Outrage ensued as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament kicked off on March 18. Multiple videos and images surfaced highlighting major discrepancies between the training facilities provided for male and female basketball players at the tournament. The first mention of the issue came from Ali Kershner, a coach at Stanford University who posted to social media comparing the setup of the men and women’s weight rooms. A measly stack of yoga mats and dumbbells appeared sparse juxtaposed with the mens’ fully furnished Planet Fitness-level weight room. The quality of food and items in the complementary swag bags were also bones of contention as these viral images captured the attention of a wider audience.
Sedona Prince, a female basketball player on the Oregon Ducks, used her platform to showcase these disparities and call out excuses made by the NCAA. Prince posted videos of their dinner, composed of what she concluded to be ‘some kind of meat’ accompanied by soggy vegetables and mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, a post by Alan Bishop, the director of sports performance for men’s basketball at the University of Houston, indicated that the men were being pampered with petite filet, lobster mac and cheese, and potatoes au gratin.
Initially, the NCAA responded to these complaints with an online statement from Lynn Holzman, vice president of NCAA women’s basketball. Holzman credited the insufficient facilities to the lack of space in San Antonio, to which Prince responded with a video displaying a plethora of unused space neighboring the rack of dumbbells they were provided. With public dissent brewing, the NCAA issued an apology during a briefing on Friday, March 19 and unveiled a new and upgraded weight room on Saturday, March 20.
The history of discrepancies between the funding of men’s and women’s college sports predates the NCAA. Storrie Johnson, former rower at University of California (UC) Berkeley, was the first female member of the Big C Society and currently sits on its Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Johnson recalled that women’s sports had next to no funding during her time as a collegiate athlete. Johnson said, “Everyone would go to workout and then on Saturdays you came and you helped build the boathouse.” Johnson was shocked by the disparities at the NCAA tournament. “For today’s day and age and for it to be the premier event for the sport, it was just insulting,” said Johnson.
Charmin Smith, head coach of the UC Berkeley women’s basketball team, explained that she received multiple messages from contacts who were attending the NCAA tournament regarding the quality of the food that they were provided. Smith said, “Those discrepancies, particularly with the food, mean that the women aren’t having the experience that they are deserving of.” Smith went on to say, “How you fuel your body really matters when you are trying to perform at a high level.”
Smith has attended NCAA tournaments numerous times throughout her years coaching college basketball. “I recall what was in our Final Four bags and what was in the male student athlete’s bags and I know that it was never really the same,” Smith noted. Regarding the gap in funding for men’s and women’s sports, Smith said, “People will point to the revenue that they bring in but this is still amateur sports and while swag bags don’t determine wins and losses, nutrition, strength, and weight rooms actually do.”
Fiona Firepine, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), is coming into her second year on the Berkeley High School (BHS) girl’s basketball team. Firepine was shocked by the unequal treatment at the NCAA tournament. “I think it’s sad that it was the first time I ever saw how sexist the athletic industry can be. I’ve known it, but visually seeing that was very surprising,” said Firepine. Firepine has faced smaller scale, but nonetheless upsetting disparities between the treatment of the girl’s team as opposed to their male counterparts. “Gymwise, they kind of got priority last year because we always used the back gym in the M-Building and they almost always used the big building,” said Firepine. In terms of how these public revelations influenced her view of her own future as a female basketball player, Firepine noted, “It makes me want to fight back and work harder not just in basketball but in general to change these inequalities.”
Unfortunately, these occurrences aren’t just hiccups in planning or isolated events. Details from a financial summary were revealed on March 26, displaying the budgeting gap between NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments. According to the New York Times, the NCAA budgeted nearly double for its men’s basketball tournament in 2019 than what was planned for the women’s competition, with a $13.5 million gap in funding.
The NCAA has hired a prominent civil rights lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, to review their championship events and is expected to release a report this summer. When referring to the NCAA’s plans moving forward, Smith said,“They can go through all of their processes and try to say ‘Oh, how did we get this wrong? … You got it wrong because you didn’t care enough to get it right and it’s a simple fix; care more about women’s basketball.”
This raises the question: would these issues have been fixed if they weren’t so heavily publicized? Smith said, “If [the NCAA] really were serious about making sure that things were done the right way, we never would have been in this position where people had to draw attention to it.” Smith explained that speaking up about these issues and keeping the pressure on the NCAA will help the move toward change. “Sedona Prince using her platform and these other athletes speaking up, that’s how you can try to ignite change, and there is a lot that has to happen but these conversations are being had,” said Smith.