Anticipation grows as Women’s Final Four nears

Photo by Charles Hallman 2022 Women’s Final Four backdrop

Will previous gender inequities be a thing of the past?

It’s nearly 30 days to tip off for the 2022 Women’s Final Four in downtown Minneapolis. “I believe that fans and the NCAA are all excited about being able to have a full-fledged championship weekend in Minneapolis this year,” declared Meet Minneapolis Executive Director Melvin Tennant last week in an MSR phone interview. 

His organization is on the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee that is producing the basketball tournament, which also includes the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Sports and Events, and Target Center,.

A female college player last spring posted photos on social media showing inequities in what the NCAA provided her and her fellow hoopsters compared to their male counterparts. That forced the NCAA to conduct a gender review that offered many recommendations, including using the March Madness trademark for both tourneys. It was solely tagged to the men for many years.

“I think what it also exposed is…a lot of things that many of us in sport have been fighting for women and opportunities for many years,” said NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman during a Feb. 22 “40 Days Countdown” press conference. The social media post “was really a trigger point,” she added.

Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis Melvin Tennant

“What we’ll experience this year at the championships…is an enhanced student-athlete experience,” Holzman said. 

“It will be the first time the Women’s Final Four will take place with a full arena since 2019,” added Tennant.

Among the ancillary events that will take place during Final Four week is a new renovated outdoor play area at Elizabeth Hall STEM Academy in North Minneapolis as part of the NCAA Legacy Dream Court Restoration Project held annually at the Final Four’s host city. North Commons Park got a new basketball court when the Men’s Final Four was in town in 2019.

“What else is more special about this court at Hall is the fact that it will be available to the community,” said Minnesota Local Organizing Committee Co-Chair Debbie Estes. “[It] will include an outdoor classroom and learning space for the kids as well as the nature playground and adding some accessible pre-K playground equipment to their existing playground.”

Quincy Lewis, a Minnesota assistant athletic director, is co-chair of the local legacy committee. He told the MSR that the new court at Hall, as well as other related Final Four events, will help put a positive light on Minneapolis.

“I think that there’s been so much negativity,” said Minnesota Lynx guard Rachel Banham. The Final Four will “bring some excitement to Minneapolis and some happiness and joy… Sports is a great way to bring people together.”

Photo by Charles Hallman Rachel Banham (center)

The NCAA’s Read to the Final Four program is designed for third graders. Officials report that to date over 7 million minutes have been logged in: “We had over 100 schools throughout the state of Minnesota registered. 

“The top four schools will be invited to Tourney Town [a free public event at the Minneapolis Convention Center April 1-3] on April 1, and we’ll announce the winner of who read the most minutes per student and they’ll get a $5,000 stipend.”

Finally, the countdown clock is on. “By the time the event gets here,” concluded Tennant, “virtually every single person [at Meet Minneapolis] will be involved in some aspect of hosting the Women’s Final Four.”