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Uninformed or Prejudiced: Gender Discrimination within the NCAA March Madness Tournaments

At the end of the Division I collegiate basketball season, the NCAA, which is the governing body of college sports, holds the NCAA March Madness championship tournaments. Both men’s and women’s tournaments are single elimination with the 64 best teams playing six rounds of games over three weeks. Each year, March Madness has millions of […]

At the end of the Division I collegiate basketball season, the NCAA, which is the governing body of college sports, holds the NCAA March Madness championship tournaments. Both men’s and women’s tournaments are single elimination with the 64 best teams playing six rounds of games over three weeks. Each year, March Madness has millions of viewers across the United States, which brings in great revenue to the NCAA. In general, the men’s games have a higher viewership than the women’s, so the men’s tournament generates more revenue. As a result, the NCAA explicitly allows non-necessary resources, including some amenities, to be allocated to men’s and women’s sports proportional to the revenue they generate. In many cases, this means that the men’s teams have better resources such as more luxurious manners of travel, amplified media attention, and larger team budgets.

As Covid-19 posed a challenge to safety this year, both the men’s and women’s tournaments occurred in bubble-style environments where the NCAA provided necessary resources such as training equipment, food, and Covid testing for all teams. However, players exposed on social media that the NCAA was allocating these necessary resources at best proportional to revenue generated for the NCAA (“The NCAA Tournament’s Womens’ Basketball”). Teams at the men’s tournament received a full weight room and gourmet meals, while the women received a stack of yoga mats, one bike, and a rack of dumbbells along with packaged dinners. Furthermore, the men were testing for Covid-19 with “gold standard” highly accurate PCR tests (“If You’ve Been Exposed”), while the women were tested using cheaper and less accurate antigen tests (Under Fire).

This is an instance of vicious gender discrimination against women, which is a person’s or group’s lesser treatment of women even though their difference doesn’t merit such treatment. The NCAA’s actions are an example of discrimination against a group of people that masquerades as equal treatment of different groups. The NCAA gaslighted its supporters by passing off essential resources as non-essential, which meant necessary resources were wrongly distributed proportional to the revenue the teams brought in. The public didn’t know that the NCAA was allocating fewer essential resources to women than men, especially since differences in revenue generation didn’t merit differential treatment with respect to essential resources. The NCAA denied its female players of equal treatment and tried to hide this mistreatment through the principle of proportional allocation.

One possible explanation of the NCAA’s mistreatment of its female players is that the business executives who run March Madness weren’t aware that they were treating women unequally. Since they were not aware of the unequal treatment, this explanation does not necessitate prejudice as a motivating factor. As inequality is largely the norm between women’s and men’s sports, the organizers were simply replicating what they had seen in the past without realizing that they were enforcing unjustified inequality through essential resources. They didn’t recognize that necessary resources warrant equal allocation, so they applied the proportionality principle to all resources based on revenue generated. Once female players exposed this treatment as unequal, the NCAA genuinely tried to fix their mistakes by providing better resources.

Another more likely explanation is that the NCAA March Madness organizers acted out of greed and prejudice, and capitalized on the precedent of underserving women’s teams to cut costs. The NCAA thought that it could take advantage of the women’s teams by rationing necessities, since the women’s teams are used to receiving subpar facilities based on non-necessary resource allocation. In an effort to generate more profit, the NCAA saw limited distribution of necessities as the easiest and least risky way to save money. Prejudice was likely behind the NCAA’s actions, as well, for if the organizers weren’t prejudiced and knew about the subpar facilities, they would have immediately moved to balance the resource allocation. Since the NCAA knew that they were perpetuating inequality by deliberately promoting subpar resources to maximize profit, but did not initially move to balance necessities, prejudice must have played a role in the NCAA’s unequal resource allocation.

