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Women’s basketball sheds light on continuing gender inequity despite NCAA changes

Coach Cori Close eyes her bench. Close completed her 11th season as the head coach of UCLA women’s basketball this year. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)

By Lauryn Wang

April 1, 2022 5:22 p.m.

This year, the NCAA doled out $5 million to address disparities between the men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments.

The expansion of the women’s tournament to 68 teams, gym equipment, swag bags, hotel accommodations and the official use of the “March Madness” logo are now all the same between the two leagues, among other aspects.

However, UCLA women’s basketball didn’t get a chance to experience these changes. The Bruins missed out on the Big Dance this season and instead accepted a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

While the NCAA owns the rights to the National Invitation Tournament, Triple Crown Sports – a private and for-profit organization unaffiliated with NCAA – owns the rights to the WNIT. As a consequence, the women’s version of the tournament doesn’t have the same distribution model that the NCAA provides NIT teams, with perks such as chartered flights and neutral playing sites.

Before WNIT postseason play began, coach Cori Close said it’s not necessary to reallocate investments in men’s basketball and direct them to women’s basketball. Instead, she said the issues lie in the differences in opportunity.

“I am not asking to re-slice the pie,” Close said. “We need to examine our systems or contracts or broadcast agreements. We need to have the NIT treated the same … so that we have an equal chance to enlarge the pie and to invest in women’s basketball as an asset and as a potential revenue stream.”

Close added that NIT teams are paid to play, while WNIT teams pay to play.

On March 28, the 11th-year coach quote tweeted a video posted by Texas A&M men’s basketball highlighting the team’s journey to New York City for the semifinal and championship rounds of the NIT.

In the tweet, she compared the Bruins’ experience as a WNIT final four contender with the Aggies’ accommodations and journey, concluding that the differences were drastic.

Instead of locking in a trip to the historic Madison Square Garden, UCLA has dealt with a complex bidding process to try – to no avail in the past few rounds – to host matchups. Colleges and universities have to bid on each individual WNIT game, and most teams’ athletic departments end up absorbing the costs of hosting or traveling entirely.

Close said after the 62-59 loss to South Dakota State in the semifinals, the Bruins embraced the challenge of the away game and didn’t make excuses. However, she added that it was taxing to play on the road for so many contests in the postseason, particularly considering the continuous traveling.

“Our group yesterday was split into three groups, three different travel plans. … We got here (Brookings) at about 1:30 in the morning,” Close said prior to Thursday’s defeat. “It’s an opportunity to grow our mental toughness, … but when you talk about a difference in experiences, wanting to have the best student-athlete experience and the most competitive equity we can, it doesn’t quite line up.”

(Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)
Junior guard Charisma Osborne is greeted by her teammates on the bench. Osborne was the first to tweet about the inequities in the WNIT, which received support from her teammates. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)

Historically, the higher-seeded teams earn home-court advantage for every round of the tournament. This was the case for graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn before she transferred to UCLA.

Penn won the WNIT at Indiana in 2018, but said the logistics of travel weren’t a factor for the top-seeded Hoosiers in the postseason.

“My experience was a little different,” Penn said. “I had the privilege of playing all of our games in Indiana at home, so we didn’t have to travel at all.”

Junior guard Charisma Osborne called out the lengthy travel time for the postseason after the Oregon State quarterfinal matchup and was met with some online disapproval, though multiple teammates voiced support for her on social media as she spoke out on the issue.

Close ultimately said the NCAA’s investment in closing the gap between the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments is low-hanging fruit.

There is work that’s been done, there is work that is being done, and there is still work to do, according to Close.

“We have a much more equitable experience than the generations before us,” Close said. “We need to be grateful and full of joy about how far we’ve come (but) we need to have a relentless quest for how far we still need to go.”

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Lauryn Wang | Assistant Sports editor
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
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