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NCAAW Tournament: Women’s basketball world holds NCAA accountable for inequities

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Anticipation for the opening of the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament was overshadowed by gender-based resource disparities. However, women’s basketball players, coaches and media were ready to hold the NCAA accountable for these inequities.

South Dakota v Oregon
The Oregon Ducks prepare for their first round game against the South Dakota Coyotes.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

By now, we are familiar with the NCAA’s fitness room — and food, and swag— fiascos. (And we should be more familiar with the NCAA’s parental support policy failure.)

The NCAA seems to have scoured the clearance section at a local Costco to provide a piddling amount of fitness equipment for the NCAA women’s tournament bubble in San Antonio, all while outfitting the NCAA men’s tournament bubble in Indianapolis with a first-class weight room.

While Title IX demands that individual universities equally provision “equipment and supplies” for women and men athletes, the NCAA appeared to believe itself — the institution that oversees individual universities — exempt from such requirements. Or, the NCAA believed it could get away with treating women’s basketball players like second-class student-athletes, trusting that they would simply, and silently, be grateful for the opportunity to compete for women’s college basketball’s ultimate crown.

Yet, the ire of women’s basketball players, coaches, media and fans was rightfully and righteously inflamed, ready to hold the NCAA accountable for its hypocrisy.

WNBA players paved the way for women’s college hoopers to call out the NCAA

WNBA players are well-practiced at calling out the powerful for their gross abuses and lame excuses, most notably organizing to expel former Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler from the US Senate and the WNBA. Unsurprisingly, a number of WNBA stars quickly spoke out against the NCAA’s unequal weight rooms.

The young women who populate women’s college basketball have watched — and learned from— their big sisters in W, ready to use their voices to demand the equal treatment that they deserve.

Oregon’s Sedona Prince, in particular, exhibited an expertise in modern social media virality that eludes the NCAA, using a TikTok to effectively communicate the absurdity of the weight room disparity, as well as exposing the hollowness of the NCAA’s initial excuse about a lack of adequate space.

Coaches join the call out

Following the example of professional and collegiate players, a few women’s college basketball coaches, of earlier generations more conditioned to quietly accept gender-based inequities, began to unload on the NCAA.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley authored a tour de force, annihilating the NCAA for the normalized gender inequality that too long has been endemic to college sports.

Notably, it was a woman of color — accustomed to, but fed up with, always having to advocate for herself in the face social and systemic inequities — who was the first speak out strongly against the NCAA.

After Staley broke the ice, former Notre Dame head coach Muffett McGraw joined the conversation, reminding that gender inequality is not new to women’s college sports before endorsing a new refusal to condone such circumstances.

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer also issued a statement condemning the NCAA’s “blatant sexism.”

Women athletes in sports media matters

Critically, elevating women, specifically current and former women athletes, to prominent media positions helped to amplify the NCAA’s gendered inequities, while also validating the rights of women athletes to enjoy equal resources rather than speciously casting aspersions on their concerns.

Corporations are still part of the problem

The NCAA’s own goal also presented an opportunity for corporations — conveniently in the middle of Women’s History Month — to appear eager to support women’s sports.

Of course, nothing has been preventing Dick’s, Tonal or Orangetheory from taking the initiative to sponsor women’s college basketball programs or WNBA players before now. Yes, it is appreciated that these companies stepped up. However, true support for women’s basketball requires quiet, consistent investment, not a singular social media win.

Women in sports keep leading the fight for gender equity in sports

Likewise, while high-profile male athletes, such as Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving, should be applauded for sharing their outrage (and those that misunderstand the matter should be eviscerated), it is important to recognize that it was women — players, coaches and media, and many of color — who demanded that the NCAA answer for all the unequal aspects of the respective NCAA tournament bubbles.

The NCAA is comfortable when it is the surveillance state, monitoring programs and players for any perceived improprieties. Now, the world of women’s basketball has put the NCAA in the panopticon, marshaling the power of its platforms to ensure that the NCAA practice the principles that it proudly proclaims.

After the NCAA atoned for its inaction, quickly constructing a suitable weight room in the San Antonio bubble, Sedona Prince shared another TikTok. Exhibiting an excessive degree of excitement that seemed to mock the gratitude that the NCAA likely still expects from women athletes, Prince provided a tour of the upgraded facilities.

However, her tone speaks volumes, indicating that women’s college basketball will no longer easily tolerate excuses and inadequacies from the NCAA. As Muffet McGraw wrote, “This generation of women expects more and we won’t stop until we get it.”