NCAA Tourney Amenities Prompt Call for Greater Equity in Women’s Sports
By Clark Dalton
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — All 63 games of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament were played in Texas for the first time, including a few games in Austin, but amenities for the athletes at some venues drew national attention.
Photos of a weight room with a single set of dumbbells displayed just one of several inequalities between the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Hannah Burbank, a UT student who played soccer at the University of Texas El Paso, was one of many current and former college athletes angered by the images.
“The way it was set up where it was one section… it was almost a slap in the face,” Burbank said.
“Come on, you could’ve done better than that.”
Other disparities included food and COVID testing issues.
Sedona Prince, a forward for the Oregon Ducks, posted a video on TikTok of a pre-packaged meal tray. Players at the men’s tournament, hosted entirely in Indiana, feasted on a free buffet.
The New York Times reported that the women’s tournament received less effective coronavirus tests.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association issued a statement that the lack of resources was due to the strain of the pandemic.
Celeste Ramirez, who has worked as a tape runner for ESPN, dispute the NCAA response.
“I think it’s a good thing that the TikTok gained attention,” Ramirez said.
“This has been going on for years, but nobody has said anything.”
There is also a significant gap in the finances for the two men’s and women’s tournaments, According to the NCAA, the women’s tournament receives $14 billion in funding while the men’s tournament receives $28 billion.
The trademark “March Madness” is solely for the men’s tournament, which means the women’s tournament can’t use the phrase in marketing the tournament to viewers.
Nielsen ratings showed about 4 million households watched the women’s championship game on April 4 while nearly 17 million households watched the men’s championship. The two men’s Final Four semifinals drew a total of about 26 million households while the two women’s Final Four semifinals drew about 4.4 million total viewers.
Sydney Johnson of the UT Sports Business Alliance said the differences in the NCAA’s treatment of their tournaments add to certain attitudes about the sport.
“There is always a little bit of a sentiment between men’s and women’s basketball that one is the bigger deal,” Johnson said.
“What NCAA and other organizations need to realize is investing in women’s sports doesn’t hurt anybody.”
She said this could be an opportunity the NCAA isn’t seeing.
A study by the accounting firm Deloitte found women’s sports will eclipse $1 billion in global revenue from brands and sponsors. Even though Olympic sports generate the majority of this revenue, others sports are seeing growth as well.
Overall, the viewership of the women’s title game increased by 9 percent from 2019 to 2021–there was not a tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19. When the semifinals are included, the audience for the Final Four games grew 14 percent from the previous tournament.
“Organizations need to start being proactive, not reactive,” Johnson said.
“Hopefully, they capitalize off this and cater to fan bases they haven’t (before) and realize women’s sports can be profitable.”
The UT Sports Business Alliance has partners at the University of Washington, the University of Iowa, and Pennsylvania State University. The collaboration is a resource to connect executives in the sports industry with prospective students.
Johnson, a UTSBA executive, said the organization speaks directly to these executives to focus on solving issues in the field. One of the current goals is to increase viewership for women’s sports. She said they are also focusing on post-career opportunities for female student-athletes, whose voices can increase their visibility in the sports industry.
Burbank, whose soccer career ended because of a torn ACL, said she hopes to have a successful off-field sports career.
“If I have to work harder, I’m willing to take that extra step,” she said.
“I want to show, ‘Hey, put some respect on my name.’ I think this is something everyone, especially women, have to consider when they go into this industry.”