March Madness? Will the sisterhood receive the same resources as the brotherhood?

Stanford women’s basketball is headed to the NCAA tournament as an automatic bid after winning the PAC-12 Tournament. The team is full of star players, including Haley Jones, Cameron Brink, and Anna Wilson. The team is also led by Tara VanDerveer, a local Buffalo Seminary graduate, who was named PAC-12 Coach of the Year for the 17th time and is the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball. Can the Cardinal make it back to back wins at the NCAA Tournament?

As VanDerveer explained during our National Girls and Women in Sports Day event in February, “It is hotdogs for the girls and steak for the boys.” After reading the Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (KHF) report titled NCAA External Gender Equity Review published on August 2, 2021 on the 2021 NCAA Tournament, no statement better describes the discrepancies in the two tournaments.

Last year during the tournament, University of Oregon basketball player, Sedona Prince, ,posted a video on TikTok comparing the different weightlifting equipment provided to the men at the NCAA tournament with the scarse number of dumbbells provided to the women. This video started a firestorm on social media. However, the differences in the weightlifting equipment was not the only disparity between the two tournaments. There were differences in the COVID-19 testing, food, recreational opportunities, fan festivals, branding and signage, use of the “March Madness” trademark and gifts to the athletes. A story for a completely different article is the contracts between the NCAA and CBS/Turner, which prioritize support for men’s basketball.

As a result of the NCAA having to cancel the 2020 tournament and men’s basketball being their major source of revenue, the NCAA’s main focus was to have a men’s basketball tournament. This was clear in everything from when planning the events started to the different swag bags. Men’s basketball announced the plan to go forward with the tournament on November 16, 2020, compared to women’s basketball, which announced  it on December 14, 2020. Women’s basketball was behind from the get-go. According to the report, women’s basketball tried to announce their tournament in November, however the NCAA prohibited itf. According to the report, “women’s basketball was instructed they would first have to conduct a financial review to determine, and then get approval for, the significant additional pandemic related costs so that the NCAA could decide whether to follow the men’s plan and hold all rounds of the women’s championship in one location.” Men’s basketball did not have to complete any analysis before they were given the okay to announce their tournament. On December 7th, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors Finance Committee approved the women’s tournament after lots of financial analysis. However, it was decided that the women’s tournament should be put on because of the NCAA’s commitment to gender equity.

On January 4, 2021 the NCAA announced that the men’s tournament would take place in Indianapolis. But it was not until a month later that the NCAA announced that the women’s tournament would take place in San Antonio.

Once the women started to arrive in San Antonio and saw the conditions they received compared with the conditions the men received in Indianapolis, the women started to voice their opinions on social media. The first video that gained a lot of traction was Sedona Prince’s TikTok video. According to the report, “NCAA had provided the men a large, central weight room divided into six weightlifting areas, which was available to all 68 men’s teams as soon as they cleared their two-day quarantine upon arrival in Indianapolis. In addition, the NCAA set up a small pyramid of dumbbells in the holding room adjacent to the practice courts, where the student-athletes would stretch and wait while the court and courtside areas were sanitized and cleaned. By contrast, the NCAA did not plan to set up any weight room for the women at all until the Sweet Sixteen, when they planned to have three private weightlifting areas available.” After the gender disparities surfaced between the two tournaments, the NCAA paid $370,139 to set up a new women’s weight room.

Another difference between the men’s and women’s tournaments was the COVID-19 testing. Even though the testing to get into the tournament bubbles was the same, the testing the men and women were subjected to at the tournament was vastly different. According to the report, the men’s teams received daily polymerase chain reaction “PCR” tests, compared with the women’s teams who received daily antigen tests and only one weekly PCR test. According to the report, “The dramatically higher number of false positives from antigen tests did end up having a negative impact on the student-athlete experience at the women’s tournament. Overall, the men’s tournament conducted almost 20,000 PCR tests of Tier 168 individuals, with only seven positive tests detected. The women’s championship conducted almost 18,000 tests of Tier 1 individuals (15,597 antigen and 2,342 PCR), with 226 positive antigen tests, but only two positive PCR tests.”

