solutions and that we see movement. I don't want our coaches and our membership across the country to be frustrated with things not changing. We want to show we want to be able to work together with the oversight committee to create needed change. So that ... our coaches and our student-athletes feel the value that they deserve to feel."

Making meaningful change will not happen with the snap of a finger, but keeping up a sense of urgency is important for groups like the WBCA, which has already launched its #OurFairShot initiative to keep up the messaging and not let this opportunity pass. Where changes have been slow to come in the past, Donehew believes this is a different moment, and the NCAA must be ready for it.

"I believe this is a unifying moment," she said. "The different entities that represent women's basketball will unify for the greater good of the game. There have been challenges in the past, with getting movement on ideas, but we're committed to the work, we're committed to continue to give our best efforts."

She added that it is important that there is a plan in place once the formal review the NCAA commissioned after the tournament inequities were exposed is completed, so the women's basketball oversight committee can be quick to respond. Any changes discussed must go through the women's basketball oversight committee first, before they move forward through other NCAA channels and then ultimately rest with university presidents weighing in.

"What happened in San Antonio has led us to an opportunity, and sports teaches us that we always want to do our best with the opportunities that are that are in front of us," Donehew said. "And so the WBCA is committed to standing and speaking in this moment, and we are going to stay positive. And we are going to expect appropriate changes will be made."

Oversight chair Lisa Campos, the athletic director at UTSA, said she put together a leadership group with members from the WBOC that includes Close to have weekly meetings with Kaplan Hecker & Fink -- the group charged with the review. She said how quickly change can happen largely depends on the results from the equity report.

"When that report comes out, everyone needs to understand what their role and position is to make that change happen," Campos told ESPN. "It's going to take real openness about this change, and it's going to take resources, whether that's financial, whether that's staff resources. So again, I think it's all going to be dependent on the recommendations on how we strategize how to make that change happen in the quickest time possible."

But Close also pointed out in an interview with ESPN there are easy changes that can be made without a report, such as elevating NCAA Vice President of Women's Basketball Lynn Holzman to a senior position, the same as NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt, and making their staff sizes the same.

"If we don't see real change, the publicity is going to get more extensive, not less," Close said. "There's a window of opportunity right now that we must walk through, that we must take advantage of. The time is now for people to understand why women are worth investing in, that we are not just a charity or a cause. We are an asset that should be valued."