The University of Nebraska women’s volleyball team is set to break attendance records for a women’s college sporting event, with more than 80,000 fans purchasing tickets to attend Volleyball Day in Nebraska, which will take place on August 30 at the university’s football stadium. This event is a strong reflection of the trend that more people are paying attention to women’s sports, and more funding is becoming available to support these athletes and programs. However, despite the increased attention, funding for athletic programs and organizations that support women’s colleges still falls short of those that support men’s.
A largely unregulated industry has partnered college athletes with businesses and private funders since the years of NCAA filibuster ended as states began to approve Name, Picture, and Likeness (NIL) payments in 2021 grew to connect. However, these bodies are usually affiliated with specific schools and focus almost exclusively on promoting and rewarding male athletes. Even after football was subtracted, more than 77% of total NIL funding goes to male athletes, according to data from Opendorse, a nationwide NIL marketing platform. Equally alarming is the fact that fewer than 35% of all female athletes have organizations that provide any resources to her. This exclusion highlights the need for legislative or legislative reform to bring NIL marketing and promotion into Title IX compliance.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which is the federal law mandating institutional equality in sports for men and women. However, while Title IX states that it is intended to provide equal access and opportunity, it does not mention anything about the issue of third-party compensation for athletes, making this new policy clear. As a result, there is no immediate and foreseeable action in Congress or courts to show the way forward in the frontiers of gender equality. This has to change.
A new female-centered NIL cooperative is being formed to level the playing field, and more women are seeking and finding NIL sponsorship and reward opportunities. Media rights for women’s games are on the rise, as are ad revenues, exposure, and stability. The Women’s Sports Network, a streaming network dedicated to 24/7 women’s sports coverage, was launched in her 2022. Responses at the institutional level are urgent and realistic. But as Congress considers various possible solutions and seeks clarification on how much power the NCAA actually has to regulate and enforce the NIL rule, we as collectives, universities, and media partners, can and must continue to drive change in how our media partners treat female athletes.
In a free market system with few regulatory guardrails, how these inequalities, rooted in the systemic underrepresentation of female athletes and athletics and reflected in the male-dominated culture of the university’s donor cohort, magnify. It’s easy to imagine how this could hurt the company’s profits. Supporting female athletes across platforms and programs is crucial. One simple reform that can be implemented now at the state or organizational level is to require all organizations to fund and provide assistance to female athletes and teams.
Julie Sommer, a Seattle attorney and executive director of the Drake Group Education Foundation, is a former All-American swimmer at the University of Texas and a former member of the U.S. National Team. She’s @JulieRSommer on her Twitter.