It's Not Just The Weight Room: NCAA WOmen's Basketball has long been an afterthought
It’s not just about the weight room.
And if the NCAA is looking for a pat on the back for its improvement of the workout and training facilities for the women’s basketball tournament taking place in Texas, they may want to keep looking.
It’s interesting that within 48 hours of the social media uproar, the “limited space” that hindered the organization from providing adequate amenities to the women student-athletes vying for a national championship seemed to no longer matter. Somehow, the NCAA was able to expand the workout area in the convention center where the women would be playing.
After Stanford’s performance coach Ali Kershner’s photos went viral highlighting the differences between the weight rooms at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis and the women’s tournament in San Antonio, the outcry from disappointed student-athletes, members of the media, coaches and various WNBA players made it almost impossible for the NCAA to ignore. There were even local gyms and studios offering equipment and private workout sessions for the players to use ahead of Sunday’s tipoff. But it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t as if the equipment wasn’t available… just not available to the athletes until the Sweet 16. Limited space, remember?
But you see, it wasn’t just the weight room.
Eventually more pictures began to surface showing distinctive differences in the two events, from the swag bags to the students’ meals. According to espnW’s Mechelle Voepel, on Saturday, tournament officials claim the swag bags were of equal value, that both the men and women have the same "virtual gift suite” (where they can select gifts), and that the food availability was a hotel issue and the event planning committee is working with local restaurants to ensure the students who have been less than satisfied with the meals provided will have better options.
Dan Gavitt, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball said in a statement posted to the NCAA Twitter account:
“We have intentionally organized basketball under one umbrella [at the NCAA] to ensure consistency and collaboration. When we fall short of these expectations, it’s on me. I apologize to women’s basketball student-athletes, coaches and the women’s basketball committee for dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio.”
So we’re still focused on the weight rooms?
I guess the NCAA wants a shout out for recognizing its shortcomings in the women’s tournament. Unfortunately I have not one to offer. And posting celebratory messages on social media, as if there should be an expectation of an applause for doing what should have naturally been done from the beginning, is quite the insult. The NCAA didn’t “drop the ball” on the women’s tournament. On the contrary, the ball fell a long time ago, and not only did anyone refuse to pick it up, but no one even noticed it had fallen.
Gavitt’s statement lends to the notion of one umbrella of NCAA basketball, yet the term “March Madness,” a phrase that has become so synonymous with college basketball, is exclusively trademarked and used to market the men’s DI tournament. Speaking of which, it’s not even referred to as the “men’s tournament,” the “Men’s Final Four” or the men’s anything. However, most people can’t reference the women’s game without actually prefacing it with the word “women.”
Still think it’s about the weight room?
The NCAA is a nonprofit organization that manages to rack in a billion dollars annually, with about $820M of it deriving from men’s college basketball. Considering we live in a capitalistic society, it’s fair to say that money will move the needle in its direction. Although the 2019 Women’s Final Four sold out Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida (which is the same place the current Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning call home), I guess selling out a 21,000 seat venue is still not enough to garner a 500 piece puzzle like the men received, but only a 150 piece one that the women got.
Petty… I know. But so is the notion that this is just about the weight room.
Are these young women wrong for expecting that in the year 2021 the needle that moves so hastily for the dollar of the NCAA should move at the same pace for equality, fairness, and the guidelines of Title IX, which require the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes? This requirement includes practice and competitive facilities. This requirement includes medical and training facilities and services; however, there is also a level of concern of the COVID-19 testing being offered in the two bubbles. In a year where COVID-19 has presented a myriad of challenges across this spectrum of college sports, the men’s bubble will be administering the PCR tests, where the women’s bubble will be using the antigen tests, which according the FDA, has a higher risk of returning a false negative than many molecular tests.
Title IX also includes publicity and promotions, yet there’s a case that can be made that men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are not equally marketed to the masses. That despite the growth of the sport collegiately, this has placed women’s basketball at a disadvantage to close the gap with the men.
Yes, the photos and videos circulating social media about the disparities between the tournaments are devastating, but sadly, it is not unfamiliar or unusual. More often than not, female athletes are left with the scraps of whatever the executive leadership of the NCAA feels they deserve, rather than what they have genuinely worked their tails off for. Coaches like Dawn Staley at South Carolina, C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers, and former Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw have long pressed the importance of fair and equal treatment within women’s basketball and it’s players and coaches. Still, here we are. Still fighting for simple acknowledgement and basic meals that don’t consist of powdered potatoes and mystery meat.
It is disgraceful. It is frustrating. And, it’s downright disheartening for many players to see this continually exist in an organization that asserts to be working towards diversity and inclusion.
But what it is not- is simply about a weight room.