Opinion

Commentary: NCAA ignored all the red flags, now paying price for women’s basketball inequities

I want to take you back to last July, and remind you of some of the headlines coming out of the WNBA bubble at the IMG Academy in Florida.

"The WNBA’s bubble at IMG Academy is already a disaster," it said on USA Today. "WNBA players reveal ugly living conditions in ‘bubble,' " it read on Reuters.

Images circulated on social media of unsanitary scenes including a worm on the floor of one hotel room, with two teams reportedly needing to change rooms because of bed bugs. Food was reportedly an issue too.

As the WNBA worked quickly to provide damage control and put out these fires, how was no one at the NCAA paying attention? Because what we saw this week from the Women’s NCAA Tournament was practically a mirror image of the controversies we all witnessed just eight months ago.

If you missed it – and it was hard not to – the NCAA dropped the ball with the number of inequities between the men’s tournament and the women’s tournament. It began with the weight room issue of the women getting a few used yoga mats and a rack of weights, compared to a full ballroom of equipment for the men. It continued with the comparison of swag bags, and the fact that the men were receiving full buffets in Indianapolis, and the women were getting pre-packaged meals.

Then – the more important issue of health. While the women were receiving antigen tests to detect COVID-19, the men were given daily PCR tests, which are considered the "gold standard" for testing.

It prompted a number of statements from longtime coaches, including the all-time winningest coach in women’s basketball history, Tara VanDerveer, saying this was evidence of blatant sexism – purposeful and hurtful – and that she felt betrayed by the NCAA.

Three-time gold medalist and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley also wrote a scathing letter that read in part, "the NCAA’s season-long messaging about "togetherness" and "equality" was about convenience and a soundbyte for the moment created after the murder of George Floyd."

RELATED: Coronavirus bounces VCU from NCAA Tournament; Oregon advances

But what really hit home to me was Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw, who said plainly, "We have been fighting this battle for years, and frankly, I’m tired of it… What bothers me is that no one on the NCAA’s leadership team even noticed.

We have accepted our fate for far too long… This generation of women expects more and we won’t stop until we get it."

Under the fairness tab on NCAA.org, there’s a full section on "Fostering Diversity and Gender Equity." It’s simply hypocritical to promote these ideals while continuing a trend that McGraw and others claim to have been going on for years.

And what’s most maddening to me is that all the red flags were there last July. Every single issue that the WNBA had in Florida should have been duly noted by those in charge at the NCAA. But instead of going above and beyond, the inequities remained.

Now, there’s no question that the men’s tournament brings in more revenue than the women’s, but, as Sally Jenkins from the Washington Post reminds us, the women’s Final Four is part of a $500 million contract with ESPN. Moreover, the spirit and purpose of Title IX is to prevent sex-based discrimination – which means the governing body of college sports should probably do its best to make sure inequities like this don’t happen.

Are we, as media, culpable? To an extent, absolutely. Everyone needs to do better.

But when it comes to college athletics, the NCAA bears the burden. And their total lack of awareness that could’ve prevented these issues is inexcusable.

And most of all, it’s disappointing on so many levels.

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