The NCAA gender inequity files, pt. 2
In which we talk food, parks, street signs, decals, and Gavin DeGraw.
Hello, friends! Today we’re continuing our deep dive into Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP’s reports on gender equity in the NCAA, which were commissioned after Sedona Prince’s TikTok comparing weight rooms at the men’s tournament and women’s tournament went viral in March.
Last week, we began looking at the disturbing details of the discrepancies between the 2021 men’s and women’s basketball championships, focusing on the announcement timeline, weight rooms, and covid testing. Today we’re going to finish up the examinations of last season’s tournaments via the differences between food, recreational space, swag bags, signage, and even entertainment. This all comes from Part 1 of the official report.
Lady-sized portions only, please!
So, food. It’s pretty important for every human being on a day-in, day-out basis. One of those staples, you know? Well, it seems like the NCAA women’s tournament organizers *didn’t* know. According to the KHF report, coaches and athletic directors at the women’s tournament had four complaints about the food: “quantity, quality, lack of flexibility/choice, and lack of variety.”
THAT IS A PRETTY COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF COMPLAINTS. Kind-of the formal way to say *gestures broadly at everything.*
You see, payers in the men’s tournament got pre-packaged meals during their two-day quarantine upon arrival to Indianapolis, but when they left quarantine, they had access to a curated, self-service buffet. The women, however, received pre-packaged food during quarantine AND after quarantine.
“As a result, the women received less food, and of a lower quality and variety, than the men,” the KHF report said. (The NCAA scrambled to fix this due to the outrage; initially, they only provided *more* pre-packaged food, but by the Final Four, there was a buffet.)
Notably, this problem was magnified because the men’s NCAA tournament provided many food options outside of the hotel buffets, while the women’s tournament did not. One of the reasons? As we talked about in last week’s newsletter, the women’s tournament committee was so pressed for time because of the NCAA’s delays that they didn’t have time to coordinate it.
Now, this might all seem pretty nit-picky, but these are elite athletes we’re talking about, and elite athletes who were not able to go out on their own and procure food for themselves because of the pandemic.
Ultimately, multiple coaches and athletic directors told KHF that they found themselves “struggl[ing]” to buy enough food at the last-minute to make sure that their players had enough “fuel” to play basketball. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!!!
And, according to the report, just like the differences in weight rooms was influenced by the outdated notion that women simply don’t need as many weight machines as men, the food inequities were likely rooted in old-school sexism: “These disparities in food were concerning given the obvious importance of nutrition to the competing student-athletes, and may have been based on unfounded assumptions at the hotels about what, and how much, women eat as compared to men.”
Stay indoors, sweetie!
Because the tournaments were happening in the middle of a pandemic, athletes had to stay confined to certain spaces, predominantly their hotel rooms, meeting rooms at hotel rooms, and the basketball court. The men’s tournament anticipated how difficult it would be for athletes to be so cooped up, and arranged for players to have outdoor space at Victory Field, a minor-league baseball stadium in Indianapolis, where the NCAA had constructed a space for the men to play badminton, pickleball, cornhole, soccer, and football.
Meanwhile, in San Antonio, “[t]he women, by contrast, were not intended to have any outdoor space—except for the path from the hotel to the Convention Center in San Antonio—until the Sweet Sixteen.”
The fact that they specified THE PATH FROM THE HOTEL TO THE CONVENTION CENTER as “outdoor space” almost knocked me out, friends. The audacity!
And, somehow, it gets worse. The NCAA women’s committee had pre-arranged for women’s teams to have access to an outdoor green space, Civic Park, from the Sweet Sixteen onward. But just take a second to read this excerpt from the report:
In the wake of reporting on gender equity at the tournaments, the women’s staff worked to set up additional outdoor spaces at the Convention Center. As one senior NCAA official noted: “We had had [Civic Park] that was fenced in that we were going to use originally, because it was COVID-safe. But we were concerned about the aesthetics of the men at Victory Field in a minor league baseball stadium, and the women basically in a dilapidated city park. We just didn’t think that would work.” The NCAA ended up cancelling the plan to use Civic Park and instead set up two alternative outdoor spaces which they believed created less of a direct contrast with Victory Field—a balcony and an outdoor patio at the Convention Center.
There’s a lot to decipher there, but just let it soak in that their original outdoor prize for women’s teams who made the Sweet 16 was a “dilapidated city park,” and then they TOOK AWAY that minimal access to green space because they were afraid of how the comparison photos would look on social media, and substituted an outdoor patio and balcony for a park.
There’s also some bullshit about lounge inequity, too, which I’ll try to sum up succinctly. At the men’s Final Four, the NCAA provided each team with an athlete lounge in the convention center, directly next to each team’s meeting room. The lounges were equipped with “gaming stations, TVs, ping pong, etc.” When the controversy erupted at the start of the tournament, the women’s tournament was still deciding whether to set up one athlete lounge for the four teams to share (LOL), or four separate lounges with far fewer amenities than the one stand-alone lounge. Ultimately, due to the outrage, the NCAA magically was able to whip up four athlete lounges with full amenities at the last moment — of course for much more money than they would have spent if they’d considered women as people before March 19, 2021. Almost like it was possible all along!
