BYU athletes and others speak up on social media about NCAA tournament gender inequality
The NCAA came under fire on March 18 when photos and videos comparing the amenities at the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments began to spread on social media.
The most shared video was from Oregon player Sedona Prince, who posted a video on TikTok and Twitter comparing the weight rooms provided to the women, with just a single set of small dumbbells and a stack of yoga mats, and the men, with several benches and weight machines.
Prince’s video now has millions of views across several platforms. BYU senior Paisley Harding also posted a video on TikTok and Instagram, showing and commenting on the scare equipment the Cougars were provided.
BYU and other teams resorted to doing workouts in the middle of their hotel floor. Harding said they luckily brought resistance bands, and their strength and conditioning coach, Steven Arnold, led them in workouts.
Lynn Holzman, the NCAA vice president of women’s basketball, later came out with a statement on Twitter. “We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment. We want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actually working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.”
Some Twitter users pointed out that this is a violation of gender equality as described in Title IX.
According to the NCAA website, “Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of equipment and supplies.”
The NCAA swag bags provided to athletes also differed in quantity and marketing, with the men’s saying “The Big Dance” and the women’s showing the NCAA logo followed by “Women’s Basketball.”
Holzman calls the differences “minor” and used their location for explanation.
“We proactively work together with the men’s basketball staff when putting together those student-athlete gift bags, there are some minor differences to that,” Holzman said. “And those are because of things we identified that were more differences relative to the location, for example, the difference between an umbrella and a blanket.”
Dan Gevitts, senior president of the NCAA, said the championship has some challenges, including branding. “We also have somewhat of a challenge that we have different equally-valued, greatly-valued broadcast partners: ESPN for the women’s championship and CBS and Turner for the men’s championship. And so branding around broadcast is an issue for those partners, as well as for the two championships.”
He said he would add it to the to-do list but that it wasn’t a major issue.
The food provided at each of the tournaments was also brought up and gained traction on social media.
“We are in seven hotels in San Antonio and working with the hotels in supplying the food,” Holzman said.
She said the hotels have restrictions with food service but when the teams got out of quarantine, other food may be brought to them.
Gavitt took the blame for these conditions in a press conference on March 19.
“When we fall short of these expectations, that’s on me,” Gavitt said, “I apologize to women’s basketball student-athletes, to the coaches, to the women’s basketball committee for dropping the ball, frankly, on the weight room issue.”
He said they would fix it as soon as they can and talked with all of the coaches the night before.
“I was pretty shocked by the presentation with how amazing the men’s was and with how despicable ours was,” Harding said. “With my TikTok and the other videos going around, some people have said ‘that’s what women deserve,’ which is disheartening to hear.”
She said there is a misunderstanding all over the world with women’s sports, and presumed it stems from women’s sports coming later in history than men’s.
“I think people should really educate themselves on the situation. It’s not about money, it’s not about time or resources. It’s really not,” Harding said. “It’s just about what the NCAA wanted to put their money toward.”
The universities do not pay to go to March Madness, so all expenses are on the NCAA. Harding said with Title IX, they were supposed to be equal.
BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said being treated second all the time is hard and the team would like to have equal opportunity.
He did say, however, that at BYU they were treated very well and that the administration gave them great opportunities like a trip to Europe every four years, flying first class, being at the same hotels and practice facilities as the men.
Judkins said the game has changed so much from 20 years ago, from not seeing anyone on TV to now seeing women’s basketball getting so much exposure, as well as having better players.
Sophomore Shaylee Gonzales said they were so blessed to be at the tournament and thankful for everything they received, but it was still frustrating.
“I’m not complaining on what we are getting,” Gonzales said. “The main point is equality. And being a women’s athlete, I think it is important that we use our voice and we show everyone else what we are getting, compared to the men’s. It is super unfair and I think we should be getting the same resources, the same equipment that the men are getting.”
Gonzales said even though the men bring in more money than the women, it is about equality.
Zach Kancher, associate head coach at Towson University refuted the revenue argument in a tweet. “If access to NCAA Tournament resources (actual weight room, real food) were truly based on revenue, then MBB #16 Hartford should have access to fewer resources than #1 Baylor in the MBB bubble. But both those teams have access to the same resources, so that argument is bunk.”
Holzman played Division I basketball in the ’90s and said she has experienced being in circumstances of inequality and said she was aware of the feelings involved.
“As we’ve seen throughout our country this past year, in particular in a variety of ways of individuals, human beings, people being discriminated against, marginalized, where there are inequities. When it is personal, it is as real as it can get,” Holzman said. “So it hurts, and when people passionately care about something, in this case women’s basketball, our fans, our student athletes who are playing this game, it’s our responsibility to give them a great championship experience and one they can be proud of.”
Harding posted a follow-up video on her TikTok following the initial call-out, sharing the NCAA’s response vowing to provide more exercise equipment.
On March 20, two days after the first videos were posted, the NCAA posted photos of the newly-opened women’s weight room in San Antonio, complete with weight racks and resistance bands.