            Furthermore, another area where disparities between men and women arose was with food. Women were given pre-packed meals, while  the men who were given self service buffets. The food provided to the women was low in quality, quantity, and variety. Some of the schools with women’s teams at the tournaments paid for their women’s basketball players to order in groceries, snacks, and restaurant meals. However, at the Final Four, the NCAA made sure that the women were provided with self-service buffets as well. The men’s team’s also received food from corporate sponsors, including Pizza Hut, Wendy’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Some corporate partners also offered to provide food to the women’s tournament however, the NCAA denied their offers because they thought it was too late to get the necessary permits. However, after the media found out about the disparate treatment, the NCAA arranged for a Wendy’s food truck to be placed outside the women’s hotel. 

There was also a discrepancy in the outdoor spaces the teams were given, the athlete student lounges and the gifts given to the athletes. According to the report, “for the first and second rounds, the NCAA spent $125.55 per player on gifts and mementos distributed at the men’s tournament, whereas it spent only $60.42 per player—or less than half as much—on gifts and mementos distributed at the women’s tournament.” The NCAA also spent $70,539 on disinfectant wipes and other accessories such as sneaker deodorizer balls for all the 68 men’s teams and nothing on the women’s teams. However, the NCAA did try to repair all of the disparities. For example, in the Final Four the NCAA spent $139 on each male player and $168 on the female players. This issue was not new to the 2021 tournament, though. According to the report in 2019, the NCAA spent $560,130 on men’s basketball tournament gifts compared with $395,150 for women’s basketball tournament gifts.

The NCAA used the “March Madness” trademark for the men’s basketball tournament and not the women’s basketball tournament, even though there are no trademark limitations. In June 2021, the NCAA announced that women’s basketball can use the “March Madness” trademark going forward. However, the “March Madness” trademark was not the only advertising and signage disparity between the two tournaments. The NCAA spent approximately $2,416,000 on signage for the men’s tournament and only $783,000 on signage for the women’s tournament. The difference between the two spending budgets was after the NCAA spent more on signage for the women’s tournament after the media reported the lack of signage in San Antonio. Lastly, there was a big disparity in promotional concerts for the Final Four games.  The men’s Final Four had a concert from Miley Cyrus, while the women had no concert or similar event. AT&T offered to do a virtual concert, but the NCAA did not think it would be worth the $150,000 investment.

When asked why the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament doesn’t receive as much funding, most would say that women’s basketball is a “money loser” for the NCAA. However, that is not true; television viewership for the women’s tournament was the highest it had been since 2014 and all 63 games of the women’s tournament were televised nationally on ESPN. Ed Desser, an independent media expert hired by KHF, estimates “the annual broadcast rights for women’s basketball will be worth between $81 and $112 million in 2025” according to the report. Another reason why women’s basketball is viewed as a “money loser” is because the further a school’s team makes it in the men’s tournament, the more revenue the school’s conference is given, but there is no financial reward for participation or performance in the women’s tournament. This financial incentive encourages schools to invest in their men’s teams, but not in  women’s teams. Also, the pipeline for men’s basketball is given more funding than women’s basketball, which creates inequities right from the start.

This is not to say the NCAA does not have any programs in place to try to ensure gender equality between the two sports. The NCAA has the Gender Equity Task Force, the Women’s Basketball Committee and the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee,which try to achieve  fairness between the two sports. Division II and Division III have also avoided many of the gender disparities present in Division I basketball because, according to the report, “there is no financial incentive to prioritize one gender over the other.”

The NCAA did not sponsor a championship for any women’s sport until 1982 (more than 75 years after the NCAA was founded), and the organization originally opposed the implementation of Title IX. According to the NCAA v. Smith case from 1999, the NCAA has resisted the application of Title IX to the NCAA. Title IX – is “a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal funds.” Title IX, which does apply to the vast majority of the NCAA’s members, requires schools to look at whether an institution ‘provides equal athletics opportunities for members of both sexes.’” According to the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force’s 1992 definition of gender equity, “an athletics program can be considered gender equitable when the participants in both the men’s and the women’s sport programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender.”

 Do you think the Stanford women’s basketball team thought the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament was fair and equitable as compared to the Men’s Tournament? Is Title IX working for women? The 2021 NCAA Tournament is a case study showing that there has been some progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done. As Tara VanDerveer said in her post game speech to the team, “You are a part of a great sisterhood.” Hopefully, this year the sisterhood will receive the same facilities, advertising, access to testing, and staffing as the brotherhood.



Photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

They’re No. 1! Now what lies ahead for Stanford women’s basketball?

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