18:28 ET

Mechelle VoepelESPN.com.


Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voipel began covering women’s basketball in 1984 and joined ESPN in 1996.

NCAA Vice President of Basketball Operations Dan Gavitt apologized Friday in a video conference call with the media, admitting that the NCAA was defeating its purpose because of a wide disparity in strength training opportunities, particularly at the men’s and women’s tournaments held in Indianapolis and San Antonio, respectively. He also said he hoped the outcry that subsequently arose on social media would help the NCAA improve internal communications.

But coaches like Dawn Staley of South Carolina and Geno Auriemma of UConn, whose teams placed No. 1, say it reflects the general inequality women face.

The NCAA also questions the differences between the gift bags given to male and female players, the dietary options available and the type of COWID-19 test administered to both.

In response to the latter question, Auriemma told reporters this week that his female players undergo daily rapid antigen testing, while the men’s team undergoes standard PCR testing for the coronavirus, raising questions about why basketball players in men and women are tested differently. Antigen tests that look for a specific protein on a virus are cheap and fast, but medical experts generally agree that they are less accurate than the standard PCR test.

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Later Friday, the NCAA issued a statement noting that the NCAA Medical Advisory Panel on COVID-19 has recommended that daily PCR testing or daily antigen testing are equally effective models for championship basketball, and recommended choosing the testing approach that works best with local provider and health departments.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, meanwhile, said Friday in interviews with The Athletic, USA Today and The New York Times that there should have been no difference in weightlifting training equipment. He said there was less communication and cooperation between the men’s and women’s committees due to the problems with COWID-19, but added that this was no excuse. He said the issues with food service to women’s teams are being resolved and that the differences in testing have to do with the specific testing providers in Indianapolis and Texas, but that the NCAA has confidence in both. Emmert thinks the gift bags are just as valuable, though photos on social media suggest not.

Gewitt said his job is to oversee and coordinate all aspects of the championship.

We deliberately organized basketball under one roof for consistency and cooperation. If we don’t meet those expectations, it’s my fault, he said.

I apologize to the student-athletes, coaches, and basketball committee for letting the issue of training facilities in San Antonio slide. We’ll fix it as soon as we can.

NCAA Vice President for Women’s Basketball Lynn Holtzman also joined Gavit via video. She said she and her staff met Thursday night with coaches and administrators from all 64 teams to get information on facilities and possible challenges for the women’s tournament, which will be played in the first round in San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos before traveling to San Antonio for the rest of the tournament. She said improvements will be made to the weigh-in as early as Friday.

Holtzman says that because of her background as a basketball player in the 1990s, she was particularly trying to avoid the kinds of inequities just pointed out.

I think there are relevant issues and challenges in terms of equity, Holtzman said. I have lived in this world. I’ve had the experience of not having one. That’s why I’m so nervous. It is our responsibility to give them a great championship experience they can be proud of. That’s disappointing. I have no words to describe how much this hurts me personally.

Ms. Staley, who spoke via video link from San Antonio, said she felt Mr. Holtzman was in a difficult situation.

It takes us back to the beginning, when the NCAA announced that the men had a tournament in Indianapolis, Staley said. And in a month, [the women’s tournament] will be over. This is a contradiction in terms. If you have a men’s and women’s championship, wouldn’t it be better to have it at the same time? I don’t know why they didn’t work together. You have to ask the people who made the decision to do this. Because it immediately makes you think of everything.

Later on Twitter, Staley noted that it is unacceptable that there are inequities in the gymnasiums and facilities available to women’s basketball teams, and called on Mark Emmert and his team to recognize this shortcoming and address this and general problems that exist in our sport.

It’s sad that the NCAA is not willing to recognize and invest in our growth, despite its statements about community and equality, Staley wrote in his post. We all came to San Antonio with one goal in mind: It’s time to pay attention to our teams’ preparation for this competition. But it’s also time for NCAA officials to rethink their focus on women.

Friday night, Staley also posted a photo on Instagram of a pre-packaged takeout dish her team received during the women’s NCAA Tournament bubble, to highlight the difference in culinary experience between the women’s and men’s tournaments.

Dozens of NBA and WNBA players criticized the NCAA on Twitter and elsewhere after the disparity between the men’s and women’s tournaments was revealed on social media.

That shouldn’t happen in our community, Nets guard Kyrie Irving said after Friday’s game. It’s about time. This has been going on for years, and we only have social platforms to reinforce it, but we need to make a change, not only in the NCAA, but in youth sports with girls.

Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry added on his Twitter page: wow, let’s go now! @martcrazy @NCAA you guys are tripping.

Auriemma is not in San Antonio because he is sequestered at his home in Connecticut after testing positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. But via video link, he talked about the big difference in treatment, including the fact that the NCAA also hosts the men’s NIT tournament but not the WNIT.

It was for life. This is not new, Auriemma said. What happens at the NCAA level is just a small sample of what happens every day on every college campus, usually across the country.

We’ve had good luck at UConn, but that wasn’t the case in the past. I’ve been fighting the same thing for over 20 years.

Auriemma said he was very pleased with how things were going at UConn – but he also won 11 national championships. He said school presidents and athletic directors really need to work toward more equal treatment.

And not only that: Let’s give them enough so they won’t come to my office and stop complaining, Auriemma said. There are a few other coaches in America like me: I’m lucky. They work just as hard elsewhere, and they’re probably not [lucky].

UConn assistant coach Chris Daley, who will replace the Huskies’ head coach in Auriemma’s absence, was a player in her early eighties at Rutgers, where she last won an AIAW championship in 1982. The AIAW and NCAA held national women’s basketball tournaments in 1983 before the NCAA eventually took over. Daley believes that the NCAA organizers never intended for there to be a difference this year, but that important things were overlooked.

We’ve come a long way, but we’re still not where we need to be, Daley said via video link from San Antonio. I would say Lynn did well last night, they listened to the coaches. Let’s hope they make some big changes before we have to have a social media explosion to get everyone to see the difference.

On the one hand, it is unfortunate that this has happened, but on the other hand, it has been responded to. Hopefully he improves not only for the rest of the tournament, but also for the future. We’ll look at it differently. There will be more eyes.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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