SAN ANTONIO – NCAA President Mark Emmert promised the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association he will work with coaches to fix the “stark difference” between the Division I men’s and women’s tournaments.
While Emmert noted that a major hurdle was trying to hold both basketball tournaments in a kind of identical format required by the coronavirus pandemic, he added nobody liked the results and nobody wants to see similar issues crop up in other sports in coming months.
“I, too, believe that it’s exactly the right moment to do it,” Emmert said. “You got my commitment, my personal commitment to spend an enormous amount of time and energy on on this problem and and making sure that we don’t lose the chance.”
Emmert and the NCAA’s heads of basketball Dan Gavitt and Lynn Holzman discussed the conditions in San Antonio on Wednesday with members of the WBCA, including two of the Final Four coaches — UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley of South Carolina.
Several differences surfaced over the past two weeks, starting with female players, coaches and staff in San Antonio criticizing the NCAA for not initially providing a full weight-training area to the women’s teams, noting the men’s teams in Indianapolis did not have the same problem.
Questions during the coaches’ meeting with Emmert ranged from the use of “March Madness” for branding, the number of NCAA staffers for both basketball tournaments (12 for the men, six for the women), the budget for both tournaments and why the NCAA doesn’t own the WNIT as it does the NIT.
The WBCA sent a letter to Emmert last week saying the external review he proposed to look into potential gender equity issues wasn’t good enough. In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, the WBCA asked for a “Commission on Gender Inequity in College Sports” led by people chosen by both the WBCA and NCAA.
Staley asked for assurances that the law firm hired by the NCAA to review potential gender equity issues is truly independent.
“Whoever is paying the piper, more than likely they’re going to give you what you want to hear,” Staley said.
Emmert said the Kaplan, Hecker & Fink law firm specializes in Title IX issues nationally and has no prior relationship with the NCAA. E mmert told the AP last Friday the firm would review potential gender equity issues in all men’s and women’s championship events with basketball a key focus.
Muffett McGraw, who retired as Notre Dame head coach last year, said the WBCA has total confidence in Holzman. The former Irish coach noted the NCAA added a rule a few years ago holding head coaches accountable for anything that goes wrong and asked why Holzman doesn’t report directly to Emmert.
“In the gender equity policy that you have, it appears that you have violated your own guidelines in what has happened in San Antonio with regard to the disparity between us and the men. However, it’s not just San Antonio,” McGraw said. “This is way deeper than that.”
Auriemma said the bigger issue isn’t an NCAA problem but exists on individual campuses with presidents and athletic directors. He asked Emmert what he could do to make sure those people give women’s basketball the same advantages and opportunities.
The UConn coach also mentioned how football coaches broke away from NCAA control.
“Maybe that’s what has to happen in women’s basketball?” Auriemma said. “Maybe women’s basketball has got to separate itself from the other women’s sports? But then that would be unfair because we would be leaving a lot of people behind that need our help.”
Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner, who criticized the NCAA on social media last week, asked about the use of the March Madness logos. Emmert told her he’s been studying the branding but there currently is no legal or contractual restraints.
Fortner said the use of “March Madness” and other branding was like “eye candy” that makes a viewer stop and watch on TV. Yet for the women’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, only “NCAA Women’s Basketball” was in the middle of the court.
She also argued the women are a huge potential revenue stream with TV numbers backing that up.
“We’re going to miss a huge window if we don’t change things now, if we really don’t step up to the plate at the NCAA as a whole to really water this sport, to really water this sport, to really give it the attention that it deserves,” Fortner said.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.