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Under Fire, The NCAA Apologizes And Unveils New Weight Room For Women's Tournament

A visitor looks up at the logo for the Women's Final Four in San Antonio, Thursday, March 18, 2021, as the city prepares to host the Women's NCAA College Basketball Championship. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A visitor looks up at the logo for the Women's Final Four in San Antonio, Thursday, March 18, 2021, as the city prepares to host the Women's NCAA College Basketball Championship. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Under fire for differences in amenities for its men's and women's basketball tournaments, the NCAA revealed an upgraded weight room Saturday for players participating in the women's college basketball tournament in San Antonio.

What had been a single small rack of dumbbells has now been replaced with a larger space with more equipment, including a variety of bars, racks and stands.

The facilities were upgraded overnight after the organization was widely criticized by players, coaches and fans alike.

"I want to be really clear,'' NCAA President Mark Emmert said in an interview on Friday with reporters. "This is not something that should have happened and, should we ever conduct a tournament like this again, will ever happen again.''

The controversy broke Thursday after a coach from Stanford University posted a photo to social media comparing the men's and women's weight setups.

Responding to the controversy Friday, the NCAA's vice president of women's basketball, Lynn Holzman, acknowledged in a press briefing that the organization "fell short." She added that the NCAA had originally intended for women to have access to a full weight room once their teams had reached the third round of the tournament. The men's teams have access to a full weight room during the entirety of their tournament runs.

The controversy picked up steam as more disparities were revealed: uninspiring box meals compared with a buffet with steak fillets and lobster mac 'n' cheese; swag bags appearing to be a third the size of the men's.

Perhaps most eye-opening, University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma told reporters Friday that the school's men's team was being tested daily with highly accurate PCR coronavirus tests, while his women's team was receiving antigen tests, which are less accurate. The NCAA later confirmed that the two tournaments are using different testing methods.

Reaction to the disparities was swift and negative. Joining the voices of female players facing the conditions in San Antonio were NBA stars like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving alongside top college administrators and coaches.

"I appreciate that [the NCAA] is working on a solution but this is unacceptable to begin with," wrote Ross Bjork, the athletics director at Texas A&M, on Twitter. "No one in athletics would have thought this was appropriate if someone would have been consulted."

Others were less surprised by the discrepancies.

The fact that "there's a huge disparity between men's and women's sports is hardly breaking news," said longtime Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "The NCAA had an opportunity to highlight how sport can be a place where we don't just talk about equality we put it on display. To say they dropped the ball would be the understatement of the century."

Addressing the other apparent disparities Friday, NCAA officials said that despite appearances, the swag bags were equal in value and that the food quality had been "addressed immediately" with the hotels in San Antonio housing the women's teams.

As for the differences in testing, Emmert, the NCAA's president, said Friday that he had "complete confidence" in the different protocols, pointing to the organization's partnerships with local health organizations in Indianapolis and San Antonio.

"All of the health experts say the protocol that they're using right now in all our venues and all our championships is one that has no difference at all in our ability to mitigate risk," he said.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rick Howlett was midday host and the host of LPM's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." He was with LPM from 2001-2023 and held many different titles, including Morning Edition host, Assignment Editor and Interim News Director. He died in August 2023. Read a remembrance of Rick here.

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