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Female basketball players get unreliable COVID testing, less online promotion from NCAA

The NCAA women's basketball tournament got underway Sunday. But even before the opening tip, new anger and frustration erupted last week over the NCAA's different approaches to the women's and mens' teams — including less reliable COVID testing. The problems were first laid bare on the social media platform TikTok. John Yang takes a closer look, with The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The NCAA basketball tournament is now well under way.

    But even before the opening tip off, new anger and frustration erupted over the differences in how the NCAA approaches the men's and the women's teams.

    John Yang has a closer look.

  • Sedona Prince:

    I got something to show you all.

  • John Yang:

    On TikTok, the inequities between men's and women's tournaments laid bare.

  • Sedona Prince:

    This is our weight room. Let me show you all the men's weight room.

  • John Yang:

    It began Thursday, when the University of Oregon's Sedona Prince posted a video from a tournament site in San Antonio.

    University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame, slammed the NCAA.

  • Dawn Staley:

    Either it's miscommunication, no communication or just not downright caring that people know what's happening on our side of things. And that must stop.

  • John Yang:

    The NCAA initially blamed limited space in San Antonio.

    Later, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's top basketball executive, acknowledged that wasn't the case.

  • Dan Gavitt:

    When we don't meet the expectations of that support, that's on me. And, for that, I apologize to the women's basketball student athletes, coaches, to the Women's Basketball Committee, for dropping the ball.

  • Sedona Prince:

    We got a weight room, yes.

  • John Yang:

    By Saturday:, a new weight room.

    But the uproar highlighted other differences between the men's and women's tournaments, including less reliable COVID testing and less online promotion for the women.

    Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that the NCAA has withheld the iconic brand March Madness from the women's tournament, reserving it exclusively for the men's championship.

    Sally Jenkins is an award-winning sportswriter for The Washington Post, the first woman inducted into the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.

    Sally, thanks so much for joining us.

    So, the NCAA was fast to address the weight room issue. I have read they're also doing something about the meals at the women's tournament. But that really is small potatoes, compared to some of the issues you wrote about in your column about over the weekend, including money.

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Well, and primarily promotion.

    You know, this is a potential flagship event for the NCAA, and yet, if you look at a lot of the games, the floor, you can't even tell that they're playing a championship. Literally, there's not a lot of decalling on the floor to tell you that you're watching a championship event.

    You might think you were watching a high school tournament. You might think you were watching a junior college tournament. The difference in presentation is really striking at times.

    So, that's one thing that's been bothering some of the coaches I have talked to. And then, of course, there's just a pervasive sort of lesser than. It's everything from meals to really petty details that don't mean very much, but they are a sign of a lack of respect that the women feel.

  • John Yang:

    Some people would argue, well, the men's tournament brings in so much more money than the women's tournament.

    But the popularity of the women's tournament has been gaining. ESPN, which knows what — how to make money, has been expanding its coverage.

  • Sally Jenkins:


  • John Yang:

    And if they did have that marketing support, do you know that disparity would — in the money, in the revenue would get smaller?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    The women's tournament only looks small in comparison to the gargantuan $1 billion in revenue that the men's tournament brings in.

    But, by any other standard, it's a very, very large, very successful event. I will give you an example. I mean, just in the last two years, they have acquired — the number of advertisers on the women's tournament has leaped from 70 to 87. They have brought in 17 more large title sponsors, large corporate sponsors.

    Everybody from Verizon to AT&T is pouring a lot more money into the women's tournament. You know, it's a growth event. But the other thing that they command is four million viewers when it comes to the championship game. Again, that may look small compared to 10 million for a men's Final Four game in viewership, but four million is not small.

    It's only small compared to this massive other event. It's bigger than a Wimbledon final. It's about on par with a National League pennant series. There's lots of very, very large American sports events that it's in the same ballpark with.

    And so the idea that it somehow constantly has to be diminished in the eyes of the NCAA is really — it's silly, number one. And, number two, it's really counterproductive in terms of building the event.

  • John Yang:

    And it's not just that the men's — the schools that win the men's championship get a bigger share of the revenue than the schools that win the women's championship. The schools that win the women's championship get no share of the revenue; is that right?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    They get zip. Zero. Not one cent. Not one cent.

    Now, there's going to be all kinds of revenue generated by the women's tournament. And, for some reason, all of the revenue seems to be factored on to the men's side. The women get counted as cost and burden, as opposed to revenue production.

    You know, it doesn't add up. The math here is a little funny, for one thing. I mean, this is clearly a revenue-producing event. And yet we're told that the women are simply an inconvenient cost item for the NCAA.

  • John Yang:

    What's it going to take to change this?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Well, it would help if Congress would tell the NCAA to crack open the books.

    You know, it would be nice to see someone like Katie Porter do one of her numbers with a board and a magic marker, because the math, again, is not adding up.

    There's huge audience, there's huge sponsorship numbers, there's huge ad dollars. The women deserve to know what kind of revenue they are generating and what kind of revenue their programs are entitled to.

  • John Yang:

    Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Sally Jenkins:

    My pleasure.

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