NCAA Gender Inequity Cuts Deeper Than Just Weight Room Issues at Tournament

The 2021 men's and women's college basketball tournaments are each being held in their entirety at two, separate geographical locations, making them the most unique tournaments the NCAA has ever held. The men's hub is Indianapolis and the women will play in San Antonio.

The tournaments each have their own organizing committees, structures and set ups. There was one glaring disparity between the tournaments when a Stanford coach shared photos of respective weight rooms at the tournaments. The men's workout facility was expansive with lots of weights, racks, benches and overall equipment and space. The women's area had one rack of 12 dumbbells, some yoga mats and an exercise bike.

Social media lost its mind over the differences. The NCAA added more weights to the women's area—still far fewer than the men have—and they added some flashy lighting, which social media ridiculed.

Luke Garza Iowa Basketball Player
The back of the jersey of Luka Garza #55 of the Iowa Hawkeyes before a college basketball game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Athletic Center on January 2, 2021 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Could it be that the men's committee had a month longer to prepare for their tournament than the women? Hardly.

The NCAA announced on January 4 this year that the men's tournament would be held in Indiana, with the majority of its games in Indianapolis. The NCAA announced on February 5 that the women's tournament would be held in the greater San Antonio area. That's 32 days of separation in making those announcements.

One might argue that the women's committee had 32 fewer days to prepare, and that the workout area for the women could have been an oversight as the major concern for both tournaments has been safety protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

But 32 days hasn't been the issue, nor has it been about a single comparison of weight rooms. It's a long history of women's collegiate sports receiving less attention and respect on the national level. The disparity comes with fan attendance, food, swag bags and facilities, and prominent figures in women's basketball are speaking their minds. Not just about the inequities, but that the NCAA is allowing it to happen.

The NCAA released a statement saying the weight room disparity was because of space issues at the convention center in San Antonio, but they were eventually able to bring in more equipment for the women's teams after the public outcry.

One legendary women's basketball coach said that, for so long, women's athletics were just happy to have a seat at the table, even if they weren't the topic of discussion and if they were only getting "crumbs." Former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said gender inequality "is hardly breaking news."

"While I appreciate the outrage, the fact that there's a huge disparity between men's and women's sports is hardly breaking news," McGraw tweeted Saturday. "We have been fighting this battle for years and frankly, I'm tired of it."

McGraw, who led the Irish to nine Final Fours and two national championships (2001, 2018), said she's "tired" of turning on the TV to see "NCAA basketball tournament" to only find out it's the men's tournament. She referred to the NCAA's Twitter accounts called March Madness and Final Four, but they only cover the men's game.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw
Head coach Muffet McGraw of the University of Notre Dame during a game between Notre Dame and Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 06, 2020 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The former coach said she's "Tired of having to preface everything we do with the word 'Womens' which would be fine if the men had to do the same, but they don't, and when they don't it makes us look like the JV tournament to their event.

McGraw went on to say the inequities between the men's and women's teams are typical with things like "facilities, food, fan attendance and swag bags," and even that doesn't really bother her that much.

"What bothers me is that no one on the NCAA's leadership team even noticed," McGraw said. "While corporations across the country are scrambling to hire women and set up diversity & inclusion teams, the NCAA had an opportunity to highlight how sport can be a place where we don't just talk about equality but we put it on display.

"To say they dropped the ball would be the understatement of the century. This is the issue we have been battling for decades."

— Muffet McGraw (@MuffetMcGraw) March 20, 2021

Dawn Staley is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and current coach of South Carolina, which she turned into a national champion and perennial contender for the SEC and national championships. She carried the American flag for the United States at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics—perhaps one of the highest honors in the Games.

Staley reached a boiling point about the NCAA situation, and she wrote a statement Friday that starts with "I cannot be quiet."

"In a season that has been focused on justice and equality it's disheartening that we are addressing the glaring deficiencies and inequities in the WOMEN'S and men's NCAA tournament experiences for the student-athletes, but here we are," Staley tweeted.

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley
A'ja Wilson #22 and head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks hold the NCAA trophy and celebrates with their team after winning the championship game against the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four at American Airlines Center on April 2, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Although she appreciated the efforts of the NCAA to pull off a mammoth task of assembling 64 teams in San Antonio for the women's event, she also pointed out the issues with March Madness and Final Four Twitters and logos that reference just the men's events.

"How do we explain that to our players?" Staley asked. "How can an organization that claims to care about ALL member institutions' student-athlete experiences have a copyrighted term that only "represents" one gender?"

For NCAA soccer, there are the "Men's College Cup" and the "Women's College Cup." In some sports like swimming, cross country and track, there are separate "men's" and "women's" designations for their championships.

But in the NCAA, there is also the "College World Series" for baseball (men) and then the "Women's College World Series" for softball.