Hello, friends! First off, if you missed Friday’s newsletter, you might want to take a minute and get caught up on what is going on here at Power Plays land.
Secondly, THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH for your response to that newsletter. So many of your letters of encouragement have left me in tears — the good kind — and I’m so thrilled to chat with a few of you this week about possibly working together. I’m more optimistic about the future of this little project that could than I ever have been before.
Now, before I get off track and miss my first deadline of getting a newsletter out this Monday, let me dive right in.
The disturbing details of the discrepancies between the 2021 men’s and women’s basketball championships
As I mentioned on Friday, we’re going to spend some time over the next month taking a closer look at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP’s reports on gender equity in the NCAA, which were released in three parts over the past few months.
The reports were commissioned by the NCAA after Sedona Prince’s TikTok about the difference between the weight rooms provided at the men’s and women’s tournaments this March went viral, and caused a national uproar over sexism in sports.
I know reports can be, well, boring as hell to get through, and I admit this piece is going to be heavy on screenshots and quotes from the report, BUT I think it’s absolutely pivotal that we take the time to parse the details, because it’s so rare to get a report this thorough not only commissioned, but released publicly! It’s basically a treasure trove of receipts that prove, in disturbing detail, how shittily women’s sports are treated at every level.
Today we’re starting with Part 1, and in particular, I’m zooming in on the section about the multitude of discrepancies between the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championships in 2021. I know that you all think you know the extent of the differences — I sure thought I did! — but I promise you, the actual details here are staggering.
The NCAA forced the women’s tournament to jump through hoops to get green lit, resulting in a very late start in planning
It turns out the women were fucked from the start.
Because the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championships always take place at the same time of year, one would think that plans for each tournament would be announced on a parallel track. Well, the NCAA made sure that didn’t happen this time.
Because the 2020 men’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, the NCAA — which has structured its organization so it makes much of its revenue off of one single event — was desperate to get the 2021 men’s tournament off without a hitch. The NCAA has not properly invested in or monetized the women’s tournament, so it did not have the same level of enthusiasm to get it off the ground.
Via the report, one senior NCAA official said, “We knew if we failed with the men, the NCAA was doomed. We’d be nothing. . . . There wasn’t the same sense of angst with the women.”
The NCAA announced on November 16, 2020 that the men’s March Madness tournament would be played in 2021, and that it would all be held at a single site.
The organizers of the women’s tournament were given just a few days notice that the NCAA was making this announcement for the men. They were not prepared to make an announcement of their own yet, but before November 16, let the NCAA know that they could be prepared on November 23 to make a parallel announcement about the women’s tournament.
“The women’s basketball staff and leadership of the Women’s Basketball Committee raised concerns about both the optics of men’s basketball making its announcement first and separately from women’s basketball, as well as about the impact of the delay on the women’s planning,” the report said.
HOWEVER, not only did the NCAA go forward with the men’s announcement on November 16, it then proceeded to dump a bunch of extra work on the women’s committee, essentially telling them that they had to make a case to the NCAA that the women’s tournament should happen. Not only were these protocols not established in a timely manner at all, THE MEN’S TOURNAMENT ORGANIZERS DID NOT HAVE TO JUMP THROUGH ANY OF THESE HOOPS.
The women’s tournament did not receive full approval to go forward with the tournament until December 10; it wasn’t announced until December 14, a full month after the men’s announcement.
This led to a cascading series of delays — the NCAA announced on January 4 that the men’s tournament would take place in Indianapolis; it did not announce San Antonio as the host city for the women’s tournament until February 5, less than six weeks before the tournament was scheduled to begin!!!
Are you mad already? I recommend you take a few deep breaths.
Organizers of the women’s tournament didn’t think the little ladies needed NEARLY as many weights as the big, strong, muscular men
Okay that subhed is not an exact quote, but it is inspired by a direct quote that’s coming up, so stay tuned.
We all remember Sedona’s TikTok about the weight rooms, which I am going to embed in this newsletter once again because visuals are good for breaking up large blocks of text.
Now, I get that you might skim through this section because you already know about the weight-room drama, it’s old new, but the report told us the story behind the tiny rack of weights and yoga mat, and you know I love a good origin story.
First of all, here’s how the report laid out the differences between the set-ups, I think it helps to just have the facts laid out plainly:
That video highlighted for the public the fact that the NCAA had provided the men a large, central weight room divided into six weightlifting areas, which was available to all 68 men’s teams as soon as they cleared their two-day quarantine upon arrival in Indianapolis. In addition, the NCAA set up a small pyramid of dumbbells in the holding room adjacent to the practice courts, where the student-athletes would stretch and wait while the court and courtside areas were sanitized and cleaned.
By contrast, the NCAA did not plan to set up any weight room for the women at all until the Sweet Sixteen, when they planned to have three private weightlifting areas available. For the first two rounds of the women’s tournament, the student-athletes were intended to have access only to a small set of dumbbells, a stationary bike, and yoga mats placed in the women’s holding room, similar to the holding room that had been set up for the men.
