INDIANAPOLIS — So long as Mark Emmert is NCAA president, women’s sports will never get the equitable treatment they not only deserve but are due.
There are discussions to be had about how, exactly, the embarrassing debacles at the women’s basketball tournament the past few days unfolded, and who had a direct hand in their occurrence. But Emmert’s repeated, non-sensical defenses of the NCAA – he had another banner one Monday – have served only to make it plain that this all stems from him. Maybe not directly, but his dismissive attitude has sent a message to those beneath him that equity is either so much overblown woke hysteria or blinded them to the very basic steps the NCAA should be taking.
“The 'weight rooms’ that were shown on the videos, those were never intended to be weight rooms,” Emmert told the Economic Club of Indiana. “Those were exercise rooms before the kids went onto the court for practice. … But once the video’s out there, the video’s out there.”
The court at the Alamodome in San Antonio includes generic branding for the women's tournament. (Photo: Carmen Mandato, Getty Images)
The “video,” that now-viral TikTok from Oregon’s Sedona Prince comparing the one measly rack of weights available to the women with the high-end setup for the men, wasn’t the problem, Mark. And you acknowledged as much Friday, remember? When you told reporters from USA TODAY Sports, The Athletic and the New York Times that the situation was “inexcusable,” and “not something that should have happened.”
Of course, Emmert didn’t realize then that his obliviousness, and the indifference it reflects, was going to be exposed again and again by all of the other imbalances that have become public in the last few days. To name a few:
To name a few:
► The men’s tournament is using PCR tests to detect COVID-19, while the women’s tournament is using antigen tests, which are not as reliable and have a higher rate of false positives. You might recall the NFL was concerned enough about the reliability of antigen tests that it added additional PCR testing and eventually went to rapid PCR tests on game days.
► The men’s tournament is being played on courts with slick, uniform NCAA branding. The women’s tournament is a hodgepodge, with many courts having only the host school’s logo and nothing to show this is a special, national event.
► The NCAA has game photos available from every round of the men’s tournament. At the women’s tournament, nothing until the Sweet 16.
► The NCAA is transcribing every coaches’ post-game news conferences at the men’s tournament. That won’t begin until the Sweet 16 at the women’s tournament.
The one thing the NCAA does – more and more the only thing it does – is organize championships. A screw-up of this proportion is not the doing of one person or even a committee. It’s a reflection of an outdated and patronizing attitude, and the only way to thoroughly cleanse the NCAA of it is by switching leadership.
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And I’m not referring to Lynn Holzman, the NCAA vice president for women’s basketball.
This is on Emmert.
He has tried to blame the disparities between the men’s and women’s tournament on the fact this is the first year that early rounds of the women’s tournament are not being held at campus sites. But that’s as weak as the Big Ten’s showing in the men’s tournament.
The NCAA didn’t suddenly realize two weeks ago that it would have to hold the entire women’s tournament at one site, as it is doing with the men’s event. It’s known for months that putting teams on planes, moving them from city to city every couple of days for three weeks, was the surest way to bring the tournament to a screeching halt. Just look at what happened – routinely – during the regular season.
Nor can this to be chalked up to COVID-19 restrictions limiting communication between the committees putting the tournaments together. The entire world has managed to effectively hold meetings and conduct business virtually for the past 13 months, and I’m pretty sure the NCAA is no different.
Avoiding this was as simple as scheduling a Zoom meeting with the committees planning both tournaments and saying, “OK, we’re doing this in Indianapolis. Do you have that in San Antonio? No? OK, you need to.” The speed with which the NCAA made adjustments once shamed into them is proof they could have been done in the first place.
This isn't simply a question of fairness, by the way. Title IX requires women athletes to have access to the same opportunities as men, amenities included, and the women’s tournament has been an abysmal violation of that federal law.
Equity doesn't simply happen. It requires work and it requires intention, and an NCAA led by Mark Emmert isn't capable of it. It's time to put someone in charge who is.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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