Men’s college basketball players making twice as much as women

The men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments are structured identically. Sixty-eight teams play 67 games—each lasting 40 minutes—to vie for college basketball’s top prize. There’s one inescapable difference: the men make twice as much money.

For a second year, college athletes—male and female—can profit from playing ball. In June 2021, the Supreme Court cleared the way for college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness. Since then, 20-year-olds have earned six—sometimes seven—figures on such NIL deals to shoutout brands on Instagram, sign autographs, or hop on Zoom with a few fans.

But those opportunities haven’t come equally. Data from Opendorse, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based marketing platform for athletes, found that male college basketball players make twice as much as their female counterparts. The numbers point to a disappointing reality that the long-standing disparities in professional sports already pervade college competition.

“It’s just following that historic trend of men getting more, being seen as more important,” said Andrea Geurin, the director of Loughborough University’s Institute for Sport Business in England. “Not that it is, but that’s our perception. That’s how society has always viewed sport.”

Opendorse analyzed deals executed using the company’s services by more than 100,000 college athletes from July 2021 through February of this year. According to the data, most of the men’s earnings edge comes from football, which by itself accounted for 55.1% of NIL deals. Even without football players in the dataset, Opendorse found that men take in roughly 60% of the compensation from NIL deals.

College athletes generally get paid in one of two ways. The first is through traditional endorsements. Companies like Outback Steakhouse, H&R Block, and Gatorade have signed star athletes to appear in ads or post about products or businesses on social media. With this type of deal, many of the top earners are women, according to Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence.

“When it comes to brand marketers, the women basketball players on this list stand out in terms of their marketability,” Lawrence said, pointing out that women tend to have higher engagement levels on social media. Of players competing in the March Madness tournament, eight of the 10 most-followed on Instagram are women, according to Opendorse. “Their audience is collectively much larger.”

Zia Cooke, a basketball player for the University of South Carolina, is one of the high earners and has partnered with H&R Block for a gender inclusivity campaign.

“It just never seems fair that we can do the exact same work, spend the same time, make the same sacrifices as male athletes and not be rewarded the same way,” she said in an email. “But it also impacts our moms who work, our female coaches, our female professors. It’s everywhere. We’re all working hard to support ourselves and our families, too. The pay gap is everywhere and it compounds over the course of our lives and careers.”

The pay difference comes mainly from the second method of compensation: money flowing from so-called NIL collectives. In many cases, rich donors and alumni establish these funds to pool money from businesses and fans, then dole out that cash to a school’s athletes. Collectives exacerbate the pay gap between male and female basketball players. Opendorse data found that—excluding the money from collectives—male and female basketball players made roughly the same amount of money from NIL deals.

Collectives abound. The Garnet Trust for athletes at the University of South Carolina, for example, provides perks like early access to interviews and a team sticker for a $10-a-month membership. Higher-end options, at $100 a month, come with premium offerings like access to in-person and autograph events.

“A lot of the companies and individuals who are getting involved with collectives and who are investing in collectives are the traditional donors who have traditionally supported men’s sport,” said Thilo Kunkel, director of Temple University’s Sport Industry Research Center. “A large majority of them are men, and they are supporting what they have supported in the past.”

The NCAA has warned collectives that they can’t recruit athletes to a particular school by engaging directly with high school players. Even so, athletes know which schools have established collectives that are willing to pay up, so the funds likely factor into many players’ college decisions.

The Drake Group, an education think tank, submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in January calling for increased oversight of NIL-related activities. Specifically, the group argued the department should clarify how deals, including funds coming from collectives, relate to Title IX requirements barring discrimination based on sex in education programs.

Closing the collegiate earnings gap is important in part because of the far greater inequality in professional sports, especially basketball.

“For a lot of women’s basketball players, college is the peak of their earning potential,” said Lawrence. “There will be women’s basketball players that get drafted into the WNBA and take a pay cut.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

12 thoughts on “Men’s college basketball players making twice as much as women

  1. So the men make twice as mich as the women.
    But I bet the men bring more than twice as much in revenue.

    Second, women can market themselves for compensation.
    They don’t have NCAA restrictions anymore.

  2. This is just one of many areas where the answer if obvious but political correctness prevents an honest discussion and acknowledgement of reality.

  3. This merely hints at (without directly confronting) the bigger question: if collegiate athletics were the embodiment of amateur competition, and now college athletes can cash in on their brand, what’s the point of the NCAA?

    As the others have indicated, there’s no real point in asking the gender pay gap question, because we all know the answer. However, my guess is, we’ll pretend we don’t know the answer so that NCAA has a new cause to champion (and a reason for being), which will help them rattle their collection jars and prompt the increasingly vestigial, irrelevant NCAA to clamp on to Title IX enforcement instead–something that’s just as divisive as amateur athletes cashing in. Or they’ll clamp on to transgender athletes in women’s sports–something that’s MORE divisive than amateur athletes cashing in.

    And, in time, the NCAA will become even more the puppet of the elites and less a representative of workaday athletes–particularly those in sports like fencing or lacrosse, which lack the visibility or clout for their athletes to make bank on their name-brand.

  4. As the ole saying goes “ Stay in school “.
    For athletes that won’t make it to the highest professional ranks
    such as the NBA, NFL, or MLB, then why not stay in college ten years
    playing and cashing in on your brand and talent.

    There is no such thing as the student athlete. It’s just an athlete
    competing on behalf of the school for compensation”

  5. I was thinking the same thing; what’s the point of the NCAA? They’re loosing power day by day. NIL deals were dangerous and now we can’t go back. This whole social media influencer, college athlete, getting better deals thing, feels like the show Black Mirror, season 3, episode 1. It’s called “Nosedive”. That’s where we end up.

  6. Are you kidding me “worthless article” didn’t you see the expert testimony from The Loughborough Institute of England and the Drake Group?

  7. Wow..what a surprise. The market pays more for some performers than others. Football pays more than water polo. Female models get paid more than male. We need equity among everybody in life. Bring everybody down to the same
    low level, except for those that pass the equality laws.

  8. In a related story, athletes at Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn, etc. make 2-3 times more than athletes at Ball State, Anderson University or Illinois State.

  9. I pay the Ops manager at my company (a female) 4 times what some of my lower-level male employees make. Feel free to contact me for additional information and possibly a big story.

  10. The tournaments are NOT structured identically. A simple look at the brackets would help. Men play on neutral courts, women’s first and second round are hosted on home courts. Men have four regional sites, women two.