This article has been updated.
The NCAA on Friday acknowledged wide disparities between the practice facilities for men and women for their respective national basketball tournaments after photos shared by women athletes went viral online.
Athletes in San Antonio, where the women’s basketball tournament is being held, were given a single stack of free weights at the practice facility inside the Henry B. González Convention Center. By contrast, male athletes in Indianapolis have a massive, state-of-the-art weight facility.
“It’s disappointing. I don’t even have the words to describe how painful it is personally,” Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball, said at a press briefing.
NCAA organizers held a call Thursday night with coaches and administrators from all 64 women’s teams to talk about the lack of significant practice facilities and potential solutions.
“We are actively working on that, and things will be in place by tomorrow [Saturday] morning,” Holzman said.
Thursday was the first day the teams, which have been arriving in San Antonio in recent days, had a chance to practice. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA decided to hold both the men’s and women’s tournaments at a centralized site to minimize travel and other logistics.
A total of 64 teams are in San Antonio for 63 games that begin Sunday, including early-round games in Austin and San Marcos as well as at the Alamodome and facilities at the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The tournament will culminate in the Final Four at the Alamodome on April 2 and 4.
A recent study estimated that the tournament could bring as much as $27.2 million to the city’s economy.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball, said he was apologizing to women’s basketball athletes, coaches, and the women’s basketball committee.
“As I thought about this overnight and lost sleep over this, I think some of it may be a result of working remotely,” he said of the lesser facilities at the San Antonio site. “We can do better. We have to do better.”
He said both tournaments have been organized under “one umbrella,” but that the facility issues for the women highlighted the challenge of reimagining the two tournaments in one geographic area. He said the men’s tournament in Indianapolis has also had issues, though he did not specify what they were.
“What we normally pull together over months and indeed years, we have tried to do in weeks, and in some cases, days. And that’s meant some shortcomings,” he said.
Players from the Florida State team said at a press briefing Friday they were disappointed by the disparity.
“We’re grateful to be here,” said forward Savannah Wilkinson. “But it’s saddening in the sense that we feel like we’re making steps forward in equality, and this seems like a step backwards.”
She added that she appreciated the response from the NCAA.
“We feel that we’re getting the acknowledgement that we should get, because we are extremely good athletes,” she said.
Other differences between the men and women’s tournament were highlighted by players, including a difference in the food provided by hotels. Teams have had the option of ordering out, but it has remained complicated due to the stringent requirements imposed by the NCAA meant to limit contact with the outside world because of COVID-19 concerns.
Holzman said NCAA staff was working to relax some of the requirements. She also said San Antonio’s local organizing committee has begun working with the local restaurant industry to provide additional meal options.
In another difference, the “swag bags” that male players received emphasized the prestige of the tournament specifically, with prominent branding touting “March Madness” and “The Big Dance.”
The women’s gift bags appear to have no reference to the tournament and brand themselves generically with “Women’s Basketball.”
In other ways, the tournament has marked new prominence for the women’s tournament, Holzman said. ESPN will be nationally broadcasting all games for the tournament for the first time.
“Although this is a blemish, I do want to emphasize we have made strides,” she said.