Opinion: NCAA's mea culpa on inequities between men's and women's tournaments not enough

Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
·5 min read

INDIANAPOLIS — At long last, somebody at the NCAA has gotten something right.

NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledged Friday afternoon that the disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments “was a mistake. There’s just no getting around it.”

Ya think?

Emmert had all kinds of reasons – I won’t call any of them good – for why the inequities happened. The early rounds of the women’s tournament are typically held on campus sites, so this is all a little new. Comparable equipment for a comparable weight room was either already there or on its way but there was a “space” issue – except there wasn’t, as we know from that now-viral TikTok video by Oregon’s Sedona Prince. The committees that put the two tournaments together couldn’t communicate as much as was probably needed because of COVID-19 restrictions. The NCAA is using local companies for COVID-19 testing at each site.

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Blah, blah, blah.

The NCAA likes to trumpet equity and equality, and has been patting itself on the back for much of the last year for its social justice efforts. So what does it do at its first major event in two years? Treat the women like second-class citizens.

If even that.

“This was inexcusable,” Emmert said in a meeting with reporters from USA TODAY Sports, The Athletic and the New York Times. “I want to be really clear, this is not something that should have happened or anything, should we ever conduct a championship like this again, will ever happen again. We’re on top of it.”

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Sorry, but that’s not good enough. With the images and stories that have trickled out from the women’s tournament in San Antonio, it’s impossible to think anything other than the NCAA expended all its efforts getting its billion-dollar baby up and running only to look around and realize, “Oh (expletive deleted). I guess we’re going to have to do something for the girls now, too, huh?” Which is unacceptable, enraging, insulting, myopic – pick any adjective that you like.

The image of the women's gym in San Antonio has six pairs of weights total and some sanitized yoga mats.
The image of the women's gym in San Antonio has six pairs of weights total and some sanitized yoga mats.

Emmert’s apology, and his recognition of the NCAA’s colossal screw up, is nice. But it’s not enough. It can't be when the message Emmert and Co. have sent is so damning to the fight for equality.

"In a season that has focused on justice and equality it's disheartening that we are addressing the glaring deficiencies and inequities in the WOMEN'S and men's NCAA tournament experiences for the student-athletes, but here we are," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.

"It's ... time for the NCAA leadership to reevaluate the value they place on women," Staley added.

Suzette McQueen, chair of the NCAA’s own committee on women’s athletics, sent Emmert a scathing letter Friday, asking for an investigation on how this could have happened.

“The NCAA has acknowledged that this is `disrespectful,’ ” McQueen wrote in her letter, first reported by The Washington Post. “In the committee’s view, it is more than that. It undermines the NCAA’s authority as a proponent and guarantor of Title IX protections, and it sets women’s college athletics back across the country.”

And it was so easily avoidable, had just one or two people had a brain and a sincere sense of fairness.

The Neanderthals and misogynists will huff about the men’s tournament generating more money, as if that isn’t rooted in a historical indifference to women’s sports that, as the NCAA just exemplified, continues to this day. Perhaps if the women’s tournament had been showcased the way the men’s tournament has been the last 40-plus years, it, too, could command nearly $1 billion in rights fees. Perhaps if there were more women running sports departments at networks, television stations, newspapers and websites, women’s sports would get more than 4 percent of the coverage, as is currently the case.

But none of this has happened. Far from it.

We’ve seen in the last few years, from both the U.S. women’s soccer team and the WNBA, that as access to women’s sports increases, so does the interest. What a concept! Yet organizations like the NCAA continue to treat female athletes like an afterthought, a box that simply needs to be checked. That’s how you end up with a “weight room” that consists of a single set of dumb bells despite having an airplane hangar’s worth of space, swag that looks as if it was found in the back of a truck in some shady New York alley and fewer food options than most weight-loss programs offer.

“This was a miss,” Emmert said. “There’s no getting around it. It was a miss, and the communication clearly should have been better.”

The NCAA should treat women equitably simply because it’s the right thing to do. But if that’s not reason enough — and clearly, it’s not — then it should consider the financial ramifications. Women’s sports is a burgeoning market, and the NCAA should be doing everything it can to take advantage of that. There are now kids — boys and girls — who would rather wear a Sue Bird or Megan Rapinoe jersey than that of LeBron James or Christian Pulisic. The girls who are taking note of inequities today are the women with buying power tomorrow. When you dismiss women’s sports, you tell them they — and their money — are not important.

Emmert and the NCAA have made a litany of mistakes over the years. Simply saying “sorry” is no longer enough.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness: NCAA's mea culpa on slighting women not enough