Did the NCAA learn from last year's fiasco with women's basketball?
The NCAA must truly invest in women’s college basketball if it wants to remove the awful stain it has left on the sport for years.
Eric Gay, AP
I attended the 2022 Full Court Press sports writing seminar and scholarship competition for the men’s Final Four in New Orleans, La. In a room filled with mostly men, I asked senior writer at The Athletic, Dana O'Neil, who was the only woman on the panel, how she has stayed in the sports journalism industry for over 25 years, while many women fall out of the industry in less than five years. She listed all the obstacles she overcame, such as the way she dressed and handling the difficulties of a work-life balance, and I thought about the horrors of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
The women in college basketball know first-hand of the second-rate treatment they receive compared to their male counterparts.
For the 2021 women’s tournament in San Antonio, Texas, players and coaches shared videos on social media of their lack of resources: a single dumbbell rack, one stationary bike, yoga mats, prepackaged meals and small gift bags. Whereas, the NCAA showcased the men’s tournament in Indianapolis, Ind. that displayed better equipment, a full buffet of food and bigger gift bags.
“If you aren’t upset at this problem, you’re a part of it,” Oregon forward Sedona Prince said on TikTok after showing the disparity.
The NCAA knows it treats its women athletes dirty, and no one is surprised. The greedy money-making organization doesn’t care about women's college basketball. In 2019, the NCAA “budgeted nearly double for its men’s basketball tournament than what it planned for its women’s competition, a $13.5 million gap,” according to the New York Times.
However, facing the ire of social media and a gender equity review, the NCAA attempted to save face for this year’s tournament. The NCAA pointed out specific changes for this year for women’s basketball that included the same gift boxes, a yogurt bar, a pasta station, and lounge stations as men.
“On the one hand, you’re like, Thank you,” UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close said to Sports Illustrated. “You know, the players don’t have to feel less-than in those areas anymore, so you do want to say thank you. On the other hand, you want to go, Really? Like, really, it took a major crisis and millions of dollars spent on analysis to come up with, We need to treat them the same?”
No one should applaud a fish for swimming. All these things should have been in place from the beginning. To create actual change, the NCAA needs to market and support its women’s basketball teams and stars.
The women’s national championship averaged a combined audience of 4.85 million viewers, which was the most-watched national championship in 18 years and the fourth most-watched NCAA women’s basketball national championship game. The entire women’s tournament averaged 634,000 viewers per game, up 16% from last year.
According to the Sports Business Journal, women’s college basketball also has three athletes (Paige Bueckers, Hailey Van Lith, Azzi Fudd) with the most social media followers between both men’s and women’s basketball, a growing tv audience with 4.08 million and four teams (Connecticut, South Carolina, Louisville and Stanford) that rank in the top eight of social media value.
If the NCAA is serious about doing right by women’s college basketball, it must tap into this space and market the sport to genuinely support them.
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 598 – Opinion Writing in the Digital Age at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.