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Regional Interests

Coaches Speak Up After Report Finds NCAA Undervalues Women’s Sports

Following the release this week of an external review that found that the NCAA has underfunded and undervalued women’s sports for years, many female college coaches and athletes are coinciding with the report’s findings.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Danielle Donehew, executive director of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association said that the report’s findings validated the concerns expressed by many female coaches in the sport.

“The report is exhaustive,” she said. “The report addresses every issue of great concern, including branding, marketing and staffing of the women’s championship.”

The review was prompted in March after the NCAA came under fire by athletes and fans after a video of the minimal equipment in the women’s weight room at the organization’s championships was posted by University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince.

The video, which immediately gained traction and was widely critiqued on TikTok, showed that the NCAA did not provide the women’s Division I basketball teams the lavish amenities that it did for the men’s tournaments. The NCAA commissioned the review shortly afterward.

Led by New York law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, the report recommends reforms to the NCAA’s basketball programs. It calls for a combined Final Four tournament and changes to the organization’s leadership structure, media contracts and revenue calculations.

“With respect to women’s basketball, the NCAA has not lived up to its stated commitment to ‘diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators,'” the report states.

On Thursday, KQED spoke with Tara VanDerveer, the head women’s basketball coach at Stanford University with a record of over a thousand career victories, to understand how the report’s findings could impact women’s basketball for years to come.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KQED’s Natalia Navarro: How does this report inform the long-standing inequalities that you’ve noticed?

Tara VanDerveer: It’s a battle to deal with the disparities between how the men are treated at the NCAA tournament and how women are treated, whether it’s the weight room, the food, hotels accommodation, all kinds of things have really come to the forefront and need to be discussed and changed.

Tara VanDerveer, head coach of the Stanford women’s basketball celebrates after cutting down the net during the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 04, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. VanDerveer has described as a “battle” dealing with the gender disparities in the NCAA. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

What other specific examples of differences between the way the men’s and the women’s teams are treated have you seen?

Well, this past year is how we were tested for COVID-19. Antigen testing for the women versus PCR testing for the men. PCR testing is the gold standard in testing. Just the promotion of the tournament, the fact that the men’s tournament gets just so many more resources that go towards the production of the men’s tournament versus the women’s tournament, signage, making the tournament feel like a big-time event. The men will have a big concert, whereas the women don’t have that entertainment. It’s something that’s lacking in the women’s tournament right now and hopefully will be changed.

What kind of impact could these findings have in changing the culture of college sports?

The perception of women’s basketball, by the NCAA and promoted by the NCAA, was that women’s basketball was a loser financially. But in fact, through top media consultants, women’s basketball could be a major contributor to the NCAA’s and colleges’ athletic departments’ coffers.What are you seeing in the way women and men’s teams are treated on the financial side?

So much of the content we see on television is not just dictated by viewership, but companies willing to sponsor women’s sports. And we really need corporate sponsorship to step up and value women’s sports in the same way that they value men’s sports. And we need sponsorship, not just for television, but other platforms and support of the tournament. I think that corporate America understands that women spend a lot of money and that there are so many athletes, so many female athletes, so hopefully, those corporate sponsors will get on board.

What can universities do to make a change?

Well, I think universities can help promote women’s sports. They can make sure that on their campus, women are treated fairly and equitably. Let me be really clear, the men’s tournament is a great tournament and it is the cash cow right now of universities in the NCAA. Football is totally separate but the NCAA men’s basketball does support a lot of their programs. But women’s basketball and other sports can be revenue sources as well.

This post includes reporting by NPR’s Josie Fischels.

Copyright 2021 KQED