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Equality Issues Cast Shadow Over NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament In San Antonio

The Baylor-Notre Dame title game in Tampa, Fla., in 2019.
John Raoux
The Baylor-Notre Dame title game in Tampa, Fla., in 2019.

This post has been updated.

Lynn Holzman, the NCAA's vice president of women's basketball, said the organization has started to address disparities between the women's and men's tournaments, specifically the weight room equipment, the quality of meals, and the contents of swag bags.

Images on social media this week showed a single rack of dumb bells in the women's weight room, compared to a fully-fitted weight room offered at the men's tournament.

The NCAA has provided a much larger weight room for the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament happening in San Antonio after the social media posts went viral.

"The issues that have been noted are the responsibility of the NCAA. They're not the responsibility of the city of San Antonio. They have conducted women's final fours, men's final fours in the past and other NCAA championships, and I'm sure they will in the future," Holzman said.

On Saturday, the NCAA tweeted a photo of a new weight room for the players.

The problems emerged only days before the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament's first round of games start on Sunday.

Holzman, who came up the ranks of woman's college basketball, said she understood the disparities.

"It hurts, and when people passionately care about something, in this case woman's basketball, our fans, our student athletes who are playing this game, [it] is our responsibility to give them a great championship experience and one they can be proud of. It is disappointing. I don't even have the words," she said.

Holzman said coaches, the host committee, and hotels were contacted to address the disparities. She said issues concerning swag bags were also investigated.

San Antonio's State Sen. José Menéndez said in a statement on Saturday that the "National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should be embarrassed for their inequitable treatment of women. It should not have taken a video highlighting this inequity for action to be taken. We should all be outraged at the continuous mistreatment of women in sports and our society.”

By midweek, all 64 teams had arrived in San Antonio. More than 2,000 players, coaches, and referees stayed in seven downtown hotels. COVID-19 safety protocols called for teams to be kept apart from each other.

"They each have their own floor but the movement of the elevators has to be timed in order for them to as a team to move down the elevators to walk in the secure corridor outside to the convention center for testing," Holzman explained.

COVID testing was performed every day. So far, over the last two days, only one person has tested positive.

The COVID-19 safety protocols also included some technology. All players had to wear a safe tag device during practice and games. The safe tag device can record which players were within six feet of each other and for how long.

Holzman said the tags could help stem the spread of COVID-19 should a player test positive.

The safe tags can be worn like watches, on lanyards around the neck or in pockets.

Kinexion, the Germany-based manufacturer, said the devices were not GPS trackers and would not capture a person's location.

Games were scheduled to begin on Sunday. The NCAA schedule explained that the tournament culminates on April 4 with the national championship game at the Alamodome, where seating capacity is limited to 17%.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the city would not allow fans at its facilities during the early rounds of the tournament.

"There will be obviously players' families in attendance, but as far as the early rounds of the tournament, there won't be any fans in attendance at the Alamodome."

Early rounds will take place at the Alamodome, UTSA, and St. Mary's in San Antonio, along with Frank Erwin in Austin and the Texas State University Events Center in San Marcos. The Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four and the championship games will take place at the Alamodome.

The San Antonio area is well-represented on the tournament's courts.

Three players come from Texas teams. Baylor junior forward NaLyssa Smith attended East Central High School; Texas senior guard Kyra Lambert went to Steele and Clemens High Schools; and Texas A&M freshman guard Sahara Jones attended San Antonio Veterans Memorial.

Also from the area: Deja Kelly, a freshman guard for North Carolina who played for Johnson High School; Amber Ramirez, a senior guard for Arkansas who attended Wagner; Kiara Williams, a senior guard for standard who also went to Wagner; and Gabby Connally, a senior guard for Georgia, who played for Brandeis High School.

"It's exciting that we have seven student athletes coming home to San Antonio that are from here and have really elevated the level of girl and women's basketball in San Antonio," said Jenny Carnes, the executive director of the tournament's local organizing committee, "so it's going be fun to watch them."

Norma Martinez and Jerry Clayton contributed to this report.

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