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Terps, Mount St. Mary’s players join chorus of voices decrying unequal treatment in men’s, women’s NCAA bubble

WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — NCAA officials acknowledged Friday that organizers fell short in providing equal accommodations for men’s and women’s programs entering their respective bubbles — following an outcry online that was buoyed by at least two Maryland women’s basketball teammates.

“This is insane!” star freshman Angel Reese tweeted over side-by-side photos showing lesser offerings in the women’s “swag” gift bag than the men’s. In an Instagram livestream Thursday night, Reese, a Baltimore native, aired her grievances with the difference in treatment to over 200 viewers.

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Senior guard/forward Chloe Bibby posted on Twitter, “If it’s not one thing it’s another!”

The online criticism followed a viral video posted on Twitter Thursday by Oregon forward Sedona Prince. In the video, she showed the weight room setup for the women’s teams, which contained just one dumbbell weight rack in a large room with tables and chairs spread out. She then compared it to a video of the setup for the men’s teams, which has an elaborate layout of weights, squat racks and other lifting tools spread out across a room.

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Mount St. Mary’s coach Maria Marchesano, whose team plays Maryland Monday night, lamented how the ongoing controversy is upstaging the program’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1995.

“It just sucks that this is what we’re talking about. I think that’s the biggest downfall,” Marchesano said before describing the workout area as “a slap in the face.” “We’re in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over 20 years, and everything’s being overshadowed with this negative light.”

Also posted online were side-by-side photos of swag bags for the men’s and women’s teams showing the men received far more gifts.

A Maryland women’s basketball spokesperson confirmed a Washington Post report that members of the team had been receiving daily antigen tests for the coronavirus, as opposed to molecular PCR tests. According to the spokesperson, the team received daily antigen tests while in College Park, along with weekly PCR tests and PCR tests after traveling out of state. After the article was originally published, the spokesperson provided an update, saying that the team received its daily test Friday, which was a PCR test.

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The inquiry into the different types of coronavirus tests being administered was sparked by a report that UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said men’s teams are using daily PCR tests and women’s teams are using daily antigen tests.

Antigen tests, which are also referred to as rapid tests, have a higher chance of false negatives than with many molecular tests, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president for women’s basketball, said on a Friday morning conference call, “we fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare in the past 60 days for the 64 teams to be in San Antonio. We acknowledge that.”

Holzman said organizers became aware of the disparities first through social media and “immediately tried to gather the team within [the next few hours] to hear their concerns.” She said they met with each team’s head coach and administrators Thursday night to solicit feedback and possible solutions to fix the inequities they’d imposed on the athletes in San Antonio. Thursday was the first day teams emerged from quarantine to begin practicing.

Regarding the swag bags, “there are some minor differences … relative to the location that we were in, for example, the difference between an umbrella and a blanket,” Holzman said.

Holzman said they are “actively working” on solutions that will be in place by Saturday morning.

“It’s always been my priority to make this event the best possible experience for everyone involved. This is my passion. I care about women’s basketball and women in sports,” Holzman said.

Side by side photos of meals given to the athletes show a buffet given to the men’s players and a single-serving meal in a carryout box given to the women.

“So, not enough space for food options either?” wrote ESPN reporter Sarah Spain in a tweet depicting the two meals.

Thursday night, organizers began working with their San Antonio local organizing committee, which is partnered with the area restaurant industry, Holzman said. The vice president said all 64 teams have a “virtual team host,” which can supply food to the teams directly options that the NCAA did not itself provide, to “have food delivered to the controlled environment.”

“Teams have had the ability, since they came out of quarantine, to have outside food brought in,” Holzman said. “There were some requirements relative to the hotel providing those services, but as I said, we’ve been working to adjust and relax those, frankly.”

Some Twitter users pointed out the disparity could be a Title IX violation. However, while the NCAA’s member institutions fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX because they receive federal funding, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1999 case NCAA v. Smith that the receipt of dues payments from schools does not subject the organization to Title IX compliance.

NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt placed the blame of the inequities on himself, and credited the shortfalls partially on the “ambitious timeline” of putting the women’s tournament in a “safe, healthy and responsible way” and working remotely.

“We can do better. We have to do better,” Gavitt said. “I need to make sure that we are making that a priority. … In this abbreviated planning time period, I think some of those factors have come into play Are they excuses? Quite possibly. But they’re things that I take to heart as things we need to improve upon.”

Four teams from Maryland are competing in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The Maryland and Mount St. Mary’s men’s and women’s teams made their respective tournaments (Mount St. Mary’s men’s was eliminated after losing to Texas Southern in the First Four on Thursday night).

Members of the Maryland men’s basketball team lauded their own weight room setup and the bubble atmosphere.

“Last night, they had like eight weight rooms divided up,” coach Mark Turgeon said Wednesday, “and there were three or four teams in there coming in at different teams and lifting.”

“I thought the weight room was real impressive and the way all the courts are in the hotel,” said junior guard Eric Ayala.

Members of the Mount St. Mary’s team confirmed the disparities in workout areas and food. Redshirt senior guard Kendall Bresee said the players are accustomed to using the same weight room the men’s team uses at their campus in Emmitsburg, not a single rack of dumbbells, a stack of yoga mats and hand sanitizer.

Redshirt senior guard Kayla Agentowicz noted that the men’s teams were treated to buffet-style spreads, while the women’s teams were provided meals of meats, vegetables and breads for lunches and dinners.

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At first, Agentowicz and Bresee expressed their gratefulness for being able to participate in the tournament. But when pressed about the disparities, they acknowledged the troubling inequality.

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“I would definitely say it’s very upsetting,” Bresee said. “We go through the same thing that the men have to go through to get to this place, and I think in the past years, it has also happened. But this year has been so much about equality and women’s rights and this is the year it has actually come to surface and people are talking about it. So I think it’s a good thing that people are talking about it.”

“Especially this year when there’s been so much focus on equality and women’s right, it just wasn’t the year to do it, I would say,” Agentowicz said. “It brought a lot of attention very quickly with a lot of WNBA and NBA players reaching out on Twitter and letting the NCAA know about it.”

Marchesno credited Katrice Dickson, the team’s director of basketball operations, with supplementing the players’ meals with orders of coffees and smoothies from area businesses.

Marchesano heard NCAA administrators’ promises to rectify the situation, but she is not optimistic that corrections can be made before the tournament begins Saturday.

“This event has been in the works for a long time, and for them to be able to fix this sort of enormous problem on the fly with 64 teams in one city, it’s going to be difficult,” she said. “Obviously, they mentioned that space could be an issue, and everywhere we looked around, there’s ton of space. So I’m not really sure where the disconnect from the men’s tournament and the women’s tournament came in. But for them to fix some of these issues and fix them before some people are done, I mean, teams play tomorrow. So for some of these problems to be fixed before the tournament starts tomorrow, I find that kind of hard to believe.”

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