Lawmakers call out NCAA for ‘inadequate progress’ as March Madness begins

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Three congressional lawmakers have slammed the NCAA in a letter to President Mark Emmert, accusing the organization of making “inadequate progress” in addressing inequalities regarding the treatment of male and female athletes.

Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York, Jackie Speier of California and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey singled out the March Madness basketball tournaments in their letter, which was sent mere days before this year’s tournaments begin. In it, they said that the NCAA was “violating the spirit of gender equity as codified in Title IX.”

Emmert was also directly called out for his failure to implement some of the recommendations that were identified by the external review commissioned by the NCAA last summer. The review came after several inequities between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments went viral last year. Last month, the NCAA said it had taken important steps to resolve the issues.

“The shortcomings at the women’s basketball tournament last year have been well-documented and extensively covered,” the NCAA said Tuesday in an emailed statement in response to the lawmakers’ letter. “Although our work is not done, we are focused on the many improvements made since then that provide students across all our championships with a lifelong memorable experience.”

The letter also notes that one of the key recommendations to create a chief business officer role — which would oversee the NCAA’s media partner relationships with CBS/Turner and ESPN, the Corporate Partner Program, and branding and marketing for all championships — was not implemented.

Additionally, there has been no change to the leadership structure beneath Emmert. Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball, still reports to senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt rather than Emmert.

Internal emails from the NCAA were also cited in the letter. Said emails highlighted the disparities present at last year’s tournaments, including the food. NCAA staff declined offers from sponsors and non-sponsors to help with the food situation when female players showcased how their food was not equal to that given to the men.

LA Sparks player and former Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike offered to give each of the 64 teams a $500 DoorDash gift card. That offer was declined due to the NCAA’s sponsorship deal with Uber Eats.

This year’s tournament will have some changes. The field has been expanded to 68 teams, and for the first time, the women’s tournament will be using “March Madness” branding.

However, the on-court branding will have to be digitally added to the broadcast by ESPN through the first two rounds of the tournament. According to the NCAA, the regional sites make it impossible to ship and install March Madness-branded courts by the start of games. Signage will still be present inside the arenas.

“It’s a practical issue in this case,” Women’s Basketball Coaches Association President Cori Close said. “It’s not that they’re not willing to spend the money. I really do hope there’s as much signage in as many areas.”