From the Campus to the Court: Highlighting the NCAA’s Mistreatment of Women

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Gender equality has been a topic of heated discussion for as long as anyone can remember. Debates about women’s inferiority to men evolved into questions of women’s suffrage, which have now grown into discussions about the pay gap and other injustices in the workplace. But despite how long we have been having the gender discussion, it is still shocking to see such blatant gender inequality in workplaces, especially in a major basketball league like the NCAA.

Apparently, according to the NCAA, a set of weights along with a few yoga mats is enough for women college basketball players to get an adequate workout at the most popular college basketball tournament, March Madness. Men, on the other hand, must have a full gym, complete with various dumbbells, weight racks, benches, bars, and plates in order to stay fit before and during the tournament.

Stanford University sports performance coach Ali Kershner shared an image of the pathetic shelf of weights that the women were provided with for their San Antonio tournament on March 18, side by side with a photo of the men’s full exercise room and gym that they received for their tournament in Indianapolis. Following her post, the disparity continued to be brought to light by various athletes, such as Sedona Prince, a player on the Oregon Ducks basketball team who utilized her growing platform on TikTok, as well as New York Liberty player Sabrina Ionescu, who held the NCAA responsible for the unequal resources provided to the respective tournaments on Twitter.

The NCAA then responded with a statement saying, “In part, this is due to the limited space, and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament.” Regardless of the truth of that statement, the contrast in women’s and men’s equipment still lays bare the prevalence of gender discrimination in the NCAA.

The claim that the amount and quality of equipment provided to the women’s tournament were due to the lack of space in the bubble was quickly proven false. Videos were posted by various individuals at the tournament showcasing the large, empty space in the women’s facility, which were quickly spread around social platforms. According to a tweet from a digital content creator for University of South Carolina women’s basketball, Kendric Lindsey, the women’s so-called gym was primarily empty space with the actual equipment taking up an insignificant fraction of it. It became clear that the NCAA simply used this excuse as an attempt to put down the rising backlash against its treatment of the women’s basketball teams.

The publicity and controversy weren’t all bad as they led to some benefits for the women’s teams. Following the viral videos of the inadequate weight rooms, the NCAA resupplied them, providing a variety of bars, racks, and stands—a major upgrade from the single tiny stand of dumbbells. Viewership also improved significantly for the women’s tournament. Final Four weekend viewers increased by 14 percent compared to 2019 as Sweet 16 games saw a whopping 67 percent increase in viewership.

So, what can be done to hold the NCAA responsible? Lawfully, there is close to nothing. Title IX is an amendment that prohibits sex discrimination of any form in educational programs that receive federal funding. Unfortunately, a Supreme Court case in 1999 ruled that because the NCAA doesn’t directly receive federal money, it is not subject to federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title IX. However, it is important to note that the NCAA receives dues from universities and colleges that receive federal funding, which should therefore make them subject to this law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shot down this argument, saying that the indirect federal funds do not make the NCAA liable under the amendment.

Following the backlash over the huge disparities in weight rooms, the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, hired NYC-based law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to conduct a review evaluating resource allocation vs. gender. However, for many, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) included, this review simply wasn’t going to cut it. In a letter branded as a commission on gender inequity in college sports, the WBCA wrote, “The issues raised by the treatment of the teams in San Antonio are symptoms of a much larger attitude that women's sports are second class to their men's counterparts.”

The NCAA’s gender issue that has been brewing for years cannot be remedied by a single evaluation or a bigger weight room. It’s clear that the NCAA must step back and truly reflect on the large, underlying problems that make way for the minor ones, like disparities in exercise rooms. While this situation isn’t the first time the NCAA has been under fire for gender inequity, athletes everywhere are certainly hoping this time might finally be the last.