The NCAA women’s basketball tournament will start using “March Madness” in marketing and branding beginning this season.

Using the phrase, which has been associated with the men’s tournament for years, was one of the recommendations stemming from an external review of gender equity issues of the tournaments. The report released in August was sparked by outrage at the disparities between amenities such as the skimpy weight room available for the women’s teams to use compared with the men’s.

It’s still unclear exactly how March Madness will be incorporated into the women’s tournament, but putting the slogan on the court would be a possible starting place. The tournament last season simply had “Women’s Basketball” on its court.

NCAA Tournament March Madness

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament will use March Madness in marketing and branding beginning this season. Last season, the words “Women’s Basketball” were used on the courts that hosted the women’s tournament. Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

“Women’s basketball has grown tremendously over the past several years, and we remain focused on our priority of enhancing and growing the game,” said Lynn Holzman, vice president of women’s basketball. “The brand recognition that March Madness carries will broaden marketing opportunities as we continue that work to elevate the women’s basketball championship.”

The Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee unanimously supported adopting the phrase.

“This is just the start when it comes to improving gender equity in the way the two Division I basketball championships are conducted,” said Lisa Campos, chair of the committee. “Adding the March Madness trademark to the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship will enhance the development and public perception of the sport, and the oversight committee looks forward to its work to address other recommendations through the governance structure to continue those efforts.”


Another potential change that could come down the road would be to expand the tournament field from 64 teams to 68 teams to equal the men’s bracket.

The NCAA also announced Wednesday that the national office will start from scratch in determining budgeting expenses for the two tournament staffs instead of adjusting the budgets from the previous fiscal year. This move will help show where differences in the allocations of resources occur in the two tournaments and potentially increase chances for cross-promotion. It will also try to make the two championships more financially equal.

Northwestern football players gather during practice on Aug. 17, 2015. College football players and some other athletes in revenue-generating sports are employees of their schools, the National Labor Relations Board’s top lawyer said in a memo Wednesday, that would allow the players to unionize and otherwise negotiate over their working conditions. The nine-page NLRB memo revisited a case involving Northwestern University football players who were thwarted from forming a union when the board said that taking their side “would not promote stability in labor relations.” Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

ATHLETES CONSIDERED EMPLOYEES: College athletes who earn millions for their schools are employees, the National Labor Relations Board’s top lawyer said in guidance that would allow players at private universities to unionize and otherwise negotiate over their working conditions.

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo also threatened action against schools, conferences and the NCAA if they continue to use the term “student-athlete,” saying that it was created to disguise the employment relationship with college athletes and discourage them from pursuing their rights.

“The freedom to engage in far-reaching and lucrative business enterprises makes players at academic institutions much more similar to professional athletes who are employed by a team to play a sport,” Abruzzo wrote.

Abruzzo’s memo does not immediately alter the dynamic between the schools and their athletes, who can receive scholarships and limited cost of attendance funding in exchange for playing sports. Instead, it is legal advice for the NLRB should a case arise.


That could be triggered by an effort by a team to unionize, a claim of an unfair labor practice or even by a school continuing to refer to a player as a “student-athlete,” Abruzzo said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It just perpetuates this notion that players at academic institutions are not workers that have statutory protection,” she said. “It is chilling workers’ rights to engage with one another to improve their terms and conditions of employment.”

Neither the NCAA, the nation’s largest governing body with oversight of some 450,000 athletes, nor representatives for the Power Five conferences responded to a request for comment from the AP.

Gabe Feldman, the director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, said the memo is “yet another threat” to the NCAA and its business model, which relies on unpaid athletes to reap billions in revenue that is parsed out to its 1,200 member schools.

“All signs point to an increasingly at-risk and fragile system of college athletics,” he said.

Although football in the five largest conferences is college sports’ biggest money-maker, the memo would extend protections to all athletes who meet the legal definition of an employee: someone who performs services for an institution and is subject to its control.


The NLRB has authority only over private schools; public university athletes would have to look to state legislatures or Congress for workplace protections. But the NCAA and the conferences could be viewed as co-employers, Abruzzo told the AP.

“If they’re engaged in commerce in the private sector, they are subject to that statute,” she said. “We believe that not only the college but also the conference itself directly and immediately controls the terms and conditions of employment.”

The NLRB’s new stance – which reinstates an old opinion that had been rescinded during President Donald Trump’s administration – is the latest test for the NCAA and the infrastructure of U.S. college sports.

This spring, a unanimous Supreme Court said the NCAA cannot limit education-related benefits while hinting at the end of the NCAA’s business model and a few weeks later the organization, under pressure from multiple states, cleared the way for athletes to earn money based on their celebrity.

Since March, the NCAA has also faced criticism over the disparity between the resources, branding and support afforded the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The organization is planning to overhaul its constitution, parts of which have been in place for a century.

Abruzzo also wrote that players across the country had engaged in collective action following the killing of George Floyd – action that “directly concerns terms and conditions of employment, and is protected concerted activity.” Players likewise banded together during the recent pandemic – both by arguing for games to go forward, and for rules to protect themselves once they did.


“Players at academic institutions have gained more power as they better understand their value in generating billions of dollars in revenue for their colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA,” she wrote.

“And this increased activism and demand for fair treatment has been met with greater support from some coaches, fans, and school administrators. Players at academic institutions who engage in concerted activities to improve their working conditions have the right to be protected from retaliation.”

The nine-page NLRB memo revisited a case involving Northwestern football players who were thwarted from forming a union when the board in 2015 said that taking their side “would not promote stability in labor relations.”

Much has changed since then, including the collective social justice awakening and the Supreme Court’s Alston decision that Abruzzo said “clearly stated that this was a for-profit enterprise and wasn’t amateurism.”

If cases similar to the Northwestern one comes before the NLRB, she said, it could be decided differently.

“I don’t think the board can or should punt,” she told the AP. “I think we have more information that they are statutory employees.”

The memo issued by Abruzzo, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, rescinded a 2017 memo by her predecessor. That memo had, in turn, overturned a memo issued during President Barack Obama’s administration, when Abruzzo was a deputy general counsel.

“I was intimately involved in drafting the initial memo that was rescinded,” Abruzzo said. “I wanted to get the word out that it is this general counsel’s opinion that athletes … are employees that are covered by our statute.”

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