Players and coaches from several women's college basketball teams called out the NCAA on Thursday for the unequal access it has provided to weight rooms and equipment during March Madness.
Men's teams have access to a full weight room at their NCAA tournament in Indiana.
Women's teams, on the other hand, don't have access to a weight room of any kind until the Sweet 16, multiple performance coaches said.
In the meantime, their accommodations are meager. Women's basketball "only has access to 1 stationary bike and a 'weight pyramid' for the first 2 rounds," Texas director of sports performance Zack Zillner said on Twitter.
Ali Kershner, the performance coach at top-seeded Stanford, posted a comparison of the two setups on Instagram.
"This needs to be addressed," she wrote. "These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities."
The heaviest weights on the pyramid, according to Kershner, are 30 pounds.
The weight rooms that will be available to women's teams if they advance to the Sweet 16 will feature two bikes, a treadmill, adjustable benches, weight racks, bars and dumbbells.
According to Molly Binetti, the performance coach for No. 1 seed South Carolina, the dumbbells will be "up to 50 [pounds] because women can’t lift more than that," as she wrote, presumably sarcastically, on Twitter.
The NCAA's response
When asked about the inequities, the NCAA did not address them directly, but issued the following statement, attributed to NCAA vice president of women's basketball Lynn Holzman:
“We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment. In part, this is due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament. However, we want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire men's tournament is taking place in and around Indianapolis. The entire women's tournament is taking place in and around San Antonio.
In Indianapolis, a massive convention center houses 12 practice courts and six full-size weight rooms. Teams are able to reserve the training spaces for blocks of time. Strength coaches appear to be happy with what they have at their disposal:
In San Antonio – where the entire convention center is significantly bigger than the one in Indianapolis, but where the exhibit hall floor is slightly smaller – there are large spaces that, as of Thursday afternoon, remain mostly unfilled.
More criticism, other inequities
Oregon center Sedona Prince posted a video on social media exposing the differences, and "all this extra space" that, as of Thursday afternoon, was unused:
An NCAA representative told Yahoo Sports that organizers initially didn't believe there was sufficient space for dedicated weight rooms. But after a walking tour of the convention center on Wednesday, they realized there was in fact space for weightlifting equipment adjacent to the practice courts.
It's unclear why that walkthrough didn't happen before Wednesday, after some teams had already arrived in San Antonio, and four days before the start of the tournament.
Prince also posted videos to social media that appeared to show inequities between the food available to men's and women's teams. Some women's players are reportedly "only eating the snacks they brought," rather than the provided meals.
According to UConn coach Geno Auriemma, there are also inequities in COVID-19 testing. Women's teams, he said on a conference call with reporters, are getting antigen tests, while men's teams get the more accurate PCR tests. An NCAA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on testing inequities.
NCAA committee calls for investigation
On Friday, the NCAA's committee on women's athletics sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert to request an "independent investigation into how this situation occurred."
"I write to express the committee's shock and disappointment over the disparate treatment of our women student-athletes," committee chair Suzette McQueen wrote, "and the inequitable availability of strength training facilities. This appears to extend to limited food options and other tournament-related amenities.
"The NCAA has acknowledged that this is 'disrespectful.' In the committee's view, it is more than that. It undermines the NCAA's authority as a proponent and guarantor of Title IX protections, and it sets women's college athletics back across the country."
"This deserves attention," Kershner, the Stanford coach, wrote in her post. "In a year defined by a fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better."
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork chimed in: "I appreciate that [NCAA women's basketball] staff is working on a solution but this is unacceptable to begin with."
"If you aren't upset about this problem," Prince said, "then you're a part of it."
Speaking to reporters in Indianapolis on Friday, NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed the inequities. He called the weight training disparities "inexcusable" and "deeply disappointing."
“I want to be really clear,’’ Emmert told The New York Times, The Athletic and USA Today. “This is not something that should have happened, and should we ever conduct a tournament like this again, will ever happen again.’’
NCAA vice president of men's basketball Dan Gavitt also took responsibility. "We have intentionally organized basketball under one umbrella (at the NCAA) to ensure consistency and collaboration," he said in a statement. "When we fall short on these expectations, it's on me.
"I apologize to the women's basketball student-athletes, coaches and the women's basketball committee for dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio."
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