Anger Erupts Over Facilities for Women at N.C.A.A. Tournament

Facing a swell of outrage and accusations that it had prized men’s basketball players more than the athletes competing in next week’s women’s tournament, the N.C.A.A. apologized Friday for vast disparities in workout facilities at its marquee championship events.

Players at the men’s tournament in Indiana have benefited from an enormous, well-stocked complex in downtown Indianapolis. But the stars of the women’s game, who will play their championship tournament in Texas, were left with just a smattering of amenities and gear.

Dan Gavitt, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president of basketball, apologized for “dropping the ball, frankly.”

“We will get it fixed as soon as possible,” he said from Indiana.

Similarly, Lynn Holzman, who played at Kansas State and rose to become the N.C.A.A.’s vice president of women’s basketball, said Friday that organizers “fell short.” Her voice sometimes catching during a videoconference with reporters, she acknowledged that the episode was a “blemish.”

“I’ve experienced when you don’t have something that’s the same,” she said, adding that there would be an “accountability aspect” to future discussions about what had happened in Texas.

“When it is personal, it is as real as it can get,” she said. “It hurts. And when people passionately care about something — in this case, women’s basketball — our fans, our student-athletes who are playing this game, it is our responsibility to give them a great championship experience and one they can be proud of.”

The N.C.A.A. had posted an online statement from Holzman on Thursday, in which she partly blamed the lack of women’s facilities on the dearth of space in San Antonio. She was shortly called out on that excuse.

Oregon sophomore Sedona Prince posted a video showing an abundance of space where the women are staying and training. There is a vast unused area adjacent to the women’s practice court.

“If you’re not upset about this problem, then you are a part of it,” Prince said.

The N.C.A.A.’s apology came after an onslaught of online criticism. Ali Kershner, a sports performance coach at Stanford, posted images on Thursday of a cavernous weight-room set up at the men’s tournament, where teams will be living in a Covid-19 bubble, and the sparse facility at the women’s tournament in San Antonio.

Despite each competition fielding at least 64 teams, the men were given dumbbells and barbells and squat machines arranged in what appeared to be a hotel ballroom, while the women were only given a rack of dumbbells, none heavier than 30 pounds.

“The women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities,” Kershner wrote in her online post. “In a year defined by a fight for equality, this is a chance to have a conversation and get better.”

By Friday morning, with the public furor building and the N.C.A.A. already battered by years of pressure over student-athlete rights, the association offered unmitigated regrets — a striking, sudden comedown for an organization frequently criticized for insularity and defiance.

The evidence of unequal treatment came during a week when student-athletes were already using the moment to air their grievances with the N.C.A.A. regarding how players may profit from their fame. Earlier in the week, players began tweeting with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty to protest the association’s rules. Although much of that dissent has been publicly concentrated around the men’s tournament, it had also surfaced in the women’s competition.

The men’s tournament is the crown jewel for the N.C.A.A., which will draw more than $850 million in television rights from it this year alone. The women’s tournament, by comparison, is just one part of a multisport broadcast deal worth nearly $42 million this fiscal year.

Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Texas A&M, a No. 2 seed in the women’s tournament, said that while he appreciated the N.C.A.A.’s promise to improve the facilities, “this is unacceptable to begin with.”

“No one in athletics would have thought this was appropriate if someone would have been consulted,” Bjork wrote on Twitter. “We have to do better.”

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