By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
As the NCAA March Madness tournament is wrapping up, we are looking back on the annual college basketball championships that has created controversy over the extensive gender inequality it has displayed between the men’s and women’s tournaments. It all started when a coach from Stanford University posted a photo comparing the men’s and women’s weight rooms on social media.
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The photo shows the weight room set up for the men’s tournament which includes a variety of squat racks, lifting benches, dumbbells and plates in a large area. Whereas the weight room set up for the women’s tournament includes a rack of dumbbells up to 30lbs and a pile of yoga mats on a table. The post drew swift criticism to the NCAA regarding the clear difference in strength and conditioning standards between men and women and the lack of equal opportunities for athletes in women’s sports. This led to the NCAA to acknowledge that they “fell short”, post an apology and moved to improve the women’s weight room by adding real equipment fit for a college national championship tournament. NCAA vice president for women’s basketball issued a statement saying;
“As a former women’s basketball student-athlete, it’s always been my priority to make this event the best possible experience for everyone involved,” Holzman said. “We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare in the past 60 days for 64 teams to be here in San Antonio.”
The new weight room was in place within a couple days of the first photo being posted, but the comparisons did not stop there. According to Holzman, the original intention was for the women’s teams to have access to a full weight room if they reached the third round of the tournament in contrast to all of the men’s teams having full access to the weight room from the very beginning.
The NCAA was further criticized for offering only measly box lunch type meals to the women’s teams while laying out full buffets for the men’s with a clear disparity in the quality of meals offered to the student athlete participants. Others have noted that the women also receive smaller swag bags While the NCAA argued that the contents of the bags were of equal value.
In terms of adhering to Covid regulations and precautions, the NCAA also favored the men’s tournament by offering the men’s teams the highly accurate PCR tests on a daily basis which provides greater accuracy compared to the antigen tests offered to the women’s teams.
Any one of these smaller things individually might not be such a big deal, but so many different local level differences in how the NCAA is treating the women’s teams versus the men’s team is adding up to a larger indication on how the NCAA values men’s sports over women’s sports rather than focusing on true equality and representation. This had led to a lot of criticism of athletes, coaches and fans alike.
“I appreciate that [the NCAA] is working on a solution but this is unacceptable to begin with,” wrote Bjork. “No one in athletics would have thought this was appropriate if someone would have been consulted.”
Just got this from our staff as @AggieWBB begins to practice. I appreciate that @ncaawbb staff is working on a solution but this is unacceptable to begin with. No one in athletics would have thought this was appropriate if someone would have been consulted. We have to do better. https://t.co/5m4Vzle1iQ pic.twitter.com/f9uaF5S8s6
— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) March 19, 2021
The fact that “there’s a huge disparity between men’s and women’s sports is hardly breaking news,” said McGraw. “The NCAA had an opportunity to highlight how sport can be a place where we don’t just talk about equality, we put it on display. To say they dropped the ball would be the understatement of the century.”
— Muffet McGraw (@MuffetMcGraw) March 20, 2021
Through their own actions, the NCAA has shown that they have yet to fully embody gender equality within their own organization, even at its highest profile tournament. They only corrected these issues after being confronted about it on social media by people who made it clear that the disparity still exists. Despite their own statements and apologies, the NCAA must do better through intentional behaviors in the future if they are truly serious about ensuring all NCAA athletes have equal opportunities.