Report: Significant Gender Pay Gap Remains for NCAA Referees

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Men’s and women’s NCAA basketball referees were paid equally at this year’s March Madness tournaments for the first time in history.

While this was a big milestone for the sport and pay equality, referees across NCAA sports are still not paid equally throughout the regular season.

The Associated Press released a study Friday regarding the NCAA referee pay gap. Fifteen of the largest college conferences paid their male referees on average 22% more than female referees in 2021–22, according to the study.

When looking at how much male referees earn as opposed to female referees per game, the difference is around a few hundred dollars. Over the course of a season, though, that difference can add up to thousands of dollars. Of course, that difference is not huge to large organizations like the NCAA, which spent an extra $100,000 to equally pay their referees this year for its basketball tournaments.

It’s important to note that according to the 2020 census, women earn only 83 cents for every dollar earned by men in the United States.

The AP looked at about half of the 32 NCAA conferences in this study. Out of the leagues researched, the Northeast Conference was found to have the greatest disparity in payment for referees: men earned about 48% more than their women counterparts.

Some conferences continue to advocate for equal pay for referees, while others resist change. South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley is a supporter of equal pay for the field.

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“They don’t do anything different,” Staley said. “Why should our officials get paid less for taking the [expletive] we give them?”

The Northeast Conference and Pac-12 both admitted that they plan to begin working toward equality with referee payment starting next season. NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said the conference decided to work toward change when realizing that basketball was the only sport not paying its referees equally in the conference.

NCAA referees work as independent contractors and do not have a union. This means they pay their own travel expenses to get to the games. Sometimes, a referee can work five to six games in different cities all in one week.

Some conferences, like the Big East, see the market value of women’s basketball vs. men’s basketball as a primary reason a pay gap still exists. 

“Historically we have treated each referee pool as a separate market,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said. “We paid rates that allow us to be competitive for services at our level. I think the leagues are entitled to look at different factors here. I don’t see it as an equity issue—I see it as a market issue.”

Of the 800 NCAA women’s basketball referees last season, 43%  were female, and only six women officiated men’s basketball games, which accounts for less than 1%.

To fix this problem, various conferences are trying to recruit more women to officiate men’s basketball games. However, NCAA’s supervisor of officials Penny Davis expressed that she and others don’t want to lose their “best and brightest” officials from women’s basketball.

While some steps are being taken to eliminate the differences, for now, the gender pay gap within NCAA officiating remains.

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