NCAA to give grants for women’s basketball

The grants will supplement marketing programs in light of the sport’s low popularity.

Jake Grovum

The NCAA announced its marketing grant program Nov. 5 to stir interest in women’s basketball programs nationwide.

Designed to supplement marketing strategies in an effort to boost attendance, athletics programs and conferences alike could find themselves with an extra $15,000 to $100,000 in promotional funding.

The NCAA will select beneficiaries in March for the grant program, two-and-a-half years in the making. It will distribute funds the following November.

To receive a grant, an institution must submit a proposal, and grants will be awarded based on possible measurable affects on the given program, Sue Donohoe, vice president for Division I women’s basketball, said.

“We’re not talking about a proposal to buy T-shirts and stress balls to throw up in the stands,” she said. “We’re looking for a proposal that says how are you going to move the needle, and how are you going to create more exposure and enhance the fan base?”

Between the 326 Division I women’s basketball programs, grants will be scarce, Donohoe said.

“It’s going to be competitive, it absolutely is,” she said. “We think that’s good for the game as well.”

The grant selection process is “very much attendance driven,” Donohoe said.

The program specifically looks to double the number of women’s basketball programs nationwide that average 70 percent-capacity attendance, Donohoe said, and double overall attendance.

Last season, the Gopher women’s basketball team averaged 41 percent capacity attendance, its lowest in the past five years.

Despite its decline, the Gopher women ranked No. 12 in the NCAA and No. 3 in the Big Ten, behind Purdue and Michigan State, according to the NCAA.

An institution’s current commitment to women’s basketball marketing also plays a role in awarding the grants, Donohoe said.

Grant guidelines give preference to applicants with a minimum budgetary commitment of $30,000 to women’s basketball, according to the NCAA.

Both the University and the Big Ten exceed that number, officials said.

The grant program allows both athletics programs and conferences to apply for grants, Donohoe said.

The Big Ten will determine whether or not it will submit a proposal on behalf of its members in the coming weeks, Andrea Williams, associate commissioner for basketball operations at the Big Ten, said.

While it is unclear whether the University will apply on its own, Jason LaFrenz, director of marketing and ticketing, said a grant would be a welcome supplement to marketing efforts.

What specifically would change if a grant is received is yet to be determined, and measurable marketing plans are also part of the grant application, LaFrenz added.

Currently, the University employs a number of marketing strategies, LaFrenz said.

“A to Z, we’ve got season ticket campaigns, we’ve got group nights,” he said. “We’ve got all sorts of efforts; it’s a fully integrated marketing plan.”

While not every program will receive a grant, the initiative has already stimulated discussion about women’s basketball on campuses, Donohoe said.

“Between having this good dialogue, people talking about women’s basketball, what can we do? How can we get involved in the grant program?” she said. “(It) may be really a first-time commitment by some programs, that in and of itself is a positive.”

Before awarding the grants, Donohoe said the NCAA will ensure programs have made a previous commitment to women’s basketball.

“We feel like we need to grow the game at the grassroots level, which is on campus, within conferences, within that membership,” she said. “You make the commitment and we’ll make a commitment along with you.”