Female college athletes rarely get the same attention and respect from sports fans as male athletes. They should be able to expect it from the NCAA.

Last week, young women playing in the annual NCAA basketball tournament posted pictures on social media detailing shocking differences between the men’s tournament “bubble” and the women’s.

Men had an expansive weight room full of equipment and training tables filled with steak, lobster mac and cheese, grilled asparagus and cheesecake. Silver “March Madness” branding marked piles of swag. The goodies given to participants included equipment bags.

Women had a bench with a few yoga mats and one small rack of weights, none heavier than 30 pounds. Their training tables held plastic containers with a tan patty that might have been meat and a watery carrot-broccoli-cauliflower combo that passed for vegetables. Their stingy swag was generic and blue, labeled only with “NCAA” and the date.

Then there was the disparity in COVID-19 testing. Men were given highly accurate polymerase chain reaction tests. Women were given cheaper and less accurate antigen tests.

Excuses and justifications started immediately. Vice President of Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman said they “fell short.” As a former college coach, she should have made sure they didn’t.

NCAA President Mark Emmert expressed “confidence” in the different testing protocols. He didn’t suggest giving the gold-standard tests to the women and the good-enough tests to the men as a way to prove he believes that.

The NCAA allowed this to happen. Nothing in its corporate culture prevented it. Nothing in its corporate culture ensures that all athletes are treated like equally valued individuals.

The swag proved how much women athletes are an afterthought to the NCAA. “March Madness” and “The Big Dance” are trademarks allowed for use only in the men’s tournament. Women just play basketball.

Issues with which the NCAA deals can be complicated. What came out last week isn’t. Women’s teams and men’s teams playing in tournaments sponsored by the NCAA should have equivalent resources.

The NCAA gave a new meaning to March Madness this year. There is no excuse for what was doled out to young women who had worked as hard as the men to get to the top of their sport. Full stop.


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