Column: The NCAA Doesn’t Treat Women’s Basketball Fairly

Deputy sports editor Andi Revesz reflects on the spike in interest in collegiate women’s basketball this season, calling attention to the discrepancies between the NCAA’s treatment of the men’s and women’s basketball leagues.

As March Madness ended April 8 and busted brackets are thrown away, I find myself reflecting on this past season where I fell in love with the sport of basketball. 

I didn’t know much about basketball, coming from a primarily hockey and baseball-focused family — shoutout to my dad. But my love for the sport has grown as I’ve attended many basketball games working for The Phoenix this past year.

With this new love also comes a new hate. As I’ve previously shared, being a woman in the male-dominated sports industry is hard to not only observe, but to experience firsthand. These disparities become even more highlighted while watching postseason men’s and women’s basketball. 

In 2021, former University of Oregon player Sedona Prince shed light on the disparities in a TikTok video posted during the women’s tournament in San Antonio, Texas. In the video, which has over three million likes, Prince showed the “weight room” the women’s teams were provided, which included only a rack of dumbbells. She then compared the space to the facility provided to the men’s teams, which took up an entire hotel conference room and included various equipment. 

In a statement, the NCAA said this was due to limited space. However, as Prince panned the camera across the empty room designated for women’s training, it was clear space wasn’t the issue. 

Before the 2022 tournament started, the NCAA released a list of all of the changes they would be making to the women’s tournament to make it more equal, according to Sports Illustrated. This list included a yogurt and pasta bar, a lounge in the Final Four round with ping-pong tables, three big-screen TVs, a 28-pillow cushioned couch and the same merchandise gifted to the men’s teams. 

These changes came only after a gender equity review by an independent law firm proved the NCAA was at fault, according to Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP. 

While NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said “there’s still more to do,” it’s unclear when more change will happen and what the NCAA will deem as appropriate to change.

The NCAA refrained from using the “March Madness” label to brand the women’s tournament up until the 2022 season, according to the Hartford Courant. None of the merchandise received by women’s athletes was branded with the phrase and it wasn’t plastered on center court like the men’s tournament. 

Only “NCAA Women’s Basketball” was used. Not even the word “tournament” was included in the name. 

Now, “March Madness” is used in the women’s tournament and in social media handles for the event, and the NCAA has increased the field in the women’s tournament to 68 teams in line with the men’s. 

But is this enough? 

For years, men’s collegiate basketball teams got the opportunity to travel to neutral sites to play starting with the first games played in March Madness. However, the women’s teams have to play at the top seeded home courts for the first and second rounds of the tournament. Why aren’t women’s teams allowed the experience of a neutral court like the men?

Our Fair Shot is an initiative created by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association to bring attention to the inequality between men’s and women’s college basketball. In the side-by-side section of the website, Our Fair Shot compares women’s and men’s basketball directly showing differences between the structure, financials, sales, marketing and treatment of student-athletes. 

The organization also lists demands for the NCAA to create an equal environment for men’s and women’s basketball. This includes providing the same resources, acquiring the same visibility and recognition, giving coaches the same recruitment tools and more.  

While these are issues that still need improvements, there are some parts the NCAA has improved on in the women’s basketball scene. 

One of the visible changes for basketball viewers is the increase in coverage of women’s basketball. This can be credited to superstars in the league like Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who recently became the leading scorer in all of college basketball, LSU’s Angel Reese and UConn’s Paige Bueckers, as well as coaches like South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and LSU’s Kim Mulkey. 

This season, there has been a 60% increase in viewership for women’s college basketball, according to Forbes Magazine, and there is evidence that women’s games turn out a greater viewership than men’s on Fox. 

Last season’s championship matchup between Iowa and LSU attracted 9.9 million viewers, according to Neilsen. This year, their Elite 8 rematch averaged 12.3 million viewers and peaked at 16.1 million, according to CNN

The growth hasn’t stopped there. 

In this year’s Final Four, Iowa faced UConn for a spot in the championship. The teams broke the recently-set record for viewership and averaged 14.2 million viewers with a peak at 17 million, according to CNN

Even in the championship game, where undefeated South Carolina faced the Iowa Hawkeyes, the viewership trumped the men’s championship with an average of 18.9 million against UConn and Purdue’s 14.82 million, according to the Associated Press. 

This has been one of the only positive changes seen, and there is still so much more to be done. 

The NCAA has so much work to do to make not only men’s and women’s basketball equal, but all sports equal. Women’s basketball and women’s sports are on the rise and the NCAA should recognize them more for what they are capable of.

Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix

Andi Revesz

Andi Revesz