Basketball

Differences in men's, women's weight rooms in NCAA bubble prompts questions of inequity

The teams had barely landed in Texas when complaints of inequity between the women's and men's tournaments roared over social media posts noting the women's weight training facilities in San Antonio were severely lacking compared to what the men have in Indianapolis. Both tournaments field 64 teams.

Organization apologizes, vows change as more gaps emerge

A day after the NCAA was heavily criticized for not having an adequate facility for the women's teams to lift, the organization created a fully stocked workout room at the convention centre near the practice courts. (@kershner.ali/Instagram)

The teams had barely landed in Texas when complaints of inequity between the women's and men's tournaments roared over social media posts noting the women's weight training facilities in San Antonio were severely lacking compared to what the men have in Indianapolis. Both tournaments field 64 teams.

In an Instagram post, Stanford sports performance coach for women's basketball Ali Kershner posted a photo of a single stack of weights next to a training table with sanitized yoga mats, comparing it to pictures of massive facilities for the men with stacks of free weights, dumbells and squat racks.

"These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities," Kershner tweeted. "In a year defined by a fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better."

Several top former college and current WNBA players quickly tweeted support for the women and criticism of the NCAA.

"That NCAA bubble weight room situation is beyond disrespectful," tweeted A'ja Wilson, who led South Carolina to the 2017 national championship and now plays for the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA.

On Friday, NCAA basketball administrators apologized to the women's basketball players and coaches.

NCAA Senior Vice-President of Basketball Dan Gavitt vowed to do better during a Zoom call Friday morning, a day after photos showed the difference between the weight rooms at the two tournaments.

"I apologize to the women's student-athletes, coaches and committee for dropping the ball on the weight room issue in San Antonio, we'll get it fixed as soon as possible," Gavitt said.

During the call, other differences were raised: There are 68 teams in the men's field, 64 in the women; and the NCAA pays for the men's National Invitation Tournament, but not the women's NIT.

"The field size and NIT, those would be decisions made in conjunction with membership," Gavitt said. "Those are not decisions we could make independently. They are good questions and it's timely to raise those issues again."

In a step to solve the weight room issue, the NCAA modified space in the convention centre to turn it into a useable workout facility. That work should be completed Saturday. The NCAA had offered to put a weight-lifting area in the open space next to the practice courts, but coaches didn't want that because then other teams would be in the vicinity when they were practicing.

"We fell short this year in what we have been doing to prepare in the last 60 days for 64 teams to be in San Antonio. We acknowledge that," said NCAA Senior Vice-President of women's basketball Lynn Holzman, who is a former college basketball player. "Last night we did have a call with our coaches and team administrators in a way to solicit feedback and their experience thus far.

"Yesterday was the first day our teams had the opportunity to have practice," she said. "Part of that call was to get feedback on potential solutions to address some of those concerns, including the weight room issue."

Players raised questions about the gift bags that they received compared to the ones that the men were given. The NCAA told The AP that the value of the bags was equitable.

While the difference between the men's and women's weight facility was clearly jarring, in the manual that the NCAA had sent to teams before the tournament they specifically had said that no weights would be available until after the second round of the tournament.

Coaches unsurprised

This is the first time in the women's tournament that every game is being played on neutral sites. In the past, campuses would host the opening rounds so teams would be able to schedule weight room times in those on-campus sites.

Gavitt said that the NCAA will use this opportunity for better collaboration of men's and women's basketball.

"What we pull together in months and years, we tried to do in weeks and days," he said. "That's meant some shortcomings. I apologize and feel terrible about anything that falls short of our lofty expectations. Some of those shortcomings we've seen in Indianapolis as well."

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said it's unacceptable for anything to fall short for just the women.

"There's a miscommunication at the highest level of the NCAA. Either it's miscommunication, no communication or just not downright caring if people know what's happening on our [women's] side of things," Staley said. "And that must stop. ... The NCAA owns March Madness in all it's luxury. Then it should feel luxurious to every student athlete, man or woman."

Lisa Thomaidis, Canada's women's national team head coach, was saddened by photos that showed the shocking discrepancy between the men's and women's weight-room facilities.

But she wasn't surprised.

"One of our former Canadian athletes who played in the NCAA said 'I opened this up and I laughed — not because it's funny, but because it goes on all the time,"' Thomaidis said.

"She said, 'Welcome to the world of being a female athlete."'

Obama makes his pick

Former President Barack Obama picked Baylor to win the national championship this year beating Stanford in the championship game.

Obama had N.C. State and Maryland in the Final Four with the two No. 1 seeds. That would mean that the Terrapins, who Obama had picked against a few years ago in his bracket when his niece was playing for Princeton and they were tournament opponents, would knock off Dawn Staley's South Carolina team in the regional final.

Staley had some fun with Obama on Twitter.

"@BarackObama I'm telling @MichelleObama......it's obviously you did not confer with her. We will forgive not forget. You're still our guy tho."

Obama mostly went with the better seeded teams to advance in the first round. He did have No. 6 Oregon being knocked off by 11th-seeded South Dakota.

Draft deadline

The WNBA announced April 15 as its draft date for this season.

Every eligible player who would like to make themselves available for the draft must opt-in by renouncing their remaining intercollegiate eligibility.

A player who wishes to opt-in must email the league no later than April 1. If a player is competing in the Final Four, the player has up to 48 hours after her last game finishes to let the league know if she plans on entering the draft.

In the past, players who have run out of college eligibility are automatically entered into the draft. This became more of an issue this season when all the players were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With files from The Canadian Press

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