Opinion: Fair Shots: Closing the Gap in the WNBA

A photo collage featuring three college basketball players from this year’s Women’s March Madness bracket. From left to right: University of Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, University of Connecticut point guard Paige Bueckers and Louisiana State University forward Angel Reese have had a major impact on women’s sports (Photo illustration via Wikimedia and Unsplash).

Until the 2022 tournament, NCAA women’s basketball was barred from using March Madness branding. The NCAA felt that the women’s game didn’t have enough viewership to merit the March Madness branding, the NCAA’s tournament to determine a national champion out of 64 teams throughout six rounds. Since 2022, it has skyrocketed into the mainstream sports circuit. The stars of collegiate basketball make the game worth watching, and it seems the NCAA is a little late to the party.

The disparity between women’s and men’s collegiate basketball was highlighted in 2021 when a viral video exposed the staggering funding divide between the two tournaments. In the video, the women’s weight room was a small rack of dumbbells and yoga mats, more of a room with weights. Meanwhile, the men’s side was fully decked out in weight benches, with multiple areas to load up the barbells. The practice court was also comparatively smaller than that of the men’s practice courts, mostly in space allowed for usage and the number of courts given to the women. 

The NCAA responded to a picture of the weight rooms before the video was released, claiming the disparity in size was because they did not have the space to fully accommodate the women playing in the tournament. However, the video contradicted this – there was an abundance of space available.

This video sparked an uproar from women’s basketball fans and NBA players alike. Before his passing, the NBA’s Kobe Bryant had a considerable impact on pointing out these disparities. Bryant made an effort to voice his concerns over funding for women’s sports, as well as bring more eyes to the talent of women players. After his passing, NBA players continued to speak out about the lack of WNBA funding. NBA players speaking out has garnered the attention that’s impacted the WNBA’s revenue. 

In 2022, after public outcry reached a tipping point, the NCAA unanimously voted to allow for March Madness branding to be used for the women’s tournament. The decision was a major step towards closing the gap between both sides of the sport. 

Big names bring more eyes to the tournament. Teams like LSU have players like, Flau’jae Johnson, Angel Reese and Hailey Van Lith; Iowa has Caitlin Clark; UConn has Paige Beuckers; USC has Juju Watkins – and so on. These women play with such a passion that it makes sense that their teams would be such high seeds in the tournament. 

Watching these women play brings so much more to the game than what we see on the court.

That said, there is still more to be done for the sport to claim true equality with men’s basketball. This season, the NCAA women’s national championship averaged more viewers than the men’s national championship, but the women’s teams are still not being paid as much as the men’s.

 Units are a standard measurement of money that is set to be given to the respective divisions. In the men’s tournament, units are given to divisions with teams that played in the tournament – money that then gets passed down to the teams. Unfortunately, none of the women’s teams have received units from the NCAA, which brought in $1.2 billion in revenue in 2022, the first year that March Madness material could be used in the women’s tournament marketing.

Alongside the pay discussion, the usage of neutral sites in both men’s and women’s tournaments has come up in conversations. For the men’s teams, all the games starting from the first round are played at neutral sites, allowing for the lower seeds to beat the higher seeds. This is what’s responsible for the “madness” in March Madness

On the other hand, the women’s tournaments are played as home games for the higher seed until the “Sweet 16,” which is then played at neutral sites. This somewhat detracts from the excitement of the tournament because there aren’t that many upsets during the women’s first two rounds due to the home-court advantage. This season, for example, only had four upsets within the first two rounds. This brings some concerns when you compare it to the men’s tournament, which had 13 upsets within the first two rounds – all at neutral sites.

One argument against having all the women’s games not being played at neutral sites is that the NCAA would be losing money due to lack of attendance. There has been a clear disparity in attendance between men’s and women’s tournaments throughout history, which may reveal that the NCAA is hesitant to put the same faith in women’s sports that they do for men’s. There is a new spike in women’s basketball, and this increase could help with neutral sites possibly being used through all six rounds of the tournament.

However, I feel that the play of women’s basketball is similar to what a lot of basketball fans love. The use of the mid-range within the sport is great and adds a more complex look at the sport other than the importance of the 3-point line.

Some coaches argue that having women’s games played at home court would guarantee that money spent on the games returns to the home teams and the NCAA. While I do see logic in this reasoning, I feel that it takes away from the dynamism of the tournament. I understand that people watch March Madness to see upsets; but near the end, we usually see the higher-seeded teams make it to the National Championship, which isn’t as exciting. 

Having these games at neutral sites would raise the stakes, and likely bring more people to watch the earlier rounds of the tournament.

 I’m looking forward to the future landscape of women’s basketball because of the stars who have so many years left. With their talent, they can make big changes, not only to the sport but also to the connotation of women’s basketball overall.

About Seiji McSwain 8 Articles
Seiji McSwain is a first-year student from Las Vegas, Nevada and is a Sport Communication major at Albion College. He writes about any sports topics relating to the NFL, NBA, NCAA, Albion College sports and news about sports journalism. He enjoys watching sports, listening to music and video editing. Contact Seiji via email at sdm13@albion.edu

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting article pointing out the disparities. It’s impressive what NCAA women’s basketball has achieved in such a short time. Time for fairness and tons more growth.

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