In addition to complaints of subpar facilities, meals and player gifts, college officials revealed that women’s team players were being administered a different, less accurate daily coronavirus test than players in the men’s bubble.
The NCAA’s reassurances that it would work to fix the problem, improving facilities for the women’s teams, did little to quell anger and frustration from college coaches and administrators, as well as prominent professional basketball players who spoke up online.
On Friday, the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics, a collection of college presidents, administrators and players, demanded an independent investigation into the disparities in a letter to Mark Emmert, the organization’s president.
The letter said the disparate treatment inside the bubbles “sets back women’s college athletics across the country.”
The stark difference in the treatment of players in the two tournaments touched a nerve for many people at a time of increasing awareness over issues of equity in women’s sports. In a tweet Thursday, Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson called the women’s tournament facilities “beyond disrespectful.”
Other prominent athletes, including the NBA’s Stephen Curry and U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan, also criticized the NCAA online.
NCAA officials acknowledged what they called a “blemish” in their tournament efforts.
“We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare,” Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball, told journalists Friday. She said the NCAA was “actively working” on improving the women’s facilities, including exercise facilities and food.
An NCAA spokesperson told The Washington Post that officials initially thought there was not enough square footage for a weight training facilities at the convention center playing host to the women’s tournament. They later found the space, the spokesperson said.
But coaches and others inside the women’s bubble questioned the NCAA’s claim that space issues had prevented the organization from building a comparable facility for women and men. The rack of dumbbells that served as the women’s sole weight training equipment was located in an enormous and empty part of the convention center, according to several videos posted online.
Geno Auriemma, coach of the Connecticut women’s team, told reporters at a news conference Friday that his team was receiving different daily coronavirus tests than men’s teams. The rapid antigen tests given to women are faster than PCR tests given to men but “have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.
In a statement, the NCAA said that its medical advisory group had determined that both tests were “were equally effective models for basketball championships,” and that it had worked with local providers and officials in San Antonio and Indianapolis to create the testing regimens.
Critics also pointed to images of the “swag bags” provided to players at both tournaments, which showed that the men had been given a large number of items custom-designed for this year’s March Madness tournament in Indianapolis, while the women’s bag included only a few generic items, including a 150-piece puzzle and a towel that said “NCAA women’s basketball.”