For the basketball world, March is the month of upsets, buzzer beaters and underdogs getting a one-time chance to take down a seemingly invincible powerhouse. Last year, the madness bounced off the court and into headlines afterwent viral showing the women’s post-season tournament vastly underfunded compared to its male counterpart.
The female athletes’ training facilities lacked basic equipment, game floors had underwhelming team signage, team meals were lackluster and even the quality of COVID-19 tests provided to players and coaching staff was unequal. The women received daily antigen tests, while the men were provided daily PCR tests, a more reliable detector of the virus.
“The big question sometimes is like what do the men get that we don’t get, but we don’t know that answer because we aren’t at the men’s tournament,” Longwood assistant coach and former Duke WBB player Ka’lia Johnson told CBS News.
This year, ahead of the Sweet 16 in Spokane, Washington, CBS News spoke to three current assistant coaches whose teams have spots in this year’s games about how the tournament experience has improved after a history of inequality. All three women say one particular change may be a sign of things to come.
“One big thing was just to be able to see the ‘March Madness’ logo everywhere you went,” Johnson said.
For years, post-season play for the national women’s title has been called the “NCAA Women’s Tournament,” while the men’s playoff bracket is widely promoted simply as the iconic “March Madness” tournament — a difference in title that some say embodied years of favorable treatment towards male players and teams.
But this year, both tournaments are unified under a collective “March Madness” banner, spurring hope that more equal treatment may follow.
“It is nice to see ‘March Madness’ being used the same as the men,” University of Maryland WBB assistant coach Lindsey Spann said. “Previously it was always referred to as the Women’s NCAA Tournament though it was exactly the same as the men. That is a nice change.”
Kendyl Brooks, a former player-turned assistant coach at Virginia Tech, agrees.
“An exciting change that I saw was this being the first year that the women’s tournament was branded as ‘March Madness,'” she said. “it was cool to see the actual ‘March Madness’ logos being associated with our tournament.”
Spann, whose team is heading to the Sweet 16 this weekend to face off against the number one seeded Stanford University, has noticed other minor improvements as well.
“Smaller changes like the swag bags are now the same as the men for the first two rounds. I anticipate more gear for the Sweet 16 potentially,” she said.
“Women’s college basketball is one of the most exciting sports to watch during this time of year and even throughout the whole season,” said the UMD assistant as she headed on the road. “It is nice to see that we are moving in the right direction getting the recognition we deserve.”
The women’s tournament continues Friday, March 25, in Spokane.