A TikTok Video Says It All Concerning the NCAA Tournaments
It is an observation that runs through the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, by committed but fed up people who have been involved with the sport for a long time and are tired of it: the secondary treatment that compares the women’s game with that of the men.
The men’s tournament is much better positioned than the women’s tournament? Impressive. You don’t say that
“Hardly any breaking news,” said former Notre Dame women’s coach Muffet McGraw in a statement. “We fought this fight for years and, frankly, I’m tired of it.”
“A lifelong problem,” said UConn women’s trainer Geno Auriemma. “This is nothing new that just somehow popped up. You can claim that it was never fair, and it was never just. “
The difference now, of course, is that the protest comes personally and extremely effectively from the coaches and women on the pitch themselves, who use their social media platforms to point out historical imbalances: How the men’s college players get better equipment , better food, a better bucket bag of free gifts, even a better test for Covid-19, with UConn men getting the gold standard PCR and Moloch UConn women getting by with the less reliable antigen test, according to Auriemma.
The highlight, however, was a TikTok video by Oregon player Sedona Prince that shows the embarrassing inequality between the weight rooms at the two tournaments: a Costco-sized, Schwarzenegger-tasteful hall with squats for the men and women who are sad about the dumbbell tower that looked borrowed from the basement of a discount motel.
Again, this type of disparity is not new, but now we can see it up close from the people involved. This is the power of social media: the firsthand post that harshly and viscerally points to a long-standing truth in a way that brings home a point like nothing before.
Prince’s video, which followed a similar post by Stanford’s athletic trainer Ali Kershner, caught viral fire, and over the weekend the NCAA sought to upgrade the women’s gym with lush lighting.
“Thank you, NCAA, for listening to us,” Prince said in a follow-up video.
So thats it? Doubtful. It feels like it’s just getting started, even with the tournaments running.
In the past, the NCAA could expect some cognitive dissonance – there have long been nasty inequalities in major college sports like basketball, but once the games started, the excitement of fans and media took over, drowning out dissatisfaction.
These tournaments are exhilarating rituals, and many of us are still very capable of leaning into the splendor as we polish over the fine print – myself included.
But this year feels different. There’s still a pandemic – and if you don’t think there’s still a pandemic, tell Auriemma, who was put off from coaching after testing positive, or the Virginia Commonwealth University men who are going home before they play a single game after health and safety protocol issues. Most of these tournaments are held for business reasons, to meet lucrative television contracts and earn money owed. While the players seem happy to be back out there, it’s hard to look at the mostly empty arenas and severe restrictions and not see the athletes as essential workers in the NCAA economy.
For this reason, some of the men’s players have also used social media, shared the hashtag #notNCAAproperty, and berated the NCAA for limiting their ability to capitalize on their own name, image and likeness, a right literally every non-athlete on the Campus enjoys.
“The NCAA owns my name, my picture and my likeness,” tweeted Rutgers star Geo Baker. “Someone with a music scholarship can benefit from an album. Someone with an academic scholarship can have tutoring service. To the [people] who say “a sports scholarship is enough.” Anything that has fewer than equal rights is never enough. “
On several days here we happily distracted each other and talked about Baker and Rutgers, and how great it is that the Scarlet Knights made it through the opening round of the tournament for the first time in 38 years. It’s a great story. There are always great stories in these tournaments. So the NCAA moves on without major changes.
And the NCAA knows that a lot of people will examine the differences between men’s and women’s tournaments and think, this is just a business: the men’s tournament makes tons more money than the women’s tournament, so of course it’s bigger production, that’s capitalism. But the NCAA is usually in court, and now the Supreme Court, trying to figure out what ways it’s not a purely capitalist company, that it’s different and special, and that all of college athletics needs to be looked at before the courts put fundamental changes to the economic engine around.
The NCAA is trying to stand up for something bigger, fairer, and more inclusive, which makes the equipment and treatment discrepancies all the more insane because if it really is about fairness, and not just about the dollars, you’d correct everything right away because it’s a terrible one Optics is. Don’t forget that the NCAA cares a lot about certain optics: this is an outfit that has a very strong opinion on what brand of water you put in its events so as not to offend a corporate sponsor.
“This cannot go on as usual,” said Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDerveer in a statement. “Necessary changes must be made.”
Change seems to be coming whether the NCAA is ready or not. “I can’t be calm,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, calling on the organization to swiftly resolve the inequalities as it tries to get its team to a Final Four and a national championship. That’s basically still what this month is about, even if it feels a lot bigger now.
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Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com
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