NCAA ‘March Madness’ sexism busted big-time

(l-r) NCAA women’s food tray vs. men’s smorgasbord.

Phone cameras once again expose inequities

March Madness over the years has been an unequal experience of sorts in men’s and women’s college basketball. Thanks to social media, this year the NCAA got busted big-time in their annual two-tier approach to hosting championship events.

“The NCAA really thought women’s phones don’t come with cameras,” tweeted Gal Pal Sports after a woman player last week posted photos of inferior conditions in San Antonio, where the WBB tourney is being held. The women’s weight room consisted of a stack of yoga mats and a rack of dumbbells, while the men’s had an elaborate Olympic-style weight room. 

Women teams initially got poor-quality take-out meals, while men’s teams “had thousands of takeout orders delivered” to their rooms, reported Front Office Sports. The player swag also were noticeably different as the men got higher quality stuff than their female counterparts. 

“There is no answer…to explain the disparities,” wrote South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley. Others expressed their disgust as well.

NCAA officials responded to the unexpected backlash and themselves offered a faux outrage. On a Zoom call last Friday with reporters that included the MSR, they acted totally surprised that something like this could happen.

Courtesy of Twitter (l-r) men’s weight room, women’s weight room

“I don’t have the words to describe how painful it is, personally,” admitted NCAA WBB VP Lynn Holzman. Senior Basketball VP Dan Gavitt added, “We fell short… It’s on me.”

“When things like this happen,” said NCAA WBB Selection Committee Chair Nina King, “it is detrimental to women’s basketball. We need to make sure this isn’t happening again.”

Additionally, we learned last week that the women and men players are getting different COVID testing—PCR, the “gold standard,” for the men and antigen for the women, which the FDA says is not as accurate and tends to produce false negatives.

If nothing more, what was brought to light last week is what many of us have known for so long: The NCAA treats men’s and women’s sports remarkably different, either subtly or, as in this case, blatantly.

“That’s the state of sport. Women athletes are still having to fight for adequate facilities and weights,” said SUNY-Cortland Sport Management Assistant Professor Lindsay Darvin. She later told the MSR that such inequities are systemic. 

This “important and often untold story” has been largely hidden over the years, Darvin pointed out. “The NCAA actively fought against Title IX application to intercollegiate sport for fear of lost resources for themselves and their men’s programs and championships.”

The AIWA, the former governing body for women’s athletics, “focused more so on the female student-athlete’s education rather than an overemphasis on athletic performance.” But “it was gaining a tremendous amount of steam,” including securing a huge television contract to broadcast the women’s basketball championship, noted the professor.

“They [the NCAA] took over the AIAW [in the 1980s] and offered free memberships to women’s programs to join their body,” Darvin recalled. “This permitted them to now control women’s sport, their growth, and their potential to impede the growth of the men’s revenue potential.”

This time the NCAA can’t blame the pandemic and having to stage this year’s tournaments in one location (Indianapolis, men; San Antonio, women) for the latest gender inequities. It takes more than outrage to push them to do better.

“It is also time for the NCAA leadership to reexamine the value they place on women,” said Staley.