By Staff Writer Isabella He
“It’s 2021 and we are still fighting for bits and pieces of equality. #ncaa #inequality #fightforchange,” University of Oregon Women’s Basketball Sophomore Sedona Prince captioned her TikTok post on March 18. Prince’s video displayed the stark differences in facilities and equipment between the men’s and women’s division during this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness. While the NCAA provided the men’s teams with a well-equipped workout room consisting of multiple squat racks and weight benches, women only received a single set of dumbbells and a few yoga mats.
Prince’s video garnered more than 11.8 million views on TikTok, leading to public outcry against the NCAA. NCAA’s Vice President of Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman said, “We are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.” The NCAA rushed to give women a fully-equipped weight room overnight, despite their initial claims that there wasn’t enough space at the hotel. Additional discrepancies between the men’s and women’s tournaments emerged in the following days, including unreliable COVID-19 tests, low-quality swag bags, and poor food options. Despite the surge of apologies from NCAA’s top executives, the damage was already done.
Gender-based inequalities have been ignored in sports for years, and the NCAA’s quick fix of adding a new weight room and releasing public apologies doesn’t cut it. Both college and professional sports leagues must address the root causes for gender inequality instead of covering up surface-level visual issues such as weight room discrepancies.
According to Adelphi University’s 2019 Male vs Female Professional Sports Salary Comparison, the average player compensation for women in the WNBA is $75,181. In comparison, this number is $8,321,947 for NBA players. Male athletes in basketball, golf, soccer, baseball, and tennis make anywhere from 15% to nearly 100% more than their female counterparts.
And it’s not just players — female coaches have also faced inequitable treatment for decades. For instance, in 2015, Former University of Minnesota Duluth’s Women’s Hockey Coach Shannon Miller was told that her contract wouldn’t be renewed due to financial constraints. Miller, a 16-year coach for the school, had won five NCAA Division I titles and garnered 300 wins faster than anyone in Division I history, yet was denied a renewal of her salary. Meanwhile, the school’s men’s hockey coach was earning $20,000 more per year.
As part of the the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting discrimination in education, Title IX required that female and male student-athletes be provided equal access to “treatment and supplies, locker rooms, practice and competitive facility, and medical and training facilities and services.”
However, when women’s sports programs started gaining prestige and funding in the 1970s due to Title IX, they also began to attract more male coaches. Prior to Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90% of women’s college teams. Yet in 2019, 40% of women’s college teams and 3% of men’s college teams were coached by women as reported by the New York Times.
Title IX may have increased the prevalence of women’s sports programs when it was passed decades ago, but now it’s fundamentally harming women and being ignored, as shown by the NCAA controversy. Gender equity issues run deeper than a few controversies or singular cases. The issues are systemic, as even laws like Title IX have caused male coaches to dominate sports.
Many leagues argue that women earn less compensation because they don’t generate as much profit as men. The US Soccer Federation said that the women’s team generates less revenue from game ticket sales although they had “invested in marketing and promoting the [US Women’s National Soccer Team].” However, the federation failed to disclose how much it spent on marketing women in comparison to men. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reported that although women make up approximately 40% of all athletes, they receive only 4% of sports coverage. Corporate sponsors also fail to promote women’s leagues — according to a 2018 Statista report, women’s sports receive only 0.4% of total sponsorships.
Huge strides must be taken to level the playing field in marketing, sponsorships, and coverage to give women the same treatment as men. They should not be punished for bringing in less money when they lack the same opportunities to generate revenue. Root causes of gender inequalities in professional sports will only be fixed if leagues prioritize equitable treatment over monetary value.
To support gender equality, students should educate themselves on issues including unequal pay, treatment, and sexual harassment in sports. Students can read the Smoke Signal’s past articles on trailblazing women in male-dominated sports and abuse allegations in sports industries. They can also support organizations that empower female athletes such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, which provides financial fuel to aspiring athletes, funds research, and advocates for female athletes. By doing our part to combat systemic inequalities in professional sports, we can rally for an end to gender-equity issues in the NCAA and beyond.
Are you satisfied with the NCAA’s response of adding training equipment to women’s weight rooms? If not, what are some of your ideas for how they can better address the gender inequalities brought to light from this year’s March Madness tournament?
“I am not satisfied with the NCAA’s response. There should be immediate action to make both training facilities equal in equipment. Both the male and female athletes are dedicating tremendous amounts of effort and time into their sports and deserve equality in resources.” — Justin Cho, 11
“I am not satisfied with the NCAA’s response to the situation. I think the best way they could address gender inequality regarding finances is openly showing to the public the amount of allocated funding that men’s and women’s sports get, and make sure it’s equal. I think it’s a good start, but can be better.” — Ahan Trivedi, 10
In your opinion, how much gender inequality still exists in top sports leagues such as the NCAA?
“I think there’s a huge inequality between men’s and women’s sports across the board not just in the NCAA but in professional leagues as well. A lot of times it’s blamed on the men’s team performing better and therefore getting better facilities and a higher salary. However, this is often wrong, as we can see the US women’s soccer team performs far better than the men’s team and has done very well in the Olympics and World Cup, but they make under 500k and the men’s team, which failed to even qualify for the 2021 Olympics, makes millions. A similar thing happens in the NBA/WNBA and as we saw in March Madness. I think it’s something really hard to fix as sexism is heavily ingrained in sports, but by putting pressure on the people in charge, small steps can be made.” — Hasika Sridhar, 12