Sport Despite improvements, NCAA still short-changed women at basketball tournament | Opinion
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Bruce Weber resigned from his post as the Kansas State men's basketball team's head coach earlier this month. The Wildcats are reportedly close to hiring his replacement. © Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports Jerome Tang Sources: Baylor's Jerome Tang is finalizing a deal to become the next head coach at Kansas State. Official announcement expected soon.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 21, 2022 Kansas State will hire Baylor assistant Jerome Tang, sources told @Stadium. Has built the Baylor program with Scott Drew the last two decades.
MINNEAPOLIS — NCAA administrators will no doubt be patting themselves on the back this week, congratulating themselves for putting on a women’s tournament that wasn’t blatantly disrespectful and patronizing.
That bar, however, was low.
It is not enough for the NCAA to say it’s trying really, really hard, as president Mark Emmert did Wednesday. Or to make cosmetic changes. Shortcomings continued to exist at the women’s tournament, and they show that the underlying problems will persist unless there’s an attitude adjustment at NCAA headquarters.
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Or a leadership change. But that’s a rant for another column.
The fundamental issue remains that the NCAA and the other power brokers in college sports don’t consider the women’s tournament to be as important, or worthy of their attention, as they do the men’s.
Because the tournaments are not in the same city and are rarely even in close proximity – it’s a 2½-hour flight from Minneapolis to New Orleans, and that’s if there are no delays or weather issues – it means most people had to choose one or the other. And it wasn’t much of a choice.
There’s a Who’s Who of college athletics at the men’s tournament. Conference commissioners and administrators. Athletics directors. NCAA officials. The bigwigs from sponsors. Between the hotel bars, breakfast meetings and chats at the arena, it’s the biggest networking opportunity of the year.
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Everyone loves a Cinderella, but there is a very real chance the Peacocks are out of their game against Purdue by the midway point of the first half. How do the other games stack up?I love a Cinderella, but there is a very real chance the Peacocks are out of their game against Purdue by the midway point of the first half. Sorry if that is harsh, Peacocks fans, but Purdue is a whole other kind of animal than the likes of Kentucky and Murray State.
There is none of that at the women’s tournament, which explains why the three conference commissioners with visible presences Friday were those who had teams playing. That didn’t include top leadership from the Pac-12, despite defending champion Stanford playing.
That attitude can’t help but filter down, and it did.
The open practices at the women’s tournament were Saturday, the day before the championship, so only two teams were featured. Contrast that with the men’s tournament, where all four teams had open practices the day before the Final Four.
The media sessions for South Carolina and UConn before the championship game were about half as long as those for Kansas and North Carolina. Dawn Staley and Geno Auriemma’s availabilities also completely overlapped with those of their players, which wasn’t the case for Hubert Davis and Bill Self. In the name, image and likeness era, neither of these things are insignificant.
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“You have an issue with it? Then we have an issue with it,” Staley said. “I think we should be available for as much time as needed. Our game needs the connection with our media. … If we want to continue to grow our game, we have to make ourselves accessible to you.”
Asked the reason for the inconsistencies, NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham blamed it on the women having only three days between the end of the Elite Eight and the Final Four, compared with the five days the men have.
“We are also working hard to honor the needs teams have to prepare to compete for the national championship,” Durham said in an email. “This includes conducting open practices a bit later in the Final Four week, and keeping media availabilities a bit shorter so teams have adequate time for game preparations.”
Let me see if I have this right: the NCAA short-changes the women on the turnaround time between the Elite Eight and the Final Four and, as a result, short-changes them on exposure at the biggest event of their careers. So they get doubly stiffed.
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All righty then!
The NCAA also was woefully unprepared for the increase in media wanting to cover the women’s tournament. Despite issuing roughly 1,000 credentials, 200-plus more than the previous high, the facilities were set up to accommodate about half that.
I’d like to see someone tell Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski his Final Four interviews were going to take place in a space sandwiched between the dining area and the media work room, the curtains that separated the areas doing little to cancel out the ambient noise. I’m sure it would have gone over well.
I get there are hurdles that, for now, make it tough to fully address some of these issues. The ESPN contract runs through 2024, potentially making it difficult to switch the schedule of the women’s games. Host cities for both tournaments have been announced through 2026 and next year, when the women are in Dallas and the men are in Houston, is the only time they are in even relative proximity.
That isn’t an excuse, however, and there are more things the NCAA could – and should – be doing right now. Schedule meetings and activities with sponsors at the women’s tournament that would entice commissioners to go back and forth or, at the very least, encourage conferences and schools to send top administrators to each site.
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Take the planning document for the men’s tournament, copy it, and tell the NCAA and local officials running the women’s tournament that it needs to be followed exactly. Same amenities. Same number of open practices. Same duration for media availabilities. Same setup for media facilities – preferably one that doesn’t shoehorn Hall of Fame coaches and their players between a bar and a kitchen.
Same fan events. Same caliber of entertainers, both at the games and outside the stadium. Whatever is being done at the men’s tournament, it needs to be done at the women’s tournament.
See how easy that is?
After last year's firestorm, the NCAA took months to update logos and social media accounts – things that could have been done in about, oh, 15 minutes – when it could have been making more widespread changes. But that would require the organization to believe equity between the tournaments is a worthwhile pursuit.
Given the discrepancies that continue at the women’s event, it’s clear that isn’t the case.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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