Ah, here we are again — March is here, and with it comes the madness.
There are basketball games to watch on television at a seemingly endless pace, brackets to get angry over and friends at opposite schools to mock (or avoid).
Now, if your mind immediately shifted to thinking about the men’s tournament while listing those things, you and the NCAA might not be that different. The women’s tournament, happening at the exact same time, gets little to no press, bracket involvement or overall attention from the general public.
And this problem originates within the NCAA itself.
For some concrete examples, let's look at posts from the players on the inside. First: the weight rooms. In a video posted by a player of the Oregon women’s basketball team, Sedona Prince, you could see that the men's teams have a high-quality weight room, with pretty much everything a Division I basketball team could ask for.
However, on the women’s side of the weight room, there was only a set of dumbells and some yoga mats. Enough for a couples yoga weekend, but not even close to what is needed for D1 athletes playing in the biggest contest of their life up to this point.
After this first video went viral, the NCAA was quick to offer a response. Their excuse?
“The limited space.”
However, soon after, the NCAA quickly built a brand new weight area, massively expanding the size of the women’s workout area to match the men’s. So, this space constraint seems to be more of a public relations problem rather than an actual logistics problem.
Similar issues have been popping up all tournament. The food provided was extremely different in quality and quantity, and the gear provided to the women athletes was also clearly of lesser quality.
While men’s teams received large buffet-style meals, their female counterparts got the equivalent of a boxed lunch delivered to their hotel rooms. The women’s teams also were given less reliable COVID-19 antigen tests, while men’s basketball was stocked with the fast-acting PCR tests.
Additionally, the NCAA decided to cut costs for the women’s tournament by choosing not to staff the first two rounds with photographers, while the men’s tournament published thousands of photos in the first round alone.
The discrepancy is made possible by the ruling made in 1999, in NCAA v. Smith. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Title IX, a federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in institutions that received federal funding, did not apply to the NCAA.
Although the schools that the NCAA works with may receive money from the government, the NCAA technically does not. And while the organization has stated they would comply "on a voluntary basis" with the Title IX guidelines, they’ve been able to use the legal loophole to avoid spending budgeting fairly on men’s and women’s sports, as we’ve seen this March.
Although their Title IX guidance document emphasizes equity for college athletes, there is nothing equitable about the budget cuts that the women’s basketball tournament has experienced in contrast to that of their male counterparts. And while companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Orangetheory Fitness have offered to fund equipment for the remainder of the tournament, it shouldn’t have to come to that.
It’s time for the NCAA to double down and evaluate not only the budgeting and funding for women’s and men’s sports, but also the way that athletes are treated by the organization.
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