From the first practice to the Final Four, the bells and whistles for the women’s NCAA Tournament this year lagged way behind those at the men’s tourney.
The disparities were put back on the front burner Tuesday in a scathing review by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, a law firm hired to review gender equity issues at NCAA championship events. In page after page, the review goes over the differences big and small. The women's teams in San Antonio received less of several things — including amenities, promotion and even food than the men did in Indianapolis this past March.
Right from the very start when men's tournament organizers announced plans to hold its 68-team event in a central location due to the coronavirus last November, it was another month before those running the women's tournament could make their plan public.
At almost every step after that, the report found, the men's tournament went full speed ahead for well-equipped weight rooms, spacious lounge areas at its hotels and tournament sites while those running the women's event did not have similar resources.
“Those gender inequities were baked into the very fabric of the tournaments and how the tournaments were viewed by the NCAA,” according to the report.
The problems were called out on social media, most notably by Oregon player Sedona Prince whose initial tweet on the topic has now been viewed more than 18 million times.
The firm's deep dive also discovered that COVID-19 testing procedures differed in the two tournament bubble sites, men getting daily rapid polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR) while women were required to have just one PCR test a week along with daily antigen testing.
An athlete who participated in the review said the NCAA's different testing protocols “was really telling about how they felt about us as people, like we weren't important enough to have good testing for (COVID-19), which is life threatening”
The firm's report noted it did not think the disparity in testing jeopardized the health of those at either site. “Neverless,” the report said, “antigen tests have lower specificity than PCR tests and thus create a higher likelihood of false positives or inconclusive results.”
The report found many other instances where women got less than the men:
— Areas of escape from hotel life. The NCAA set up a park at a minor league baseball stadium in Indianapolis where teams could unwind outside while options for women in San Antonio were limited until the Sweet 16.
— Food. Men ate from a buffet-style layout at hotels while women were limited to prepackaged meals until the disparity was made public.
— Player gifts. The report found the NCAA spent $125.55 per player on gifts and mementos distributed at the men’s tournament; it spent less than half that ($60.42) for women during the first and second rounds.
The firm found there was less signage and promotion at the women's event in Texas compared with the men in Indianapolis along with a lack of use of the “March Madness” trademark at women's games. The NCAA later said the women's tournament will use “March Madness” going forward.
Kaplan found the problems with the weight room and other disparities between the two event came mainly from a lack of staffing of the women’s tournament and coordination between organizers of the two events.
“When these issues were compounded by the unique challenge of planning and executing a championship amidst a global pandemic," according to the report, "the world took notice."