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Gender Inequities in March Madness

RENEE RODEN, HOST: Athletes are calling out inequalities between women’s and men’s teams at the March Madness Tournament. But it’s not just basketball, players and coaches of many sports have been asking the NCAA for years to address disparities in how men’s and women’s leagues are treated. Susan Cahn is a professor of sports history at the University of Buffalo. I asked her how gender inequities play out in March Madness.

So we've seen social media videos in the past couple of weeks about the discrepancies at the NCAA women's and men's basketball tournaments. What are they talking about?

SUSAN CAHN: They're talking about decades of such discrepancies and some of them seem small, like a swag bag. But I think they all go to a systemic pattern of discrimination against women that's indicated in many, many ways. And then there's the issue of funding and payouts as well, so that the teams that compete in the NCAA Women's Championship don't get payouts from the NCAA for their appearances, where the men, even if they come and lose right away, they get a fairly substantial payout.

RODEN: Can you explain that a bit more? So if a men's team shows up to the tournament, they get a payout from the NCAA, but a winning women's team does not.

CAHN: Right. So you could win the entire championship and there would be no individual payout to, let's say, Baylor wins at Baylor, isn't going to receive money from the NCAA.

RODEN: Like, how much would a payout be for a men's team for like just showing up? What would that prize money look like?

CAHN: And he hasn't opened its books publicly. It's in the hundreds of thousands. I don't know if it's in the millions.

RODEN: Yeah, I think one of the things I'm struck by is this sort of like chicken and the egg like what comes first, this sort of prioritizing of men's sports, or is it driven by popularity? Is there backing behind the claim that men's sports are inherently more popular?

CAHN: Well, I think there's truth to the claim that they are more popular in terms of following. But I don't know about inherently more popular, I think it's you know, we have centuries now of. Associating sports with men, and so when people think of March Madness, when a lot of people think of March Madness, not me, but they think of men's basketball.

RODEN: A lot of coaches and players have been writing really powerful statements on social media and really calling for change. And then earlier this week, Mark Emmert of the NCAA called Lake, called for an internal review of the league. Have you seen anything like this before? Will this go anywhere, do you think?

CAHN: I think it will go somewhere. I don't know how far it will go. I don't know if the larger, deep seated pattern of unequal resources and unequal respect will change. And there's nothing that Mark Emmert said that makes me think that this will be a really serious review. But I do think this is the most successful pressure that women have put on the NCAA and that they look bad. And those images of the weight room, Sedona Prince from Oregon, her her Tik-Tok videos were just right to the point.

RODEN: That was Susan Cahn, professor of history at the University of Buffalo and faculty expert on gender in sports. The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment about the league.


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