In 2020, March Madness brought in a revenue of over one billion dollars. It’s the biggest D1 basketball tournament of the year. March Madness doesn’t just interest avid basketball fans; it catches the interest of those who have never watched a game before and hope for a perfect bracket.
Before the games began, viral images and videos had already populated the internet pointing to the disparities prominent between the women’s and men’s tournament.
What first gained attention was an image of the weight rooms at both facilities. The men’s showed an elaborate gym expected for a collegiate-level tournament, while the women were left with nothing but a stack of yoga mats and a single rack of weights. Additionally, no dumbells over 30 pounds were offered, furthering the stereotype that women can’t lift heavy weights.
All athletes received swag bags filled with gear, and it came as no surprise that the men received more merchandise. In addition to the outrage about the gear, the food at the tournament was another source of inequality. The men were offered buffet-style food while the women were given pre-wrapped meals. The food selection for men was much better, and the food in the pre-wrapped meal was not up to par.
It is a rare occurrence for the NCAA to put these inequalities on center stage for everyone to see, but these eye-catching differences weren’t the only issues at play. The men’s teams were administered PCR COVID-19 tests, often thought to be most accurate, while the women’s were antigen tests, less sensitive in detecting positive cases.The difference in the type of tests was just another inconsistency of the treatment of the men and women.
Head Coach of the South Carolina Women’s basketball team, Dawn Staley, brought about another issue in a statement she released. She turned to the @marchmadness official verified Twitter account’s bio. “The official NCAA March Madness destination for all things Division 1/NCAA Men’s Basketball.” “Those words mean one thing—March Madness is ONLY about men’s basketball,” she said.
Many other coaches called attention to the fact that this issue is not new to this year; it has been a long-standing struggle. Muffet McGraw, former women’s basketball head coach at Notre Dame, addressed this. “While I appreciate the outrage, the fact that there’s a huge disparity between men’s and women’s sports is hardly breaking news,” she said. “We have been fighting this battle for years and frankly, I’m tired of it.” UConn women’s basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma agreed that this has been an ongoing battle, and the tournament is only a small representation of what happens on college campuses daily. He is fortunate that the success of his program means that they haven’t faced these issues recently, but it wasn’t always like this. He knows that other programs who haven’t gotten the same treatment are working just as hard.
Since these shortcomings and inequalities for the women aren’t a new problem, what has made this year so different? Social media has made the difference: images and videos shared between Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram, and other major platforms have shocked thousands across the country. Sedona Prince, a redshirt sophomore at Oregon, used her Tik Tok and Twitter accounts to give an insider look to the players’ housing bubble in San Antonio. “If you aren’t upset about this problem,” she said, “then you’re a part of it.”
The posts also gained the attention of many famous athletes, including both women and men. Sabrina Ionescu, the number one pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, responded to the weight room pictures. “To all the women playing in the @marchmadness tournament, keep grinding!” she encouraged. Golden State Warriors guard, Stephen Curry, tweeted in response to Sedona Prince. “Wow-come on now!” he said.
The NCAA was forced to address these issues after the continuous backlash. “I apologize to the women’s student-athletes and committee,” said NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball, Dan Gavitt, “for dropping the ball on the weight room issue in San Antonio, we’ll get it fixed as soon as possible.” The weight room was shortly fixed overnight, although the NCAA had originally made claims that there was not enough space. This response may seem like a solution to the problem, but it can only be seen as an afterthought to the criticism the NCAA received. The NCAA further hired a law firm to examine championships in all three divisions and address the steps needed to achieve gender equality.
The NCAA claims itself to be a nonprofit organization, so it does not make sense to provide the women with less based on the amount of income they generate. It’s not just the March Madness tournament that needs fixing: it’s the long-standing issues of gender-inequality and unfair treatment of women’s collegiate sports. These powerful women’s voices will not be silent on this issue, so it is up to the NCAA to take action for a more equitable tournament and organization alike that is focused on the well-being of all players.