O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
As a former basketball coach at both the high school and college levels, I offer these comments on how the college championship games were played and why we need changes.
On Sunday, April 4, the Stanford Cardinals defeated the Arizona Wildcats in the finals of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The tight game marked the Cardinals’ first title win since 1992 and the culmination of a season unlike any other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cardinals came together to overcome each and every challenge the pandemic threw at them. You cannot tell the story of their success without mentioning the two months the team spent traveling for practices when Santa Clara County prohibited contact sports in November. Through all of this, the team stuck together to bring home their first title in 29 years.
This year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was unlike any that had come before for a myriad of reasons. Of course, we can all point to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the virus impacted practices, games, and the tournament as teams worked to keep their players and staff safe. However, this year’s tournament also put a spotlight on the glaring inequities between the treatment of Division 1 women’s basketball players and Division 1 men’s basketball players.
Millions of people watched the video [see below] from Oregon’s Sedona Prince showing the single rack of weights provided to the women’s team in comparison to the state-of-the-art weight room provided for the men’s team. We heard the justifiable outrage of players and fans who demanded an explanation for the shockingly unequal treatment. Fans and players tuned in again as the NCAA attempted to smooth over the situation, thereby further pushing off the conversation about years of inequity.
Let me put it on Twitter too cause this needs the attention pic.twitter.com/t0DWKL2YHR
— Sedona Prince (@sedonaprince_) March 19, 2021
Coaches and players alike came forward commending Prince for her action to bring this disparity to light and continued to come forward to share their own stories of unequal treatment between the men and women’s divisions. The imbalance included different branding practices (the men’s tournament is given March Madness branding while the women’s tournament is known as the NCAA Women’s Tournament), more limited food options for women’s teams as compared to the men, different COVID testing practices for men and women, and a $13.5 million budget gap between the two tournaments.
To call this treatment unfair would be an understatement. Being a Division 1 college athlete is a full-time job. These athletes fully commit themselves both mentally and physically to the game. They put themselves in front of the nation to share in the joy of the sport and the heartbreak of defeat. There is absolutely no reason that in 2021 the NCAA should be giving preferential treatment to one tournament over the other when both are played by dedicated athletes at the top of their game.
In a normal year, sports fans tune in to March Madness and the NCAA Women’s Tournament to cheer on their favorite teams, build brackets to compete with friends and family, and engage in a nationwide community brought together by the love of the game. This year, the competitions meant so much more as they offered us all a chance to escape, cheer, and feel like a part of something bigger. The NCAA will not be able to erase the disparities of the past with a few press statements and an investigation into best practices. What they can do, and should do, is make a real commitment to equity for every single one of their players. That means equal access to facilities, equal attention to marketing and branding for tournaments, and a concerted effort to ensure that no coach or player is put in a situation where they are treated as a second-class citizen in their organization. I truly hope we begin to see a change in this next season and in every season to come in the way the NCAA treats our dedicated athletes.
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State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro is a retired educator and former basketball coach.