A bit of reasoning can support the second explanation. The NCAA has a record of mistreating and improperly responding to inequitable treatment of its female players. Historically, a men’s NCAA tournament championship generates revenue that goes directly to the team’s conference, while a women’s victory brings no money into the team’s conference. The men’s conferences are paid to play while the women’s are not, and the NCAA gets away with this greedy and prejudiced policy because it doesn’t have to follow Title IX (Zimbalist). If the NCAA were truly interested in providing equitable treatment for its female players, then it would give the women’s conferences a proportional percentage of their earned revenue instead of no share at all. However, the NCAA acts out of prejudice and takes advantage of normalized discrimination against women to profit even more from the success of the women’s teams. If the NCAA wasn’t prejudiced, then it wouldn’t allow such unequal treatment. Additionally, in the specific instance discussed, the NCAA lied and claimed that the discrepancies in equipment were due to limited space, even though videos showed ample space for a full gym (“The NCAA Tournament’s Women’s Basketball”). Instead of admitting to their mistakes, the NCAA attempted to cover up the mistreatment by blaming the facilities, showing that the NCAA would rather try to escape blame for unequal treatment than engage with the unjustified inequality it perpetuated.

Several harms arose from the NCAA’s actions. Most obvious, the women received subpar resources that deprived them of proper training and nutrition, and were put at greater risk for contracting Covid-19 than the men. Additionally, the NCAA’s unwillingness to provide necessary resources, as well as their reluctance to celebrate the women’s game, was demeaning toward women. The NCAA treats women’s basketball like a charitable cause they are supporting to look good, not an asset that they are invested in. While the NCAA aims for long-term improvement in the men’s game with extensive advertising and investment, the growth of the women’s game continues to be artificially stagnated by the NCAA through poor advertising and subsequent low revenue (Baccellieri). The NCAA also limits marketing strategies for the women’s game, which prevents women from bringing in more revenue (Baccellieri). It’s not as if the women’s teams are asking for perfect equality. Rather, they’re just asking not to be held back by the NCAA.

This instance of inequality can be and has been addressed on social media by college players, NBA stars like Steph Curry, and even congresspersons. Pictures comparing the workout equipment were also featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a premier magazine for following college and professional sports (Baccellieri). This type of exposure can make it hard for the NCAA to gaslight the public, who may well compel better behavior by the NCAA through threatening to withhold support and revenue. Additionally, there is already an external review being conducted regarding gender inequality within the NCAA, which provides hope that the NCAA will have to address the longstanding disparities it has perpetuated in addition to the more recent issues. Whether change comes from a sincere commitment to fairness or from self-preservation and greed, the NCAA will finally have to commit to more equitable treatment of its female players.

 

Works Cited

Baccellieri, E. “The Many Shining Disparities between Men’s and Women’s College Basketball.” Sports Illustrated, 19 April 2021, www.si.com/college/2021/04/19/daily-cover-womens-tournament-equality-initiative-daily-cover/. Accessed 3 May 2021.

Harvard Health Publishing. “If You’ve Been Exposed to the Coronavirus.” Harvard Health.  www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/if-youve-been-exposed-to-the-coronavirus. Accessed 13 April 2021.

McGraw, M. Twitter,  https://twitter.com/muffetmcgraw/status/1373321930485473287. Accessed 6 April 2021.

“The NCAA Tournament’s Women’s Basketball “Weight Room” Is Laughable Compared to the Men’s.” For the Win, 18 March 2021,  https://ftw.usatoday.com/2021/03/ncaa-tournament-womens-weight-room-unequal-access. Accessed 6 April 2021.

“Under Fire, the NCAA Apologizes and Unveils New Weight Room for Women’s Tournament.” NPR. 20 March 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/03/20/979596524/under-fire-the-ncaa-apologizes-and-unveils-new-weight-room-for-womens-tournament. Accessed 6 April 2021.

Zimbalist, A. ” The N. C. A. A. ’s Women Problem.” New York Times, 26 March 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/opinion/the-ncaas-women-problem.html. Accessed 6 April 2021.

 

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