I love this weekend.
Like most of my colleagues, I spent most of Friday, and will likely spend much of the weekend, watching the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. I have entered a bracket (the same bracket – I believe in only filling out one) in pools with both my fellow writers and my family.
However, throughout the day, information has emerged detailing the disparities between the men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, which are both being held in bubbles this year due to the Covid Pandemic.
Those disparities include:
- COVID Testing! The men are getting daily PCR tests, while women are getting Antigen tests, which are less sensitive and less effective at detecting the virus early in infection. Oh, yeah, and the antigen tests are significantly cheaper.
- A huge ballroom of strength and conditioning equipment for the men’s bubble vs a rack of dumbbells and a pile of yoga mats in a corner for the women.
- Pre-packed and portioned TV dinners served to the women’s teams, while the men’s bubble includes unlimited buffets with steak, lobster mac ‘n cheese and fresh grilled vegetables.
- Much better Swag bags for the men.
- The men’s logo refers to the “Final Four”, while the women’s specifically says “Women’s Final Four,” implying that the real “Final Four” belongs to the men, and the women’s tournament must be qualified.
- The handle @marchmadness and the hashtag #marchmadness are reserved for the men’s tournament, while the women’s tournament uses only gendered handles (@ncaawbb) and hashtags (#ncaaw, #WFinalFour).
- The men’s tournament is allowing fan capacity at 25%, while the women’s tournament is capped at 17% capacity.
Reading all of those disparities nearly brought me to tears.
I have worked at schools within the NCAA for more than a decade, and I still sometimes can’t believe how oblivious they can be. As disappointed as I am with the decisions the NCAA made, I am almost more baffled by the idea that they thought these disparities would go unnoticed.
Then, I had a realization.
I don’t fill out a women’s tournament bracket. Until I looked it up, I didn’t even know for sure when the women’s tournament starts. I haven’t watched a Division 1 NCAA women’s basketball game except for the 2017 Elite Eight game between Oregon and UConn, which I worked as a member of the media team in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Is it my fault that the NCAA can get away with this?
Sedona Prince, an Oregon sophomore who posted comparison videos of the men’s and women’s weight rooms and a review of the food on social media, said “If you aren’t upset about this, you’re a part of the problem.”
I am very upset about this. But I still feel like part of the problem.
This year, I decided to have my 15-month old daughter pick a bracket. My wife and I helped her flip a coin (and by flip I mean drop) 63 times. If it was heads, she picked the team on the top line of the bracket. If it was tails she picked the team on the bottom line. She has been entered in our family pool, where she’s almost guaranteed to finish better than at least one adult.
But why did I have her fill out a men’s bracket instead of a women’s bracket?
It’s not because I don’t like women’s basketball, or believe that they deserve the same experience as the men. One of my greatest professional achievements was covering the Amherst College women’s basketball team that won the 2019 NCAA Division 3 National Championship. That team was phenomenal, and that tournament was an incredible experience.
Like many others, I have simply made a choice.
It’s the easy choice, but it’s the one that most of us have made. My family was filling out men’s brackets, and we wanted to have our daughter compete against us.
There’s simply too much basketball to watch, and we only have so much time to give. So we do what we have always done.
Do I follow it less because of them, or do they cover it worse because of me?
I think there is a chicken/egg element to this problem, which goes back to years and years of gender inequity in the NCAA.
Growing up, we are conditioned to understand that “March Madness” means the men’s tournament, without question.
We used to get double-page spread men’s brackets in the newspaper, and my brother and I fought about who got to fill them out, to the point that our grandmother would always save her paper so that we could each have one.
No sign of the women’s tournament bracket in those papers. That wasn’t “March Madness.” That was the women’s basketball tournament.
We don’t do brackets for that. We don’t watch that one.
The NCAA has repeatedly and continuously prioritized the marketing and promotion of the men’s tournament, and major networks and media outlets have gone along with the idea. For the past week, ESPN’s front story page has been links to fill out their March Madness brackets. That’s for the men’s tournament.
No sign of coverage of the women’s tournament (which they at least broadcast, so that’s surprising), except for a front-page story when Geno Auriemma was diagnosed with Covid-19.
As I mentioned, there is only so much time we can give. So when we have to decide where to devote our time and our energy at this time of year, what do we do?
We do what we have been conditioned to do. We do what the NCAA wants us to do.
I have long made it known that I pretty much despise the machine of college sports.
The bells and whistles that the colleges, leagues and NCAA provide to make the players feel like pro athletes while still claiming they are amateurs and students are excessive. I don’t think we should pay athletes, I think we should stop spending billions of dollars on the monster that is Division 1 sports. That’s particularly true if they are not willing to make the experience equal for both men and women.
But during these weekends in March, I consume and engage with the men’s tournament as much, if not more, than professional sports. I consume and engage with it in a way that justifies the billion dollar tv deals, and I suppose as a result, justifies the swag bags and the lobster mac ‘n cheese.
I don’t do that with the women’s tournament. And today, I feel as though that justifies the NCAA’s decision to skimp and save and not be equitable.
And that doesn’t feel great. Because that’s a deplorable decision by the NCAA.
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