Just two years ago, at March Madness, the men’s weight room looked like this:
By contrast, the women had almost no equipment:
But there was much more disparity.
March Madness Gender Inequity
The NCAA culture neglected the women.
We could have looked at the meals women were served or the funding they lacked. At the men’s dinner, the buffet included steak, grilled asparagus, potatoes au gratin, chopped salad, and carrot cake. The women got a plastic container with three soggy veggies, mashed potatoes, and a mystery meat. During 2019, the NCAA spent $53.2 million on the men and $17.9 million on its women.For broadcast revenue, the men stood alone while the women were undervalued within an ESPN apckage. Then, making it all worse, the women could not even use the March Madness name or logo at games.
All shifted, though, when the weight room image went viral. Forced to recognize it had to allocate more to the women’s games, the NCAA made some changes. They increased the number of female teams and spent more on the women. In 2022, when the men get a gift box that included a notebook, a sleeveless hoodie and a baseball cap, the women received a gift box with a notebook, a sleeveless hoodie and a baseball cap. They also made sure that creating equal lounges meant the men and women each had 28 pillows.
Not even remotely about pillows, the task is dismantling the decades-old organizational structure and culture that perpetuated gender inequities.
Our Bottom Line: Patriarchal Systems
Economist Nancy Folbre can help us grasp why the March Madnes tilt to men remains. Although she discusses the patriarchal systems that shape houshold inequity, March Madness is comparable. The reason? Both have a powerful network of men that controls resources. Faced with the pressure to change, the NCAA would have to eliminate jobs and implement new procedures. As Folbre says, the labyrinth of traditions that lead to gender inequity is tough to unravel.
Or, as the NCAA funded report on gender inequity concluded:
“The primary reason, we believe, is that the gender inequities at the NCAA—and specifically within the NCAA Division I basketball championships—stem from the structure and systems of the NCAA itself, which are designed to maximize the value of and support to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as the primary source of funding for the NCAA and its membership,”
My sources and more: Nancy Folbre gives us the ideal framework for understanding where March Madness went with equity. In The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems and her Bruegel interview, we see the challenge of change. The, we can apply her framework to the facts from the NCAA equity update and these Sports Illustrated March Madness updates, here and here. And finally, Michigan State had the 2023 facts.