As the dust of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments settles this weekend, there’s one thing The Phoenix Editorial Board must mention — the problematic difference in how the NCAA treats its men’s and women’s student-athletes.
Sedona Prince, a women’s basketball player for the University of Oregon, sparked this conversation March 18 when she posted a video on social media — which later went viral — comparing the men’s and women’s weight rooms at the tournament. Prince showed the women’s weight room, consisting of a folding table with a few yoga mats and a single rack of weights. Then, she showed the men’s weight room, filled with dozens of bench presses and other state-of-the-art equipment.
It’s apparent the NCAA isn’t taking proper care of its women student-athletes when it gets down to the very basic necessities, which is discrimination. It’s hard to argue with this when the visual evidence of it is everywhere.
As Prince’s posts gained traction, others posted about disparities in men’s and women’s tournament amenities, such as the swag bags teams received. Photos emerged on Twitter showing a stark contrast between toiletries and other gear the men’s and women’s players were offered.
Other news coverage pointed out how cities hosting the games “made the inequities obvious” due to how they decorated — or didn’t decorate — for the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Phoenix reporters covering the tournament saw how many buildings in Indianapolis were decked out for the men’s tournament. In San Antonio, visitors wouldn’t be able to tell the women’s tournament was happening unless they got close to the venues where games were being played. Furthermore, not all women’s courts had the NCAA branding, and March Madness was solely used to market the men’s tournament, according to USA Today.
Worse is the fact the women’s teams weren’t being taken care of nearly as well from a health standpoint, with the men reportedly administered more-accurate COVID-19 PCR tests and the women using antigen tests, according to USA Today. Other reported inequalities included more limited food options for players, among other issues.
Yes, it can be argued that the men’s tournament generates more money. But that argument rings hollow.
As Loyola women’s basketball head coach Kate Achter put it in a post-game press conference weeks ago: “There’s some ignorance behind saying, ‘Okay, well, the men draw more.’”
The Loyola women’s basketball team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but Achter mentioned how she has both played and coached at the tournament in the past.
“Last time I checked, the NCAA is a blanket and the NCAA women’s tournament and the NCAA men’s tournament are sponsored by the same entity that collects a whole lot of money through March Madness,” Achter said.
Our Editorial Board agrees. The NCAA has a responsibility to take care of all its student-athletes, regardless of sport or gender.
“Women deserve better, period,” Achter said. “They’re elite and they deserve to be recognized as such. It’s a little disheartening that it would take such a big social media outcry to do so.”
The NCAA hired a law firm to perform an independent gender-equity review of all sports across all divisions last week, ESPN reported, but the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) is arguing this is “insufficient,” and we agree. There’s a systemic issue at play, and it’ll take more than a review to squash it.
“The issues raised by the treatment of the teams in San Antonio are symptoms of a much larger attitude that women’s sports are second class to their men’s counterparts,” the WBCA wrote in a letter. “This attitude is best demonstrated by differences in how the NCAA manages, funds and markets its two preeminent events — the Division I Women’s and Men’s Basketball Championships.”
The attitude of women’s inferiority and this discrimination in sports has to stop, permanently. The public change needs to start with the messaging. The women’s tournament is just as important and deserving of equal treatment in all aspects. It should be treated as such through greater advertising, signage and branding, in addition to other, much better amenities.
We understand this is no easy feat and will take time to fix. But this change has to start somewhere. Female athletes deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect as their male counterparts, and decision-makers need to be held accountable.