Half-price swag bags
For the first and second rounds, the NCAA spent $125.55 per player on gifts and mementos distributed at the men’s tournament, whereas it spent only $60.42 per player—or less than half as much—on gifts and mementos distributed at the women’s tournament.
The NCAA also spent $70,539 on kits that contained supplies such as disinfectant wipes, bathroom air fresheners, and sneaker deodorizer balls. Those kits were only for the 68 men’s teams, though.
After the initial outrage over the inequities — a phrase I’ve been using far too often in this report — the NCAA scrambled to make things *seem* fairer. Part of this scrambling included giving less than planned to the men’s teams, in order to make the optics better.
For example, in the Sweet Sixteen, the men’s staff chose not to distribute additional items that had been purchased only for the men’s teams including a March Madness robe ($32) and March Madness beach towel ($15.25). The women’s staff, for its part, added a hooded blanket ($35.75). Accordingly, as the tournaments progressed, gifts were more evenly distributed to the men’s and women’s teams. For the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, before the NCAA removed men’s gifts and added women’s gifts, the NCAA planned to spend $77.68 per male student-athlete and $39.96 per female student-athlete. After removing the men’s robe and beach towel and adding the women’s hooded blanket, the NCAA ultimately spent $30.43 per male student-athlete and $67.21 per female student-athlete.
I wonder what happened to those robes and towels they had to scrap at the last minute?
By reading the report, I learned that the NCAA also provides access to something called “online gifting suites” in the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four. This year, the suites were identical for the men’s and women’s tournaments. HOWEVER, that has not always been the case.
The gifting suite debuted five years ago but it was only for the men’s tournament. When the media reported on that during the 2016 tournament, the women’s basketball staff went into panic mode trying to create something equitable for the women’s Final Four teams — it was so last-minute an slap-dash that an employee had to put $20,000 on a personal credit card to make it happen:
Imagine if the NCAA had learned their lesson in 2016!
A SIGN of the times
We’re almost done, I promise, but first I’m going to throw a bunch of numbers at you.
I’ve often heard fans of women’s sports — myself included — complain about being at a marquee women’s sports event and seeing almost zero signs in the general public promoting said event. Meanwhile, a men’s sporting event comes to town, and every sidewalk panel turns into an animated ad overnight.
Well, we finally have A LOT of numbers to back up this observation. According to KHF, “The NCAA spent $2,416,000 on signage for the men’s tournament, compared to only $783,000 for the women’s — and this calculation includes the last-minute signage they panic-bought after the weight-room video went viral."
Here are some other statistics, lifted directly from the report, that make me want to punch a wall:
The NCAA spent approximately $27,000 on the men’s championship’s airport signage and $61,300 on street pole banners, while the NCAA spent nothing on airport signage in San Antonio and only approximately $8,700 on street pole banners.
“On the “Inner Bowl” of the venues, the NCAA spent approximately $169,000 on the men’s tournament and $35,300 on the women’s.
On the “Player Hallways and Tunnels” the NCAA spent approximately $288,000 on the men’s tournament and $30,400 on the women’s.
On locker rooms, the NCAA spent approximately $188,000 on the men’s tournament and $46,200 on the women’s.
The NCAA spent approximately $59,000 for the men on signage at the hotels while spending only $26,400 on the women.
The NCAA spent approximately $71,000 decorating 12 buses for the men while spending only $27,200 decorating the same number of buses for the women.
In 2019, the NCAA spent $1,524,471 on signage for the men’s tournament, and only $87,760 on the women’s.
In 2018, when the NCAA spent more than $1.1 million more on men’s signage and décor for the Final Four alone—a gap that is only partially explained by the greater size of the men’s Final Four venue.
In 2017, the men’s signage and décor spending totaled $2,289,721, whereas the women’s spending was $212,643.
In non-pandemic years, the first and second rounds of the women’s tournaments are played at the home arena of the top four seeds in each region. This means a small part of the signage budget discrepancies in normal years is due to the fact that the NCAA doesn’t have advance notice to plan for signs and custom-courts for the first weekend of the women’s tournament. It does have nine courts it uses to send to neutral, pre-determined sites for early-round men’s games. All that said, get a load of this: The NCAA pays approximately $180,000 every year for storage, transportation, and installation of the nine courts for early-round men’s games. However, the only branding for the first and second rounds of the women’s tournament is an “NCAA” decal that is placed on the floor, which costs the NCAA approximately $38.75 per decal, with three sent to every host site (two for the floors and one back-up).
I think I will remember, for the rest of my life, that the NCAA only spends $38.75 per decal for the branding of the first two rounds of the women’s basketball tournament, and that their only insurance policy is *one* back-up.
I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been tryna be lately
We can’t finish this newsletter until there’s a drive-by hit on Gavin DeGraw. Obviously.
Thanks for reading Power Plays, friends. It’s been so fun to be back in your inboxes. I’ll be off tomorrow, as I hope you all will, but I’ll be back one or two times before the holiday weekend is over. The Power Plays Sweet 16 continues!
I’m overflowing with thanks for each and every one of you.