Athletes competing in the NCAA’s women’s basketball tournament in San Antonio now have an upgraded weight room, provided largely by the local YMCA.

The news comes after viral posts on social media from student athletes last week highlighted vast inequalities between the men and women’s weight training facilities at the two respective tournaments. The women’s teams in San Antonio had a single stack of free weights, while the men’s teams in Indianapolis had a state-of-the-art training room.

The subsequent controversy prompted an apology from the NCAA. Lynn Holzman, the organization’s vice president of women’s basketball, called the disparity “disappointing” Friday and promised quick solutions.

In an interview with ESPN, Holzman said the disparity in the weight training facilities available to teams in the men’s tournament and the women’s tournament was not the fault of local organizers.

“The City of San Antonio and its community has done an absolutely tremendous job preparing for, being ready and just embracing our championship being here,” Holzman said. “The issues that have been noted are the responsibility of the NCAA. They’re not the responsibility of the City of San Antonio.”

After the NCAA acknowledged the issue, organizers started making calls and quickly filled the practice space inside the Henry B. González Convention Center with equipment.

“We all jumped into action,” said Jenny Carnes, vice president of San Antonio Sports, which is the lead local organizing entity for the tournament. “I’ve never seen a weight room built so quickly.”

Over the weekend, San Antonio Sports picked up roughly 70 pieces of equipment it borrowed from the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, including treadmills, weight racks, rowing machines, and exercise balls.

San Antonio Sports also purchased some equipment from San Antonio’s Fitness in Motion, as well as Fringe Sport in Austin. Those costs will be reimbursed by the NCAA, Carnes said.

“Everyone was leaning in to help. We just happened to be an organization that had what they were missing,” said Sandy Morander, the YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s president and CEO.

She said the fitness organization has had an excess of exercise equipment that was going unused during the pandemic.

The YMCA is a part of the local organizing committee for the women’s NCAA championship. Previously, it provided stationary bikes for each practice court, which players use to stay warmed up.

Morander, a former athlete, said the weight training flap highlights the need to bring more resources for athletes on women’s teams.

“I think everyone understand the economic difference,” Morander said, referring to the fact that men’s basketball typically pulls in far more revenue than women’s. “But if we’re ever going to level the playing field, we have to provide some equity for college athletes doing the same thing.”

The new equipment has been well-received by the athletes.

Oregon’s Sedona Prince, whose viral posts originally brought attention to the paltry weight room offered to the athletes, thanked the NCAA and its women’s basketball division for listening. “All of the teams appreciate you,” she tweeted.

But the original disparity between the men and women’s weight rooms was just one of the inequalities highlighted last week by social media and the national press. Critics pointed to the differences in branding between the two tournaments, with the men’s championship hyped as “March Madness” and the women’s referred to more generically.

Critics have also pointed to a difference in the food offerings for athletes, as well as the COVID-19 tests. USA Today Sports reported that the women’s teams were using coronavirus antigen tests, which provide faster results but have a higher chance of missing an active infection. Teams in the men’s tournament have been tested with PCR tests, which health professionals consider the gold standard for coronavirus testing.

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 began 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.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.