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.)
@ncaawbb @ncaa this needs to be addressed. These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities.— Ali Kershner, MS, CSCS (@alikershner) March 18, 2021
3 weeks in a bubble and no access to DBs > 30’s until the sweet 16?
In a year defined by a fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better. pic.twitter.com/jFQVv1PlUt
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.
That ncaa bubble weight room situation is beyond disrespectful— A'ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) March 18, 2021
Women’s @NCAA bubble weight room vs Men’s weight room... thought this was a joke. WTF is this?!?— Sabrina Ionescu (@sabrina_i20) March 18, 2021
To all the women playing in the @marchmadness tournament, keep grinding! pic.twitter.com/K04KTv6s46
The difference in weight rooms for the @ncaawbb & men’s @NCAA @marchmadness bubbles. Notice anything? SMH! This is so ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/Ga38uK53q6— Alysha Clark (@Alysha_Clark) March 18, 2021
Ncaa mbb tournament vibes: We are happy to have you here— Brianna Turner (@_Breezy_Briii) March 19, 2021
Ncaa wbb tournament vibes: You should be happy you’re here
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.
Let me put it on Twitter too cause this needs the attention pic.twitter.com/t0DWKL2YHR— Sedona Prince (@sedonaprince_) March 19, 2021
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.
#WHATMATTERS pic.twitter.com/QTQzCwbnZT— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) March 20, 2021
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.
March 20, 2021
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer also issued a statement condemning the NCAA’s “blatant sexism.”
This cannot continue to be business as usual. pic.twitter.com/gyIEgcRRpY— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) March 21, 2021
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.
"Let’s be real, we are not only conditioned to expect less. We are also told to appreciate what we’re given. … Women deserve better. Period.”— espnW (@espnW) March 19, 2021
— @chiney pic.twitter.com/0YC1nZw7qD
Nobody:— Maria Taylor (@MariaTaylor) March 19, 2021
Me: Let me talk to all my QUEENS pic.twitter.com/OdbyyossjK
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.
@NCAA Our teammates have worked quickly to get truckloads of fitness equipment ready to send to the women’s @ncaawbb @marchmadness bubble – we are standing by to deliver it and have your facility outfitted within hours! Let’s make this happen. pic.twitter.com/6QJJjrrDgx— DICK'S Sporting Goods (@DICKS) March 19, 2021
. @sedonaprince_ This is ridiculous. Let’s one up them. We’re sending 10 Tonal Smart Gyms that will arrive in San Antonio tomorrow for all of the players. Please DM us for next steps.— Tonal (@tonal) March 19, 2021
Good luck to all of the @marchmadness teams! https://t.co/3JqLO4SQ1t
Orangetheory will make its studios available for private sessions with any team, or we will bring water rowers and a full range of floor and weight equipment to any central location. We want to help. DM & tell us how. @sabrina_i2 @CoachWillRU @mollyhc @ChantelJennings @AJ_McCord pic.twitter.com/bwAKExq1FA— Orangetheory Fitness (@orangetheory) March 19, 2021
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.
Social media is powerful. Thank you for all of y’all’s support pic.twitter.com/YR5ZNwywv6— Sedona Prince (@sedonaprince_) March 20, 2021
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.”
Equity is doing it in the first place...without bad media and public pressure. @NCAA— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) March 21, 2021
I love this generation of college basketball players because the fearlessness they have to speak up about injustices is something I didn’t have in college. The “grateful & happy to be here” women’s athlete is a thing of the past. I’m celebrating that fact today! Proud of y’all!— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) March 19, 2021