On March 18, University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince showed the world the depth of the disparities between the women’s and men’s March Madness tournaments by documenting the women’s gym space on her TikTok. In case you haven’t seen it, a hint as to how bad it is is that the average person has more, if not the same amount, of fitness equipment in their own homes.
The women would not have access to weights heavier than 30 lbs until they reach the Sweet Sixteen round. For the teams that do make it that far, it has been made explicitly clear that they will have access to:
- Two bikes
- One treadmill
- Two 8′ half racks with pull up bars
- Five adjustable benches
- Two sets of dumbbells ranging from 5-50 lbs
- Two iron grip 7′ Olympic bars
- Eight sets of 45 lbs plates
- Eight sets of 25 lbs plates
- Eight sets of 10 lbs plates
- Five jump ropes
- Ten yoga mats
- Two dumbbell racks
- Two horizontal plate racks
All of that is less than what the men will have had access to since day one in their bubble.
Prince and other players continued to expose the inequities across both bubbles. From the food to the swag bags, the sentiment from the NCAA to the men is “thank you for being here” while they appear to be telling the women “you should be thankful to be here.”
The gaps aren’t exclusive to the Division I tournament, as the locations in which the Division II men’s and women’s tournaments demonstrate. The men are playing at the Ford Center in Evansville, a building with a capacity of 11 000, and tickets are on sale. The women, on the other hand, are playing in an event centre ballroom with only 36 guest passes available to each team.
Keep in mind, we only know about all of this because players have used their platforms to show us. The NCAA seemed fully content to be running this shady operation without telling anybody, which could explain the sheer ridiculousness that was their statement trying to explain the whole thing away.
Lynn Holzman trying to rely on the “lack of space” as a justification is laughable as is but her reasoning was quickly debunked when a video surfaced of the incredible amounts of empty space.
It didn’t take long for the public to start bringing up Title IX, the Federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination in education programs or activities based on sex. While it is tempting to see this situation as a violation of Title IX, the Supreme Court ruled, in 1999, that the NCAA is not bound by Title IX. While the organization collects fees from its federally-funded members, “the Association’s receipt of dues demonstrates that it indirectly benefits from the federal assistance afforded its members.” The ruling essentially came down to the fact that the NCAA does not directly receive funding from the Federal government, rather it benefits economically from Federal assistance.
The distinction between direct and indirect, receiving and benefitting means that if this tournament was hosted by any of the member schools the inequitable resources would be in violation of Title IX. But because the tournament is NCAA-operated, there is no violation.
So the NCAA may not be in violation of federal law, but they are in violation, in principle and in practice, of their own bylaws. Bylaw 2.2.2 Cultural Diversity and Gender Equity states that “each member institution to establish and maintain an environment that values cultural diversity and gender equity among its student athletes and intercollegiate athletics department staff.” This is one of the violation of principles, namely because they don’t name themselves as being held to these standards. However, the hypocrisy hidden in expecting your members to uphold environments that value equality while you have shown that you cannot do the same is reprehensible.
You don’t have to flip through their manual much further to find that they are in fact in violation, in practice, of one of their own rules. Bylaw 2.3.3 Gender Bias states that “the activities of the Association should be conducted in a manner free of gender bias.” There’s no way around this one, they are the Association and the gender bias on display in the bubbles is as clear as day.
There may not be a federal court that can hold them accountable for these actions, but the Court of Public Opinion certainly will.
To say Twitter has been up in arms since Prince’s video would be a generous understatement, which you can’t blame the Internet for. What is encouraging, however, is that it is more than the general public of sports fans that have taken to caring. The likes of Steph Curry and Sabrina Ionescu have not shied away from calling out the NCAA, as have national sportscasts.
Outside of the media, companies like Orangetheory Fitness and Dick’s Sporting Goods have come out offering their support, through resources and facilities.
The NCAA doesn’t have a sparkling image in the eyes of fans, namely because of the way they have historically refused any chance their athletes have had to profit off of their image. While that situation is on the mend, this glaring demonstration of hypocrisy and disregard for the women’s game is enough to refuel the fire of frustration in a whole new generation, one who understands the importance of gender equity through all aspects of sport.