As the women’s Final Four kicks off tonight, the cloud looming over the NCAA only grows. Having gotten away with treating their female athletes like second-class citizens for decades, the crackdown is truly beginning, as the organization gets piled on from all sides with growing expectations to create NIL regulations, tighten infraction investigation timelines, and now, to implement fair treatment of women’s sports teams.
Three Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced a bill that, if passed, would create a 16-member congressional commission to investigate gender equity in the NCAA. A year after a viral video of an absolute joke of a women’s weight room went viral during last year’s March Madness, the NCAA has taken some steps toward making the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments more equitable, including allowing the women to use “March Madness” branding and distributing more money toward the undervalued women’s tournament. There were also reportedly improvements in facilities and accommodations for the women in their 50th tournament.
These changes were prompted by an independently contracted report with recommendations for how to make the tournaments more equitable, but Congress clearly feels that the changes implemented did not go far enough. If passed, this bill will legally push the NCAA toward making more significant changes toward equitable treatment in sports that have both men’s and women’s teams examining not only overall budgets, but differences in lodging, sponsorships, transportation, media contracts, equipment provided for tournaments, and more.
“Despite last year’s scandal, the NCAA has made pathetic progress towards correcting the deeply misogynistic attitudes and treatment of the women’s teams compared to the men’s teams,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), one of the sponsors of the Gender Equity in College Sports Commission Act along with Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mickie Sherrill (D-N.J.), said in a statement. “And this continues even after the NCAA was put on notice for its unjust treatment of women in at least four prior reviews over the last 30 years.”
And they’re not the only ones who think so. College coaches across the country are becoming fed up with the treatment of female basketball players — earlier this week, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that “we talk about the dumbest things” when discussing how to make the men’s and women’s postseasons more equitable. One major example he gave was the fact that the men get a significantly longer rest period heading into their Final Four games than the women’s teams are given.
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“We’ve got the weight room squared away, and I’m sure we got other things squared away, but we don’t get squared away the things that are most important,” the 37-year head coach said. “Why don’t you address things that actually help kids get ready to play their best basketball at the most important time of the year?”
It’s the visible, obvious issues that the NCAA is fixing first, a priority that repairs their public image more than any actual discrepancy in the treatment of players. As March Madness is the NCAA’s biggest profit-maker of the year, a more valuable television deal would have to be negotiated for the women’s tournament in order for the organization to justify spending on it — and it can be negotiated, as it may be worth over ten times than what the NCAA’s current valuation on it is.
Longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is a proponent of an equitable unit structure, which would, in theory, require the NCAA to allocate revenue from the “Basketball Fund” to schools based on the performance of both men’s and women’s teams. As it stands now, the NCAA’s allocation from this fund solely relies on the men’s tournament results, which gives participating schools an incentive to invest more in their men’s programs as part of a vicious cycle that shunts the women’s team to the curb.
In the Final Four tonight, blue blood programs UConn and Stanford will face off, and newcomers South Carolina and Louisville will meet. It’s sure to be a thrilling night, but the real battle off the court is just beginning.