I remember in March, when all of this was unfolding, one of my biggest questions was, “How in the hell did nobody spot this difference during the planning stages???”
Well, now we know:
Because of the forced delayed start planning the tournament, the women’s tournament organizers were SCRAMBLING to get this tournament off the ground.
Basically, things were a hot mess on the women’s side. While the men’s tournament clearly laid out its plans for a weight room in a document sent out on February 26, the women’s tournament didn’t put forward its weight-room plans in a manual until March 15, ONE DAY before the women’s teams were scheduled to arrive in San Antonio to begin quarantine.
The excuse for not having an actual weight facility until the Sweet 16 was “limited space, movement of teams, number of individuals within each property and sizes of workout facilities with COVID-19 capacity restrictions.”
And at that point, the committee was still in the process of getting QUOTES for how much the weight-room set-up starting in the Sweet 16 would cost; on March 17 — after teams were already in San Antonio (!!!!)— the committee was quoted $100,000.
Nobody was in charge of monitoring the men’s and women’s tournaments for equity. (Obviously)
One would think there would be communication and collaboration between the men’s and women’s tournaments, considering the SAME ORGANIZATION WAS HOSTING BOTH OF THEM. Well, there was a *little bit* of communication.
On February 26, the men’s group sent a PowerPoint laying out a lot of their plans and protocols to the women’s group. But the women’s group — which was, as we’ve established, massively behind schedule — didn’t parse through it fully. In fact, a *volunteer* was tasked with reviewing the PowerPoint, and said *volunteer* was primarily focused on looking at their covid protocols. They didn’t pay attention to the weight rooms.
Ladies don’t lift, silly!
Eventually, very late in the game, some people on the women’s committee did notice the discrepancy between the plans for the weight rooms.
On March 13 a women’s basketball staffer emailed a colleague a screenshot of the men’s weight-room equipment plans, and noted: “FYI – a snapshot from MBB manual on weight room usage and set-up. Again, this list is FAR too heavy for WBB needs, yet a good start for review.”
The phrase “FAR too heavy for WBB needs” makes me violently angry. Plus, how were they JUST starting to review needs on March 13?
This might help you feel better, though: Remember how they were quoted $100,000 for the weight room they planned to put up for the Sweet 16 and beyond? Well, when the backlash hit a fever pitch after Prince’s TikTok, and the NCAA had to scramble overnight to fix the problem it created, they ended up paying an independent contractor $370,139 to do the job.
The lessons? Sexism is expensive and complaining works.
The women even had to deal with second-class covid tests
Look, there’s a lot to be mad about in this report. But this one, for me, took the cake. Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so you’d think AT THE VERY LEAST both tournaments would be on equal footing in terms of covid testing.
You’d be wrong.
The teams at the men’s tournament received daily PCR tests, whereas teams at the women’s tournament received daily antigen tests, with only one PCR test per week.
It’s important to note that the NCAA’s Medical Advisory Group approved of the protocol for the women’s tournament, and the report clearly states that “there is no evidence to suggest that the difference in testing caused disparities in health outcomes for the men’s and women’s tournament participants.”
But that doesn’t mean this difference didn’t impact the women’s tournament. First of all, it sent a terrible message to the players, as these anonymous quotes prove:
“It’s not about the gifts, whatever it may be. But something like our health, the weight room, how we were getting tested . . . we want to be treated equally in that aspect of our lives.”
Another player felt the difference in tests “was really telling about how [the NCAA] felt about us as people, like we weren’t important enough to have good testing for [COVID-19] which is life-threatening.”
And secondly — and most significantly — antigen tests have a lower specificity than PCR tests and therefore produce more false positives or inconclusive results.
The testing data from both tournaments spells this out: “Overall, the men’s tournament conducted almost 20,000 PCR tests of Tier 168 individuals, with only seven positive tests detected. The women’s championship conducted almost 18,000 tests of Tier 1 individuals (15,597 antigen and 2,342 PCR), with 226 positive antigen tests, but only two positive PCR tests.”
This had real consequences for everyone in the women’s tournament. It is EXTREMELY stressful to face a positive covid test, especially during a global deadly pandemic and in the midst of the most important tournament of your life. Now, while the individual with the positive test is quickly re-tested to see if it was a false positive, that process still takes time. We know from the report that the false positives greatly impacted the schedules, game preparation, and the overall mental health of every athlete, coach, and staff member in San Antonio:
And because literally everything is always connected in the NCAA’s Giant Web Of Sexism And Bigotry, the antigen tests ended up being a big reason behind yet another big controversy during the tournament: Arizona’s exclusion from the NCAA’s Final Four promotional video.
LOL so this post was supposed to be short and I’m still only halfway done breaking down this one section of the report, so we’re going to pause here for today, and in the next edition we’ll keep the microscope on the 2021 basketball championships and explore the food situation, the play situation, and the Gavin DeGraw situation.
Thanks for spending some time with Power Plays, friends.