Thursday, December 01, 2022

The story of the Las Vegas Invitational is not the story

 I spent part of last Sunday afternoon watching women's college basketball. Iowa took on UConn in the final of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. I did not know the game was part of a tournament when I sat down to watch, and thus was confused by the black uniforms the usually blue-clad UConn Huskies were sporting. It was then explained to me: Phil Knight tournament, final game, Portland, Oregon. 

Iowa lost. Phil Knight came out to present the trophy to UConn at which point one of my viewing companions exclaimed "He's still alive?" If only the most egregious thing to happen in women's basketball last weekend was a still-alive person touting his legacy... 

That "honor" belonged to the Las Vegas Invitational, which has been the focus of considerable media attention since Indiana coach Teri Moren and others spoke out about the conditions in The Mirage's ballrooms. It was not the ballroom setting per se, according to reports, but rather the lack of bleachers, on-site medical staff, towels, and good lighting. In short, the conditions were not as promised when the tournament director proposed it to DI teams in March 2022. 

The attention has been on how bad this is for the women's game. A gender equity narrative has predominated the coverage. Yes. And...

I am a little surprised that there has not been more (self?) reflection on this one. 

WE MUST GROW THE WOMEN'S GAME! is the shout heard 'round social media. 

This is true. 

But...and I don't intend for this to be a blame the victim take...perhaps women's basketball should examine its partnerships and the philosophical foundations of those with whom they work/collaborate. There is nothing about the Vegas strip that makes me believe there is some kind of commitment to gender equity. Vegas is Vegas; it operates in its own self-interest. The money was made before those teams even showed up.  

But who chose to hold this tournament in Vegas and lured nine top teams to the Nevada desert? A company called Destination Basketball; an organization that puts together basketball tournaments (though it has ceased to exist online in the wake of last weekend's debacle). 

First, the NCAA, in theory, has a commitment to gender equity. As the championship tournament organizer, they rightly got called on to the carpet in 2021 when Sedona Prince's TikTok about the horrible conditions at the women's tournament went viral. Destination Basketball has no such mandate. 

Second, (I have totally buried the lede here) this organization is headed by Bryce McKey, a former college coach at Maryland and Xavier. He "resigned" from Maryland after allegations that he sexually assaulted two former Xavier players came to light. One of those cases was dismissed by a horrible judge who used almost every rape myth that exists to justify acquitting McKey. The other case was never brought to court. In addition to Destination Basketball, McKey coaches girls AAU basketball in Ohio. 

THIS IS THE STORY. (Kudos to Deadspin for being one of the only media outlets to dig deeper.) The lousy basketball tournament organizer is actually a sexual predator and is currently coaching girls sports. 

This is who those teams chose to work with. This is who they trusted to grow the game. Someone knew. Someone had to know this guy's history. The world of women's college basketball is not that big. And sadly it too has decided to engage in "pass the predator." 

Equity in women's sports is not just about equal coverage or equal pay. It is about safety--including from sexual predators. Mere weeks ago we learned about the rampant sexual abuse by coaches in elite women's soccer. The list of organizations that have covered up sexual abuse by coaches is too long. There is justified outrage when a new case comes to light. 

When are people going to start taking responsibility? How many athletes are being sacrificed for "growth"? Is that growth about anything more than money? 

I realize that the vision leaders of the AIAW (and its predecessor organizations) had for women's intercollegiate sports is probably impossible to achieve in the current structure of college sports. But the abandonment of any kind of moral compass is revolting and athlete-centric philosophy. Women's sports do not hold the moral high ground. This is clear when they choose to associate with people who clearly do not care about women athletes. 

What happened to those athletes in Vegas was unfortunate. I would encourage them to ask their coaches and their athletic directors why they chose to trust (and monetarily compensate) Bryce McKey to put together an event that was supposed to showcase their talents. 

And someone in Ohio AAU should be asking a lot more about McKey's past.