All of the disparities at the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament

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Since first publishing this story on Thursday, March 18, more differences between the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have emerged. This story has been updated to reflect those. 

While the weight room situation at the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament is what caught most people’s attention, it isn’t the only example of how the NCAA has treated the women’s tournament as a sideshow in comparison to the first-class men’s tournament.

Below is a list of the disparities between the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball and men’s basketball tournaments.

NCAA digital media hub and interview transcripts (Monday, March 22):

On Sunday night, reporter Brenna Greene shared a video of the NCAA’s digital media hub, which had over one thousand photos from the men’s tournament, but zero photos of the women’s tournament. On Monday night, the NCAA began adding photos of that day’s games, but no photos of Sunday’s first round games were ever added to the site.

In addition, the NCAA is providing interview transcription services for all post-game coach press conferences at the men’s tournament, but not until the Sweet 16 of the women’s tournament.

If the excuse of “the men generate more revenue” is behind these discrepancies, the NCAA doesn’t understand the simple math: photos and transcripts make it easier to get media coverage… media coverage generates interest… Interest generates viewers… Viewers generate revenue.

If the NCAA wants the women’s tournament to grow, it is in the NCAA’s best interest to help reporters cover it, and yet…

On-court NCAA branding (Sunday, March 21):

As the women’s tournament got underway in Texas on Sunday, it quickly became clear that the women’s venues don’t have the same look as the men’s tournament in Indiana. While every men’s court features March Madness branding – the type of branding that immediately tells viewers they are watching the men’s national championship tournament – the same cannot be said for the women’s tournament venues.

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Four of the five venues being used for the women’s tournament don’t have any logos at center court related to the NCAA tournament. The exception is the Alamodome, which will feature every game starting with the Sweet Sixteen. The Alamodome court features a “Women’s Basketball” logo (the NCAA does not use the term “March Madness” to refer to the women’s tournament).

I compiled a few of the side-by-side court photos here.

Update (March 24): The men don’t get just one special court at each venue. On Wednesday, the NCAA published a timelapse of a men’s court with “March Madness” branding being deconstructed and replaced by court with specific Sweet 16 and Elite 8 branding.

RELATED: NCAA: March Madness branding will be used for women’s tournament

Different COVID tests for the men’s and women’s tournaments (Friday, March 19):

On Friday afternoon, Amanda Christovich with Front Office Sports reported that the men’s and women’s tournaments are using different tests to detect COVID-19. Men’s teams are being tested daily using PCR tests, while women’s teams are getting daily antigen tests. Antigen tests – which are typically much less expensive than PCR tests – are “generally less sensitive,” according to the CDC. Antigen tests are also less likely to detect the virus early in the course of infection.

Food quality and variety (Friday, March 19):

Based on social media posts, players and staff at the women’s tournament are eating pre-packaged meals, while the men’s tournament features full buffets. On Thursday night, Oregon’s Sedona Price posted a food log to TikTok, showing the type of food offered at the women’s tournament.

Weight rooms (Thursday, March 18):

On Thursday, Stanford performance coach Ali Kershner posted side-by-side photos of the weight training facilities available at the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. While the men had access to a full weight room, the women are were making do with dumbbells and yoga mats.

After Kershner’s photos went viral on social media, the NCAA issued a statement, explaining that “limited space” had played a role in the lack of women’s equipment and that the organization is “actively working to enhance existing resources.”

That explanation was quickly debunked by Oregon’s Sedona Price:

Update (Saturday, March 20): On Saturday morning, following further outcry and calls for more equitable facilities, the NCAA released photos of a newly constructed women’s weight room. 

The Final Four logos (Thursday, March 18):

I covered this topic in depth last week, but the NCAA’s choice to omit the word “men’s” from all official branding of the men’s tournament – including the Final Four logo – is important. By referring to “the men’s Final Four” as “the Final Four,” the NCAA is perpetuating the idea that men’s basketball is the norm, while women’s basketball is a sideshow.

The official logos of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Basketball tournaments

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NCAA website (Thursday, March 18):

While the NCAA can’t dictate how other news outlets cover its tournaments, it can control the front page of its own website. As of Thursday night, I had to scroll past 26 stories or videos about the men’s basketball tournament before reaching the first story or video about the women’s tournament.

The hashtags and social handles (Thursday, March 18):

Want to follow NCAA basketball tournament news on Twitter? The handle @MarchMadness is reserved for the men (along with the hashtag #MarchMadness), while women’s basketball content can be found over on @NCAAwbb (with two gendered hashtags: #ncaaW and #WFinalFour). 

Update (Monday, March 22): The Wall Street Journal revealed that – while the trademark for “March Madness” allows it to be used for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, the NCAA made the decision to only use the term for the men’s tournament.

Fan capacity at the NCAA tournaments (Thursday, March 18):

Now, I have a hard time arguing for increasing fan capacity in the middle of a pandemic, especially for a tournament involving unpaid athletes, but that doesn’t mean I’m not perplexed by the fact that the men’s tournament in Indiana allows fans at 25 percent capacity while the women’s tournament in Texas is capped at 17 percent.

Moving on…

The NCAA basketball swag bags (Thursday, March 18):

Based on photos posted to social media, the swag bags provided to the men’s and women’s players were far from equitable. To be clear: what’s important here isn’t the swag bag. It’s what the swag bag represents.

(And even I have to laugh at the fact that the men were given a 500-piece puzzle, while the women’s puzzle includes just 150 pieces.)

While discrepancies like these are not new in women’s sports – remember when the 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf? – the juxtaposition that college basketball provides is important. Because the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are put on by the same organization, follow the same format, and take place at the same time, there is a direct comparison between the two events.

If more examples emerge, I’ll continue updating this page.

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