Hey, NCAA, March Madness is about women’s basketball, too

Georgia Tech forward Lorela Cubaj (13) shows off her reverse layup move in the Yellow Jackets first-round NCAA Tournament victory Sunday over Stephen F. Austin. (Ronald Cortes/AP)
Georgia Tech forward Lorela Cubaj (13) shows off her reverse layup move in the Yellow Jackets first-round NCAA Tournament victory Sunday over Stephen F. Austin. (Ronald Cortes/AP)

Credit: Ronald Cortes

Credit: Ronald Cortes

The toughest thing about being an enlightened sports journalist who is about to take to his pulpit and decry the unequal treatment of women’s basketball is the self-examination.

Like most long, hard looks into my mirror, this one isn’t pretty, either.

Even as an enlightened sports journalist, I am forced to admit that a solid 98% of my efforts are focused on male-pattern athletics. That is driven by the selfish, desperate desire to draw as many readers to the words as possible. And the perception, both intuitive and coldly analytic, is that the marketplace favors those words dealing with players who possess a Y chromosome.

I in no way equally ration the alphabet or the glory between the genders. And I doubt that will change until the demand does. Just being honest.

The confessing done, on to the latest about how the NCAA is punking women’s athletics.

Thanks to the pandemic, with the men confined to Indianapolis and the women in San Antonio, several inequities in their semi-bubbled existence were forced to the surface. They all add up, symbolic of a greater, systemic imbalances.

The floor upon which the Georgia Lady Bulldogs beat Drexel on Monday bore no markings of this being a special tournament event, only the logo of the small Catholic university whose gym they borrowed. When the Gonzaga men were beating Oklahoma, for instance, March Madness was writ large everywhere, including center-court.

Oregon’s Sedona Prince posted a video contrasting the men’s well-stocked temporary weight room in Indy to the women’s laughable setup in San Antonio (a single rack of dumb bells) that got millions of social-media views. So many that the NCAA was forced to come correct and throw together legit facilities in Texas.

Others have asserted that the men’s dining was vastly better than the women’s (since corrected, the NCAA said). And that the men’s gift bags were nicer (the dollar value to have been roughly equal to the women’s, the NCAA claimed).

Even in the midst of her program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, Georgia Tech’s Nell Fortner was moved to post a statement on Twitter with a thank-you to the NCAA for “showing off the disparities between the men’s and women’s tournament that are on full display in San Antonio. From COVID testing, to lack of weight training facilities, to game floors that hardly tell anyone that it’s the NCAA Tournament, and many more. But these disparities are just a snapshot of larger, more pervasive issues when it comes to women’s sports and the NCAA.”

Also in the tournament, Georgia’s Joni Taylor had no complaints about the team’s food or lodging. In preparation for a lack of weight equipment, the school’s athletic department imported some. Still, she challenged the NCAA’s original assertion that there was no space to set up an adequate weight room for all teams. “Is it an inequity? Absolutely,” she said.

When South Carolina coach Dawn Staley goes to the NCAA’s March Madness Twitter site, she never sees her team represented. “‘Official NCAA March Madness Destination for all things Division 1/NCAA Mens Basketball’ – Those words mean one thing: March Madness is ONLY about men’s basketball,” she said.

Too often, former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, the presentation of the women’s tournament in contrast to the men, “makes us look like the JV tournament to their event.”

We could debate the relative merits of men’s and women’s basketball from here until the end of March Madness and get nowhere. You’re going to watch what you want to watch and fill out the bracket pool of your choosing. Just try to respect the game and everyone who plays it, OK?

The men’s tournament generates $1 billion in revenue each year compared with the $35 million for the women’s. Viewership for 2019′s Virginia-Texas Tech men’s championship game was nearly six times the number of the Baylor-Notre Dame women’s final. The free market speaks. In scope and scale there are very real differences between these two tournaments that matter in the real world.

But that shouldn’t shade the mission of a supposedly not-for-profit organization like the NCAA, whose tax-exempt status is built upon the myth of serving every athlete across the wide and diverse landscape of higher education.

Such a body has to do better than the average enlightened sports journalist, or what’s the point of its existence?

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