The NCAA has been under scrutiny for the disparities between the women’s and men’s accommodations for the 2020-2021 March Madness Basketball Tournament. It appears that the NCAA decided it would be a good idea to further perpetuate the inequities between women’s and men’s basketball during Women’s History Month. It’s an odd way to celebrate Women’s History Month but it happened.
It all started when the teams arrived at their respective facilities. The Women’s tournament was set up in San Antonio and the Men’s tournament was set up in Indianapolis. On March 18th the NCAA tweeted out a time-lapsed video where they showed the work that went into setting up the Men’s weight room facility. A large room with a couple dozen weight machines. Pretty standard stuff. That same day Sedona Prince, a forward from Oregon tweeted out a Tik Tok video that showed the Women’s weight room facility which was comprised of a single rack of dumbbell weights, a stationary bike, and some yoga mats that had a sign taped on indicating that the mats had been “sanitized.” Clearly more thought went into the “sanitized” sign than the actual “weight room.” The NCAA released a statement that acknowledged the clear difference in accommodation only to blame it on a “lack of space.” The statement from Lynn Holzman, the NCAA VP of Women’s Basketball, reads as follows: “We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment. In part, this is due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament. However, we want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.” Prince swiftly debunked that myth. In her Tik Tok video a significant amount of space can been seen. That space was available for actual weight-training equipment, that they simply weren’t provided with. Lots of space. The differences did not end there. There were the less important yet still irritating differences like how the Men’s teams were provided with buffet style food options whilst the Women’s teams were provided with boxed dinners. OR how the Men’s gift bags were full of custom-made March Madness items and the Women basically received a water bottle and a t-shirt.
The March Madness Twitter page really told on itself by having its Bio read “The official NCAA March Madness destination for all things Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball. #MarchMadness” It’s almost as if the Women’s participation didn’t matter in not mentioning the Women’s tournament at all. Dawn Staley, South Carolina’s Women’s Basketball Coach, addressed that in a statement she released on Twitter. “…The issue here looms larger. Let’s start with the NCAA @marchmadness official verified Twitter account. The tagline leaves no run for misinterpretation—The Official NCAA March Madness destination for all things Division I/NCAA Men’s Basketball.” Those words mean one thing—March Madness is ONLY about men’s basketball.
“How do we explain that to our players? How can an organization that claims to care about ALL member institutions’ student athlete experiences have a copyrighted term that only ‘represents’ one gender?”
Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw pointed out that the Men were provided with a new NCAA court that proudly featured the “March Madness” logo. The Women, not so much. On one of the courts there is a small NCAA logo next to “Women’s Basketball” and, the other court is simply a volleyball court. Neither court mentions “March Madness” nor were they allowed to use the “March Madness” logo.
The gender disparities really showed itself in the bigger and more important ways like the players’ safety during the current pandemic. Meaning that the Men and Women received different COVID tests. The Men were given the more accurate PCR test while the women were given antigen tests. The casual sexism that appears to be embedded in all aspects of the tournament put the players’ health at risk and it needs to be addressed immediately.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols explained on “The Jump” how the gender bias extends to the coaches. “There was also an article this morning on ‘The Athletic’ about some of the female coaches…who are working in the tournament and how the NCAA is basically penalizing them and their teams if they have, say, a baby who depends on them for food. That baby counts inside the bubble against the total that they can bring in for that coach’s team. If they want to feed their child, [they have] to have one less athletic trainer, one less other coach, one less person in the traveling party.”
Geno Auriemma, UConn’s Women’s Basketball coach, weighed in saying, “For me it wasn’t outrage, for me it was just power for course. This is what happens. It’s just that it’s never exposed to the level that it was exposed last week. For some of us that have been coaching for 35-40 years in the women’s game, this is nothing new. This is an ongoing thing for the last 40 years where the answer to every women’s sport is ‘Yeah, you’re important; but you’re not as important as the men’s tournament.’”
Auriemma cited the weight room and swag bag disparities saying, “Who cares…if you have one, you have one. If you don’t, you don’t. That’s not going to determine who’s going to win a championship. But they [the small disparities] are symbolic of things…There’s no thought involved in like what is the best we can do for the women. Cause they never say what is the least we can do for the men.”
Staley finished her statement by saying, “Women’s basketball is a popular sport whose stock and presence continues to rise on a global level. It is sad that the NCAA is not willing to recognize and invest in our growth despite its claims of togetherness and equality. We all came to San Antonio with one goal; it’s time for us to turn our attention to preparing our teams for that. But, it is also time for the NCAA leadership to reevaluate the value they place on women.”
Quite possibly the most unfortunate part of this decades-long problem being exposed, is that it is understandably overshadowing the incredible basketball that the women are playing. It’s unfortunate that the talented players who worked hard to be in the tournament aren’t getting the traction for their talent that they deserve. Here’s hoping that moving forward, real equity is sought and received and these shameful gender disparities become a thing of the past so the women can get the recognition they deserve.