We all saw the videos that went viral from the WNBA bubble last season revealing the mediocre and sometimes worse accommodations the best female athletes were forced to live in. There was also the disappointing comparison between the weight rooms for both the Men’s and Women’s tournaments this past year, with the latter pailing in size and equipment. With the sustained growth of the women’s game over the past couple of decades, it's a real shame to see these disparities year after year.
The NCAA quickly became under fire when a video posted by University of Oregon Women’s Basketball player Sedona Price depicting the meager weight room provided for the women’s tournament went viral on social media. This prompted an investigation into the mishandling of Women’s sports.
New York law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, spearheaded an external investigation into these disparities to help uncover the reality of women's college sports. Upon completing their investigation, the firm recommended several changes including a combined Final Four tournament format and tweaks to the organization's leadership structure, media contracts, and revenue calculations.
The report concluded that upon detailed review, “With respect to women's basketball, the NCAA has not lived up to its stated commitment to 'diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators,' ". The report went even further to suggest that the treatment of Women’s teams was, “perpetuating a mistaken narrative that women's basketball is destined to be a 'money loser' year after year. Nothing could be further from the truth”. The firm goes on to argue that with the climbing revenue coming from the women’s game paired with their growing social media following, the NCAA should be inclined to provide more suitable accommodations for their female athletes.
The report highlighted several examples of poor accommodations such as providing women's teams with less effective COVID-19 testing and lower quality food options while simultaneously seeking corporate food sponsorships with Wendy's, Pizza Hut, and Buffalo Wild Wings to provide for the men's tournament athletes.
Kelly Graves, who attended both the men’s and women’s tournaments stated that “There was more of a feeling of a tournament in Indianapolis,", referring to the men’s game, "It just seemed like a much bigger deal there than in San Antonio.", where the women’s tournament was held. This is not surprising given the fact that the NCAA spent nearly $2.4 million on signage for the men's tournament, but only around $783,000 for the women's tournament. The NCAA also prohibits the use of the March Madness trademark to be used in association with the women’s tournament.
In response to the Kaplan report, the NCAA attributed all the findings to the fact that the men’s game generates substantially more revenue than their female counterparts. However, they were also found guilty of unfairly skewing revenue reports to make it seem that the Women’s tournament lost money. That is simply not true.
The Kaplan report revealed many disparities between how female athletes are treated compared to men by the NCAA. These realities have been experienced by female athletes for years and it is time for the NCAA to step up their game. The resources are there, it is only a matter of if the external pressure from the media will be enough to get these women athletes the treatment they deserve.