At N.C.A.A. Tournaments, Unequal Facilities for Women


Facing a swell of outrage and accusations that it prized men’s basketball players more than the athletes competing in the women’s tournament next week, the N.C.A.A. apologized on Friday for vast disparities in workout facilities at its marquee championship events.

Later in the day, Mark Emmert, the president of the N.C.A.A., acknowledged an additional startling imbalance between the men’s and women’s tournaments: different methods of coronavirus testing for athletes and for others inside the tournaments’ “controlled environments.”

The method in use at the men’s event in Indiana is called a polymerase chain reaction test, or a P.C.R. test, which is considered the gold standard of virus testing. It is highly sensitive and almost always detects infections. The method for the women’s tournament in Texas is a rapid antigen test, which is cheaper and generally provides quicker results but is less sensitive and more likely to yield false negatives.

“We have complete confidence in all the medical protocols that have been put together,” Emmert said, adding that the N.C.A.A. had used national and local medical advisers to formulate plans for the events. “All of the health experts say the protocol that they’re using right now in all our venues and all our championships is one that has no difference at all in our ability to mitigate risk.”

The controversy around the women’s tournament erupted this week with complaints about unequal facilities. Players at the men’s tournament have benefited from an enormous, well-stocked workout complex in downtown Indianapolis. But the stars of the women’s game, who will play their tournament in Texas beginning on Sunday, appeared to have only a rack of hand weights.

Faced with an uproar on Friday, Dan Gavitt, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president of basketball, apologized for “dropping the ball, frankly.”

“We will get it fixed as soon as possible,” he said from Indiana.

Similarly, Lynn Holzman, who played at Kansas State and rose to become the N.C.A.A.’s vice president of women’s basketball, said Friday that organizers “fell short.” Her voice sometimes catching during a videoconference with reporters, Holzman acknowledged that the episode was a “blemish.”

“I’ve experienced when you don’t have something that’s the same,” she said, adding that there would be an “accountability aspect” to future discussions about what had happened in Texas.

“When it is personal, it is as real as it can get,” she said. “It hurts. And when people passionately care about something — in this case, women’s basketball — our fans, our student-athletes who are playing this game, it is our responsibility to give them a great championship experience and one they can be proud of.”

Although the N.C.A.A. has faced serious strain in the last year, it makes so much money from the men’s tournament that providing equal amenities for everyone should not be a financial issue. The men’s tournament is the crown jewel for the N.C.A.A., which will draw more than $850 million in television rights from it this year alone. The women’s tournament, by comparison, is part of a multisport broadcast deal worth nearly $42 million this fiscal year.

On Thursday, the N.C.A.A. posted an online statement from Holzman, in which she partly attributed the lack of women’s weight room facilities to a dearth of space in San Antonio, where the bulk of the tournament is being held. She was shortly called out on that excuse.

Sedona Prince, an Oregon sophomore, posted a video online showing an abundance of space where the women are training. Adjacent to the women’s practice court, a vast, wide open area is unused.

“If you’re not upset about this problem, then you are a part of it,” Prince said.

The N.C.A.A.’s apologies came after an onslaught of online criticism. It started soon after Ali Kershner, a sports performance coach at Stanford, posted images on Thursday of a cavernous weight room at the men’s tournament, where teams will be living under tight restrictions, and the sparse facility at the women’s tournament.

Though each tournament has at least 64 teams, the men were given workout equipment including dumbbells, barbells and squat machines, all arranged in what appeared to be a hotel ballroom, while the women apparently had only a rack of dumbbells, none heavier than 30 pounds.

“The women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities,” Kershner wrote in her online post. “In a year defined by a fight for equality, this is a chance to have a conversation and get better.”

Prince also posted a video showing the dinner offered at the women’s tournament, opening a plastic container to reveal mashed potatoes, a soggy trio of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, and what she concluded was “some kind of meat.” She added, “Everyone is saying that this is Salisbury steak?”

In comparison, the men’s tournament offered a smorgasbord, featuring “petite filet,” lobster macaroni and cheese, and grilled asparagus, according to a Twitter post by Alan Bishop, the director of sports performance for men’s basketball at the University of Houston. After listing some items on the menu, he commented, “That ain’t bad!!!”

Some student-athletes were already using the staging of the tournaments to air their grievances with the N.C.A.A. regarding limits on players’ profiting from their fame. Earlier this week, players began tweeting with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty to protest the association’s rules. Although much of the public dissent has been concentrated at the men’s tournament, the issue has also surfaced around the women’s event.

Donna A. Lopiano, who was the director of women’s athletics at Texas for nearly two decades and is now the president of the Drake Group, a nonprofit that seeks changes in college sports, said in an interview that she was surprised, but also unsurprised, that the women were being treated so differently at their tournament.

“I can’t say enough how much of an M.O. it is for the N.C.A.A. to create the guise of propriety over everything they do,” she said, suggesting that women in college sports have long been considered an afterthought compared with the men.

Before the N.C.A.A.’s apology, top administrators openly expressed frustration. Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Texas A&M, a No. 2 seed in the women’s tournament, said on Twitter on Thursday night, “This is unacceptable to begin with.”

“We have to do better,” he added.

For all of the outrage, the N.C.A.A. still had some prominent defenders, including Jody Conradt, a Hall of Fame member who was the women’s basketball coach at Texas for many years. In an interview, Conradt suggested she was willing to give tournament organizers a measure of leeway because of the challenges of staging the competition during a pandemic.

“We want everything to be perfect and we have fought really hard to have equality and recognition and credibility on the women’s side,” Conradt said. “But I don’t think you can discount this last 12 months.”

Billy Witz contributed reporting from Indianapolis.


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