Congressional leaders call NCAA’s gender-equity efforts ‘inadequate’ on eve of March Madness

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The Indianapolis-based NCAA’s efforts to remedy gender inequity in its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are “inadequate” and “lackluster,” three congressional leaders charged in a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert that concludes the organization is violating the spirit of Title IX.

The letter, dated Monday, was written by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus; and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. It was made public Tuesday, a day before the start of the women’s tournament.

It notes that the NCAA has taken “short-term steps” in response to the outcry that resulted when women’s athletes documented their substandard training equipment on social media during last year’s tournament. But it faults the NCAA for failing to make several substantive changes—or simply commit to making the changes—recommended by the law firm it retained to conduct a review of its policies and procedures.

“Although [the] NCAA has taken some short-term steps to avoid repeating the public relations catastrophe during last year’s March Madness championships, it has been notably slow to commit to or implement recommendations that will ensure structural, long-term changes to advance gender equity,” the letter states. “. . . In creating and perpetuating structural inequities between men’s and women’s post-season championships and failing to implement substantive changes that would rectify these inequities, [the] NCAA is violating the spirit of gender equity as codified in Title IX.”

The NCAA responded to a request for comment Tuesday with an emailed statement: “The shortcomings at the women’s basketball tournament last year have been well-documented and extensively covered. Although our work is not done, we are focused on the many improvements made since then that provide students across all our championships with a lifelong memorable experience.”

In a media briefing last week, NCAA executives summarized steps they had taken to correct the inequities identified by law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink in a scathing report it issued in August. Most notably, the NCAA increased the women’s tournament field to 68 teams this year, putting it on par with the men’s.

It also is giving women’s players the same gifts and mementos that men’s players receive for participating in each round of the tournament. Similarly, it is furnishing women’s players with the same number of private lounges at their team hotels as the men have, and the NCAA agreed to extend its trademark “March Madness” branding to the women’s tournament.

But the six-page letter from Maloney and her colleagues makes clear that, in their view, this is not enough.

“You have failed to take meaningful steps to correct deficiencies identified by the Committee and by outside review, and you have failed to ensure gender equity across NCAA’s athletic programs,” it states.

The heavily footnoted letter details what it calls “troubling gender inequities” uncovered by the congressional committee and the Kaplan review. It cites an internal NCAA document obtained by the committee that shows the NCAA’s budget for its Division I men’s tournament was more than double that of the budget for the women’s event for eight years, starting with the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The men’s budget accounted for 71% of spending that year, and the women’s accounted for 29%. The split remained “consistently 70%-30%, plus or minus one percent here or there” over the subsequent years, according to an NCAA email cited in the letter.

The letter also cites internal NCAA communications that shed light on the organization’s response during last year’s tournament after women’s coaches and players complained that they were given prepackaged meals with less food, and of lower quality and variety, than men’s players were getting at their buffet services.

After that information was made public, Chiney Ogwumike, a former star at Stanford now playing in the WNBA, offered to give DoorDash gift cards to all 64 teams in the tournament. The NCAA declined her offer “to avoid upsetting [its] corporate partners,” according to an internal NCAA communication obtained by Congress.

The Kaplan report recommended 39 actions that the NCAA should take to create gender equity. In October, the NCAA launched a “Gender Equity Updates” page on its website to track its progress on the Kaplan “to-do” list. But the letter from Congress says that page is “not comprehensive” and so sparse in details that it’s difficult to understand whether particular recommendations have been enacted or rejected.

The letter makes no explicit demand of the NCAA, nor does it spell out any consequences, but the committee is pushing to keep the spotlight on the NCAA’s actions.

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6 thoughts on “Congressional leaders call NCAA’s gender-equity efforts ‘inadequate’ on eve of March Madness

    1. Bingo. And, as those of us who used to be more on-board with these “leveling the playing field” initiatives have learned, there is no benchmark for achieving equity. The institutions under siege (NCAA in this case, but just as easily municipal or state governments) will move mountains to try to get there, only to find…newer, more fine-grained inequities and new complaints. Compared to overall tickets sold and TV ratings/viewership, women’s NCAA actually gets vastly more benefits and concessions. Because we all know that the Women’s NCAA does not comprise even close to 30% of the total.

      “this is not enough” – the goalposts move again and again.

      If the NCAA had leadership with brains and (more importantly) a backbone, these words should be a clarion call to just fold and walk away from the poker table. It will NEVER be enough. But the last few years have proven that the NCAA is more than happy to get its legs and tentacles ensnared in the flypaper, so the leadership has nobody to blame but themselves. Earth is not a utopia and never will be. True equity is impossible. No amount of promotion or incentives will make people want to watch women’s basketball at the same degree as men’s. (By that same token, men’s fashion will never achieve the same prestige as women’s fashion.) And even if it we did achieve measurable equity, where the quantities were at parity by every metric, some new activist would use the NCAA’s history of ceding to these demands as a chance to prod around for some newly unearthed inequity.

      All the NCAA is doing is sewing the seeds for its own demise. If a standard-making agency bends and bows to any form of pressure, does the agency serve any purpose? A legitimate question Indianapolis Monthly asked just a few weeks ago.

  1. The irony in all of this is baffling. Since woke culture has crept into and now permeates Congress and the NCAA I wonder how these bureaucracies can keep up with all of the latest politically correct ideas which diminish and in some cases destroy what they previously built to ensure equity and rights for certain groups of people. The Title IX movement created more opportunities for female athletes, which was a good thing and now we have female athletes being discriminated against on the basis of the “rights” of those who are confused about their own identity which allows males to compete against females in athletics. Does anyone else think this absurd policy is good or fair for anyone? Are we to bow to the feelings of males who are not good enough athletes to compete against other males, so they say they are female and then dominate female athletic competition? They might as well throw Title IX out the window as it is being trampled on by the very institutions that gave birth to it. A crazy world we live in …

  2. We have evolved into a “fear-based culture” where corporations and organizations “fear” activists groups and media that represent a very small minority of US citizens … “us citizens”. The activists and media trumpets give the appearance of being much larger and more significant because … the media turns up the volume on ridiculous issues and then beats these drums to death. Corporations and organizations like the NCAA then cave to the loud criticisms because it is “the path of least resistance”. The outcome is a steady decline of once-great US culture that will ultimately be killed off leaving droves of bug-eyed, bewildered occupants that won’t understand they are actually “citizens” because they won’t be educated enough to know what it means to be a citizen.