Imagine you are an incredibly talented athlete who has worked her entire young life to make it onto a division one college basketball team. Now imagine the absolute elation of your team making it into the NCAA Women’s March Madness tournament, despite a life-altering pandemic. Watch those feelings of pride and accomplishment crumble when you’re greeted with a physical example of just how little the NCAA values women players: a subpar training facility and a swag bag that looked like it was put together last minute from items found in the travel-sized soaps section at Target.
On Thursday night players for the men’s and women’s tournaments headed to their respective “bubbles” to prepare for the first round of games in San Antonio. Upon their arrival players were greeted with NCAA branded swag bags, the first sign that things were amiss. The men’s swag bags were loaded to the hilt with branded merch: hats, shirts, sweaters, towels, a book, stationery, a blanket, and enough personal care products to last a month. Players on the women’s teams got some socks, two bottles, one shirt, a hat, an umbrella, a teeny face towel, and two sticks of deodorant, presumably because women don’t sweat as much as men. There was also a scrunchie.
Alongside images of the dueling swag bags, photos of the weight rooms started circulating on Twitter. This tournament runs for about a month and once players enter the bubble they can’t leave to get in those extra workouts at outside gyms or facilities. So the NCAA bubble provided a fully stocked weight room for the men. For the women, there were...some yoga mats?
Certainly, I do not pretend to be a basketball expert but in my limited womanly knowledge of how most sports work, I believe it’s safe to assume that the most skilled women in college basketball would require an actual fucking weight room and maybe even a treadmill or two to maintain their fitness.
After college players, coaches, WNBA players, NBA players, and commentators complained about the painfully unequal setups on Twitter, the NCAA acknowledged that the setup was unequal. The organization released a statement on Twitter which reads:
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.
There was enough space to create a men’s weight room but not a single extra square foot to be found to set up an equivalent on the women’s side, according to the NCAA. However, according to a video posted by Rutgers’ Director of Player Development, there seemed to be a corner where one could easily set up some squat racks.
Perhaps the NCAA has a different definition of the word “space” that we non-athletes simply cannot understand.
Now it may seem overly dramatic to get so worked up overweight rooms and swag bags but there is a larger demon at play. March Madness is possibly the biggest money-making event in college athletics. Schools make a profit, the NCAA profits, host cities profit, sponsors profit, and the guy in your office who has been working on his bracket all year and has a gambling problem will also probably make a profit.
But you know who won’t see any money for actually working? The student-athletes. So, you see it’s not about the pasta. But it is also about the pasta.