In a sport open to, and played by, people of all genders, the NCAA overwhelmingly favors the men’s side of collegiate basketball. The 2021 March Madness tournaments highlighted the stark differences in treatment given to men’s and women’s basketball players. Gender inequality has permeated the sport since its origin, posing significant obstacles to women’s basketball players throughout the nation.
Lack of equal treatment is visible in basic branding alone. The logo for the 2021 men’s tournament reads, “Indianapolis Final Four 2021.” Conversely, the women’s tournament logo reads, “2021 Women’s Final Four San Antonio.” This discrepancy shows that the NCAA considers there to be two sports: “normal” basketball and women’s basketball. Further, despite being part of the same tournament, the NCAA doesn’t use its iconic March Madness slogan to refer to the women’s competition.
The need to distinguish one logo with a gendered statement showcases the difference in treatment within the NCAA and college basketball. NCAA president Mark Emmert has continued to apologize for inequities between the two tournaments since a video from Oregon’s Sedona Prince showing the women’s non-existent weight room went viral.
Prince also revealed a stark double standard in terms of NCAA treatment of athlete health. Women’s basketball players received a combination of antigen and PCR tests, according to The Washington Post, while the men’s side exclusively received more expensive and dependable PCR testing.
These stark differences are all reflections of the NCAA’s financial commitment to men and women’s sports. In the 2018-19 tournament, the NCAA’s budget for the men’s tournament was more than double the total women’s budget for the same tournament. 2021 tournament budgets are expected to reflect the same discrepancies.
Further, wins from teams competing in the men’s tournament earn cash payouts for their conferences. For smaller conferences, tournament money can be their saving grace. However, there are zero payouts on the women’s side of the tournament. Stanford winning the national title earned both the school and the Pac-12 a whopping zero dollars.
Systemic issues of gender inequality within the NCAA caused the organization to hire a law firm to conduct an external investigation of gender equality for all NCAA championships.
WNBA superstar Sue Bird told The Hill she believes that women’s basketball isn’t immensely popular because players are predominantly Black and LGBTQ+. Bird compares interest in women’s basketball to that of women’s soccer. She argues an unwarranted lack of popularity for women’s basketball stems from a lack of intersectional feminism in the world of sport. Bird also maintains the belief that unequal coverage results from a lack of societal appreciation for diversity rather than insufficient marketing.
The NCAA has, and always will, focus more time and energy on sports they deem to be most profitable: men’s basketball and football. However, if sufficient time and money isn’t put into large scale sports like women’s basketball, then of course sports with larger investments will yield higher profits. The NCAA has made zero attempt to hide its true feelings that women’s basketball is simply worth less than men’s basketball. By not investing equal money, time and general support, the NCAA is furthering the issue of inequality within basketball.