A year ago, Sedona Prince shared her TikTok heard round the world, the clearest visual representation to date of the inequities that existed between the women’s and men’s college basketball tournaments.
Fast forward 12 months, and the NCAA has gone through a minor reckoning. That video led to an investigation into NCAA equity. The women’s tournament has since been given the same “March Madness” branding as the men’s tournament. And most importantly, college athletes — both women and men — are now allowed to profit off their names, images, and likenesses. Prince is among the primary benefactors of the new NIL legislation, as football is the only sport that has outpaced women’s basketball in terms of athlete compensation.
Baylor women’s basketball assistant coach Chloe Pavlech, a former player at Maryland who is also the founding journalist for what is now called Overtimewbb and knows a thing or two about promoting women's basketball through quick videos, loves the impact that Prince’s video has had.
“I think that’s one of the best parts about social media, everyone has the tools, you have a camera, you are able to report on a story, you are able to give a firsthand account of what is happening to you,” Pavlech says. “Her being able to do that and her sparking conversation — look at what’s happening. We are once again pointing out the gaps and the disparities between men and women, so people are seeing this. And now everyone’s outraged.
“(Sedona’s video) was really the tipping point. And who knows when the women’s tournament would have been considered March Madness. Or who knows when people would go above and beyond, as they’re doing on the men’s side, for the women’s side. ... I’d say this younger generation is just not afraid. They advocate, they’re very vocal about what should be done and what should be done right now, instead of just waiting. Waiting for the next person to do it or waiting because people have told them ‘well this is just how it is.’”
While colleges are working to bridge the gap between men and women, Prince and Pavlech are both a part of a TIAA campaign that is looking further down the line. TIAA launched an initiative this month — including women’s basketball luminaries such as Dawn Staley, C. Vivian Stringer, A’ja Wilson, Arike Ogunbowale, and Angel Reese — to bring awareness to fact that women retire with 30 percent less retirement income than men. The campaign's goal is so that women don’t have to worry about delaying retirement or running out of money when they do. Prince and Pavlech spoke with Swish Appeal as part of their campaign.
“Once I kind of started thinking about all the athletes and why NIL is even here in the first place, you start to think about making this money so that athletes can retire and not necessarily have to go pro, and that was one of the options that I’ll be faced with in a couple years,” Prince says. “Just looking for the future, which I think all athletes should be doing. It’s a big thing. Obviously, like a lot of student athletes are making money now, but you have to save that and use it smartly in order to use it for the rest of your life.”
“That’s a big thing in women’s sports, especially non pro sports, like swimming, mostly like Olympic sports have this challenge of they’re not necessarily able to make a yearly salary based on their sport, and sponsorships only come during the Olympics. So it’s very, very hard for them to make a living outside of their sport,” Prince added. “But if I can make that kind of money now and save it, then I can hopefully go into entrepreneurship. Invest that, buy real estate and then do things, you know, travel, do things that I really want to do, and play basketball, not have to worry about my salary. I think all women’s athletes are kind of faced with that challenge of, I’m not going to sign a $20 million rookie contract, so kind of start thinking ahead, planning is a big thing. And just being smart with your money.”
During last year’s March Madness, the basketball players with the largest social media followings were women. Their popularity on social media makes them even more attractive NIL candidates than the men in some cases, which is why Pavlech believes that much of the NIL pay gap boils down to sexism. However, part of it may also be because men’s sports make more money through TV popularity. But many, including Pavlech, believe there’s a way to fix the TV popularity gap.
“It’s always been men’s sports,” Pavlech says. “Women’s sports have never gotten that opportunity until now, but even now it’s not like that’s a whole First Take segment. They may get a minute in these talk shows. There’s not a talk show that’s dedicated to women that’s on the primetime slot for sports.... People are conditioned that men’s sports is the norm. Because that’s what they’ve been used to, that’s what they grew up watching, that’s what was on TV.
“But when I think about someone, when you bring them to their first women’s game, I’ve never had someone say that they didn't have fun, that they didn’t want to come back.... As a women’s basketball fan, a lot times they make it so hard for you to watch the game. Women’s basketball fans have to work so hard to watch these games, they’re naturally conditioned to have to jump through all these hoops, to buy these subscriptions.... When you give them the chance to show up and to be able to watch it nationally and then to also have others come into that, well it’s no wonder that the ratings go up, that they skyrocket.”
In addition to increasing the popularity of women’s sports, another way to even the amount of money made through NIL deals is by taking advantage of Title IX, which is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.
“People can bash on women’s sports, they can kind of try to tear us down, but there’s this legislation that makes it impossible for us to kind of get the short end of the stick,” Prince says about Title IX. “And when we do, we’re able to kind of change that and call it out and hopefully change that for future generations. But yeah, it’s been cool learning about it more now that I’m kind of a part of the fight. It’s been pretty incredible having a voice and then having the ability to make change for a lot of people in the future has definitely been a blessing.”
This past November, Arthur Bryant and Cary Joshi of Sportico explained why “college sports NIL is headed for a collision with Title IX.” They gave the following examples as potential Title IX violations:
The university trains its men’s basketball team on how to navigate the world of contracts and agents, but does not similarly train any women’s team.
The university allows the football team members to use its trademarked logo in an ad for a sports apparel brand, but not any women’s team members.
The women’s swimming and diving team coach holds meetings with various vendors to feature her team members on their website, but no men’s team coaches hold similar meetings.
The men’s baseball team members are paid by the university’s apparel partner to have jerseys sold with their names on the back, but no female athletes are offered similar deals.
Pavlech is the women’s basketball representative for a group at Baylor that is helping the athletic department deal with NIL deals. In that role she works to uphold Title IX. She says the group is trying as much as possible to get combo deals that feature a male athlete and a female athlete. In those scenarios, they are asking for the man and woman to be paid the same amount.
Even after 50 years of Title IX, women have 30% less income in retirement. Does that mean we have to work 30% harder to make up for it? Join me and @TIAA and let’s close the gap. https://t.co/0ntgmeOtg8. #TIAA-Ambassador #RetireInequality #retirementgap pic.twitter.com/Lv9eTuIS62— Chloe Pavlech (@Cpav15) March 2, 2022
Pavlech also applauded ESPN for its Baylor show paying male and female athletes equally and urged more companies to “take that initiative.”
When Pavlech thinks about equal pay, she goes back to a 3-on-3 event she ran with Overtime where a 14- or 15-year old girl thanked her for “treating us like the boys.” Because it really does boil down to investing in women the same amount as we invest in men, just like Pavlech strived to treat players of both genders at that event like “the most important people in the world.”
For Prince, her key goal with her NIL sponsorships is keeping young girls involved in sports. Lack of access to equipment and facilities or the fear of not having a career are among the many factors leading to girls dropping out of youth sports at a greater rate than boys. Equal treatment for male and female athletes isn’t just about equal pay for professionals, or equal experiences at the collegiate level — it starts at the beginning and works its way up.
And when there are inequities early on in life, those persist later, as evidenced by the gap in retirement income. Prince and Pavlech want to target those discrepancies between women and men throughout the process, and to start, NIL is helping them break down those barriers within the NCAA. They have some reservations about Title IX, especially after what women’s basketball players experienced a year ago at the NCAA Tournament, but women in college athletics already have more power now than they did a year ago. Their goal to retire inequality has cleared one important hurdle, even as more work remains to be done.