GREENVILLE, S.C. -- As the NCAA closes in on a decision about what to do about its next media rights contract for its sport championships, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and UCLA coach Cori Close enthusiastically support the women's basketball tournament getting its own separate television deal.
Currently, the NCAA has a television deal with ESPN for its Division I championships, excluding men's basketball and football. That deal runs through 2023-24.
In a report the NCAA commissioned in 2021 to study gender inequities between the men's and women's tournaments, independent media expert Ed Desser estimated the annual broadcast rights for women's basketball would be worth between $81 million and $112 million in 2025.
The report points out that number is multiple times higher than the current deal, which pays $34 million annually for its championships package.
The NCAA is expected to make a decision by the fall, so it can then begin negotiations.
"It should happen," Staley said Friday, the day before her Gamecocks play UCLA in the Sweet 16. "We're at that place where we're in high demand. I do believe women's basketball can stand on its own and be a huge revenue-producing sport that could do, to a certain extent, what men's basketball has done for all those other sports, all those other Olympic sports and women's basketball.
"I do believe we were probably at a place years ago, but until we're able to have the decision-makers give us that opportunity ... It's slowly building up to that because there's proof in the numbers."
South Carolina's 64-49 win over UConn in the national championship game last year had 4.85 million viewers, the most-watched college basketball game on ESPN (men or women) since 2008. Overall, last year's tournament saw a 16% increase in viewers and the Final Four weekend was the most watched.
Earlier this year, 1.5 million viewers tuned to ESPN to watch South Carolina beat LSU, the most watched regular-season women's basketball game since 2010.
This year's national title game will be on ABC, the first time that has happened on network television since 1995.
In addition to wanting it's tournament to be negotiated as a separate rights package, Close is in favor of a unit distribution model similar to what the men receive for participation in the NCAA tournament. Close, who also serves as WBCA president, said other coaches she has talked to are in favor of this model as well.
"I think it needs to happen hand in hand," Close said. "It was one of the major parts of the Kaplan report a few years back. As a new media rights deal is worked on hopefully by the NCAA for a standalone deal with women's basketball in that space, I think there needs to be a meaningful unit distribution associated with that.
"I don't think any of us are asking for it to be just like the men. Obviously, they're ahead of us in that deal. But I do think it's the next right step."