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STUDENT ATHLETES

Equity & the NCAA One Year After the Weight Room Video

One year ago, Sedona Prince and other women’s basketball players brought to light glaring inequities in the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments. How will this March be different?

Sedona Prince isn’t asking for a lot.

50 years after the inception of Title IX, even amid great strides in visibility and equity in women’s sports, there are still some things that make the Oregon forward’s blood boil.

No doubt the most famous instance came last March when the Ducks redshirt junior posted a TikTok showing the weight room in the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament bubble compared to the room the men had.

If you don’t remember the video, let us refresh your memory. Watch to the end, too, because it’s not just that the women’s basketball accommodations were grossly inadequate — it’s also that the NCAA‘s reasoning behind the whole situation was just not true:

One year later, Prince spoke with Boardroom in support of a campaign she’s participating in with TIAA meant to bring attention to inequalities in women’s retirement security. She still remembers the NCAA claiming there was not enough space to give the women the weight room they deserved despite that clearly not being the case.

“That’s what pushed me over the edge,” she said. “[My teammates and I] kinda just came together, like, ‘We’re gonna be loud about this.'”

The rest is, as they say, history.

The TikTok took off, prompting the NCAA to again address the issue and even upgrade the weight room on the fly. (See, there was enough space.) As other inequities came to light, including diminished gift bags, poorer meal accommodations, and more restrictive media access, the NCAA vowed to change.

In August, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP released their comprehensive review of gender equity issues in NCAA championships in what is now commonly known as “The Kaplan Report.” It listed a host of recommendations for the NCAA to implement, and we’ve seen some of them manifest immediately. A few notable basketball examples:

  • The women’s tournament now uses March Madness branding
  • The women’s tournament field has expanded to 68 teams to match the men’s
  • The women’s and men’s tournament committees now communicate more closely
  • The men’s Final Four logo now includes “men’s” on it to match “women’s” on the women’s logo such that we no longer have a “Final Four” and a “Women’s Final Four”

The NCAA’s Response

When you get called out in a viral TikTok, chances are, you get embarrassed.

And the NCAA was downright humiliated.

By the time the weight room video made the rounds, and players and media alike began calling out more inequities between the two tournaments, the NCAA had to respond. So it did in the form of a Zoom press conference featuring Vice President for Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman, Women’s Basketball Committee Chair Nina King, and Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt. They were frank in stating that the NCAA failed in its mission to put on two equitable championship events for Division I basketball.

“I do have confidence that as a women’s basketball community we can work together and address the shortfalls here in San Antonio and moving forward,” King said at the time.

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We know they’ve been addressed; they may have even been addressed adequately. But adequate has never been enough on the men’s side — nor should it be. The men’s NCAA Tournament has given us some of the greatest-ever moments in sports. Adequate shouldn’t be enough for the women either, especially at a time when ESPN is selling out its ad inventory weeks in advance of the tournament, the best players in the country are more prominent than ever, and the game is continuously breaking ratings records.

To its credit, the NCAA presented to the media last week a detailed chart of all the changes it has made — not just in Division I women’s basketball but across Divisions I, II, and III, and in all sports’ championships.

It included the above bullet points — which we already knew — but also showed details that fans and the media rarely get to see, such as identical lounge decor and hotel amenities for players.

Screenshot from the NCAA’s gender equity presentation

(For context, one of the most careless misses from the NCAA last year was giving men’s players a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and a 150-piece puzzle for the women.)

When presented side-by-side, the above table is encouraging. It almost makes you forget that the slide is only necessary because participants in the women’s tournament were getting less to begin with.

And Maryland sophomore and leading scorer Angel Reese doesn’t want anyone to forget what led to this moment.

“Why was this not done before?” she asked in an interview with Boardroom as part of the TIAA campaign. “Is it only getting done now because we put something out? If we didn’t have social media, would anything have changed?”

There’s no reason to think it would have. But to try and ensure that the NCAA addresses any shortcomings that may remain, it has put together a women’s basketball student-athlete engagement group made up of players from each conference. Athletes in that group, on behalf of their teammates and conference-mates, were able to provide feedback on the player lounges and upcoming accommodations. Holzman said on that same media call that the NCAA will be available for feedback from participating players and coaches throughout.

“Are You Just Doing This to Shut Us Up?”

This isn’t an issue that’s going to fade away any time soon.

Gavitt said as much, indicating that the changes the NCAA is implementing are ongoing and will not be completed even by the end of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

In the meantime, what Prince did with her viral TikTok was demonstrate the impact that a player can have in the social media age. It’s emboldened others to speak up as well.

“I truthfully believe if [Prince] and those Oregon players didn’t put those videos out, we wouldn’t have gotten the weight room we deserved,” Reese said.

Reese added that the onus is now on the NCAA to prove its actions are more than performative.

“Are you just doing this to shut us up,” she asked, “or are you doing this because, ‘oh yes, we made a mistake and we’re going to change?'”

With the NCAA Tournament approaching — or March Madness, as it can now be referred on the women’s side — the players have expectations.

There are fundamental differences between the women’s and men’s tournaments — for example, the women play the first two rounds at campus sites — but the overall treatment of both groups must be the same or the NCAA will again face the wrath of the players and the public.

“I expect the same gear as the men,” Reese said, alluding to the now-famous “swag bag” issue at last year’s tournament. “I’d expect us to be eating the same quality food. I just expect the same as the men. The same is all I want.”

As for Prince, she doesn’t want to be the last athlete to use her platform to stand up for something.

“We’re seeing more and more athletes take a stand and use their platforms to make change, which is incredible,” she said. “The support from my video definitely showed women’s athletes have these voices, and the NCAA is recognizing that. Hopefully, these changes will last forever.”

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