Wolfpack women address disparity in NCAA Tournament facilities

NC State center Elissa Cunane: Weight room issues at NCAA bubble sites show 'just shows how far women's sports has to go'

NC State's Jada Boyd (5) and Kayla Jones (25) celebrate after beating Louisville in the ACC Tournament championship game on March 7 (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Members of the NC State women’s basketball team are focused on Sunday’s opening round NCAA Tournament matchup against NC A&T. But that doesn’t mean they’re blind to the controversy swirling around their sport, a situation created by the NCAA itself through the gender inequality of its tournament sites.

“I see it on social media, and then there’s also we’re living in it, so I definitely know what’s going on,” All-American center Elissa Cunane said during a Zoom conference on Friday. “It’s unfortunate and it just shows how far women’s sports has to go.”

The disparity of facilities and services within the men’s tournament bubble in Indianapolis and the women’s bubble in San Antonio was brought to the public’s attention on Thursday with a series of posts on social media.

The most revealing was a video Tweeted out by Oregon’s Sedona Prince. 

In it, she showed a women’s workout room consisting of a single rack of free weights and some yoga mats, contrasting it with photos of a men’s weight room fully stocked with state-of-the-art equipment. 

Prince said the NCAA’s explanation for the difference in facilities was a lack of space at the women’s venue. But in her video, she showed a large unused area of the room that could have been used for weight equipment.

In addition to the training facilities, disparities were pointed out in the food selections and swag bags being offered at the two sites.

It’s a problem that appears to be in direct violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which according to the NCAA’ official website requires equal treatment of female and male athletes in the provisions of, among other things, equipment and supplies; locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; training facilities and services.

The situation drew widespread criticism, including a scathing letter from South Carolina coach Dawn Staley to NCAA president Mark Emmert, once it became public.

In an official response, NCAA vice-president for women’s basketball Lynn Holzman acknowledged that “some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment,” adding that the NCAA wants to be “responsive to the needs of our participating teams.”

Since then, several private companies — including Dick’s Sporting Goods and OrangeTherapy Fitness — have stepped up to provide equipment for the women in San Antonio.

“I mean, it is what it is,” Wolfpack point guard Raina Perez said of the controversy. “It’s unfortunate because you don’t really expect those things coming to the NCAA Tournament. But at the same time, we try to find the positive in things as a team.”

Teammate Kayla Jones said that she and the rest of State’s top-seeded team is too focused on making a serious run at the national championship to get distracted by events taking place off the court.

“We’re all going through COVID here and we wanted to have a tournament and they made it happen,” the senior forward said. “So we’re just excited to play games and to be here. I think in this moment, I’m just grateful that there is an NCAA tournament this year. We came to win games at the end of the day.”