March Madness is a highly anticipated time of year for NCAA college basketball as fans tune in to support their favorite teams and create their own brackets who they expect to win. However, this year attention has been diverted to the inequality between the treatment of male and female athletes.
The 2021 NCAA National Tournament has faced adjustments given the global pandemic. Each team in both men's and women's basketball that qualified for the national tournament were required to isolate in bubbles before the event.
The backlash against the NCAA began when images appeared online comparing the women’s weight room with the men’s weight room that is provided while they are in quarantine. The men were given a large space with several squat racks, plates, benches and dumbbells while the women were provided one rack of dumbbells – the heaviest being 30 pounds – and a table with some yoga mats.
Lynn Holzman, the NCAA Vice President of Women's Basketball, released a statement on Twitter in response to the backlash. She stated, “We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been available inside the controlled environment. In part, this is due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament. However, we want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.”
Participating female athletes have also broadcast their situation online. The University of Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Prince used her popular TikTok platform to preview what she and other female athletes are experiencing. She showed clips of the differences between the men’s and women's weight room, criticizing the NCAA for using space as an excuse for the differences as she pans around the large practice area saying, “here’s our practice court, right, here’s that weight room, and then here’s all this extra space. If you aren't upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it.”
Images of the “swag bags” that athletes receive upon arrival at the tournament have also been released online, fueling the fire that the NCAA is treating men and women sports differently. Women athletes received a significantly smaller pack of goods compared to the men who received items such as shoes, a hoodie, blanket and other tournament merchandise.
Former University of Maryland women's basketball player, Chloe Pavlech, shared a collage on Twitter comparing the men and women's meals next to each other. Women are receiving lower quality and quantity meals that are prepared in individual containers compared to the men who are offered trays of food to choose from.
Some online observers have put the differences in treatment down to revenue, but at the college level sponsorships are not allowed, and all sports are bracketed underneath the NCAA. Therefore, the NCAA has a responsibility to provide equal treatment to their athletes as the national tournaments for both men and women sports are under the same association.
These differences in treatment by the NCAA raise the question as to whether Title IX is being honored, even at the highest level. The U.S. Department of Education states that Title IX exists to ensure that “male and female athletes are provided with equivalent benefits, opportunities, and treatment.”
Making it to the national tournament is an achievement that college athletes aspire to accomplish in their career. Undermining this accomplishment by providing a lesser experience to female athletes disrespects women sports and the abilities of these athletes.