Monday, April 05, 2021

Yes...and...but...well...: The NCAA Tourney and Issues of Equality

 The following is an only slightly less contorted path through my original thought process in the wake of  Sedona Prince's Tik Tok revealing the gross inequities between the workout facilities for the women and men at this year's NCAA basketball tournament. (There was also an issue with the swag bags. Side note: interesting that the NCAA is allowed to give gifts to athletes, but no one else is.)

Initial thought

Anyone who is surprised has not been paying attention. 

Some less cynical second [and so forth thought(s)]

It seems that this very obvious disparate treatment brought some needed attention to the issue. We rarely see more than a handful (fingerful? thanks for all you do, Dawn Staley!) of women coaches speak up about issues of inequality. Not surprising given that women coaches are often fired for speaking up (#Iowa, #FresnoState, #FloridaGulfCoast, #manyotherplaces). This is good--the speaking up, not the firing. 

But of course the condemnation was of the NCAA, which is pretty low hanging fruit in terms of places to blame. No institution is going to retaliate against a coach for criticizing the NCAA over this clear mistreatment of women athletes. In short: they spoke out about a fairly one-sided issue. I feel this to be true because I have yet to hear any utterance of "keep politics out of sports." This is interesting because...

...politicians got in on this too. Most notably, Mikie Sherrill, a representative from New Jersey, is leading a group of three dozen representatives in demanding a response from the NCAA. I read this as opportunistic. There is nothing in the recent past regarding Congress's efforts to reform sports or hold organizations accountable (NFL concussion crisis, steroids in baseball) that makes me believe this action will create a reckoning for the NCAA in regard to gender equity. 

The truly less cynical part:

I chose to come to the conclusion that the reason this disparity was so glaring and that the reason Prince and her peers recognized it right away was because there has been a large improvement in the quality of experiences women intercollegiate athletes are receiving. These women are accustomed to better treatment. They have great weight rooms and other training and practice facilities; they have access to amazing coaching staffs and medical staffs, etc. 

Erin and I wrote about Title IX's equal treatment mandate in 2012. We had many, many, many examples of disparate treatment that schools were forced to resolve. I don't know if things have gotten better universally, or even just within intercollegiate sports (versus interscholastic) in terms of equal treatment. Or rather, I don't know how to measure that. 

I suspect that things are better for the top teams. So Oregon State probably does treat its men's and women's basketball team fairly equally. But that is easier to see and achieve because it is a like versus like comparison. How is the field hockey team treated? How is the field hockey team, plus the women's soccer team, plus the cross country team, plus the women's tennis team treated in comparison to the football team? Because that is how treatment is supposed to be assessed. It is not team versus team; it is based on the quality of experience for men athletes and female athletes. So if the 125 members of the men's football team receive locker room space with TVs and couches and other sweet amenities, 125 women athletes should be receiving something comparable. Are they? 

Who knows? Accountability only comes when a complaint or a lawsuit is filed. Some schools do Title IX self studies, but...self studies. How effective are they? 

The NCAA used to have an accreditation process for Division I schools which included a Title IX component, but they stopped those years ago. I argue that one (but not the only) reason this weight room fiasco happened was because the NCAA is out of touch with what is happening on campuses. If NCAA folks were going into schools, they would see what equal treatment looked like. Prince and the other women expected something better because they get much better on their respective campuses. 

What I hope will come out of this:

More student athletes learn about Title IX and what they are due because of this law and act on it.

More student athletes advocate for the equal treatment of all women's teams on campus, not just the ones that are popular or successful.

I was going to add something here about wanting the NCAA to get back into schools, but I don't think the organization, as a whole, has proven itself trustworthy or effective. My wish for its effective governance is countered by my hope that it collapses under the weight of its own dysfunction. So that's a wash. 

Congress will give more funding to OCR so it can effectively investigate Title IX complaints. Maybe it could even do something very pro-active and institute a system through which schools report how they are providing equitable treatment and not just equitable opportunities.