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Revamped NCAA Tournament a stark contrast with huge WNIT inequity

Bruin players celebrate a basket during the team's triple-overtime quarterfinal win over Wyoming on March 24. UCLA Athletics photo.
Bruin players celebrate a basket during the team’s triple-overtime quarterfinal win over Wyoming on March 24. UCLA Athletics photo.

During the UCLA Bruins’ post-game interview almost two weeks ago, normally-easygoing Charisma Osborne was adamant. Reporters had no more questions for her, but the top junior guard wasn’t done speaking.

“Can I add one more thing?” she said after the Bruins’ win over Oregon State, which put them in the Final Four of the WNIT – a triumph after a triple-overtime effort two days earlier.

“I’m super-proud of this group, and what we’ve been through,” Osborne said. “We traveled 12-13 hours (by bus), played triple overtime and then had to wake up super early to get on another flight to come here.”

“I feel like, with the women’s NIT and the men’s NIT, the difference is that men are getting chartered flights and are getting paid to play, women have to find all these different ways to play, and we have to go through all this adversity. Shout out to all the teams in the WNIT. I’m super-proud of everyone. There needs to be more awareness.”

Osborne also tweeted her dissatisfaction: “There’s no reason the WNIT shouldn’t be receiving the same benefits as the men! Why does the NCAA own the men’s NIT but not the women’s NIT? Women deserve better!”

The NCAA made numerous changes this year to put the women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments on more equal footing, after players and coaches called out the inequity between them last season. But the differences between the two National Invitation Tournaments remains as stark and discriminatory as ever.

The NIT has been played since 1938, making it one year older than the NCAA tourney. At one time the NIT was the more prestigious tournament of the two, with some schools opting to play postseason in that field, over the NCAA’s bracket.

The NIT was owned by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association until 2005, when a lawsuit settlement resulted in the NCAA purchasing the pre and postseason NIT rights for $56.5 million.

There is no entry fee for teams to participate in the NIT, which does provide, per diem, for a 25-person travel party to cover meals and hotel rooms during tournament runs. The NIT funds the cost of one bus if a team drives to the host site, or the school is provided commercial airfare. If no reasonable commercial travel is available, the NIT covers the cost of a charter plane. Hosting teams get to keep 15 percent of ticket sale revenue.

The WNIT is owned by Triple Crown Sports – a for-profit company that created the tournament in 1994. As per the event handbook, participating schools must submit a host budget, which is a financial guarantee to the WNIT. All rounds require a minimum guarantee for hosting, and a host school must guarantee the WNIT a percentage of net game revenue, which varies depending upon ticket sales. If a host school doesn’t meet its revenue budget, that institution owes the WNIT the guaranteed amount on the budget form.

Host schools guarantee the WNIT 85 percent of the first $30,000 of net game revenue, and 55 percent of any net game revenue exceeding $30,000. The amount due to the WNIT post-tournament is the calculated game revenues or the submitted guarantee – whichever is greater.

WNIT teams must make their own air and travel reservations through the organization’s travel partners, and they must make their own bus reservations. The WNIT assumes the financial risk for all traveling teams, but the school must pay the first $15,000 of their own travel expenses. Triple Crown will reimburse travel costs beyond that amount if teams follow a set of guidelines, which includes limiting traveling parties to 20 people or less.

UCLA, which won the postseason WNIT in 2015, hosted the first two games this year before they had to travel to Wyoming. From there they broke into three different groups to fly to Oregon in a 13-hour window. After they beat the Oregon State Beavers, the Bruins saw their request to host the next game denied. So they broke into five groups to fly to South Dakota. They lost in the semifinals to South Dakota State, who played all six of their WNIT games at home in winning the championship.

Charisma Osborne. UCLA Athletics photo.

UCLA coach Cori Close and her assistant coaches supported Osborne’s willingness to speak up about the inequities between the tournaments.

“That’s what Charisma’s fired up about, is because she’s educated herself,” Close said. “She’s saying, this is not right.”

Close got on Twitter herself and commented on a post about the NIT final. She said she was happy for the participants, “but what a striking contract to our experience with the WNIT. Not even close…..our experience has been quite different.”

“It’s really a pay for play environment,” Close said after the Oregon State game. “It’s bids, how well you draw, and how you travel.”

Ultimately, though tough to reconcile at times, the Bruins were grateful to participate and try to make a difference.

“I want it to change, and even if it doesn’t effect our group, it may effect change for future organizations,” Close said.

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