Jim Souhan
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It wasn't just wrong. It wasn't merely inequitable. The NCAA's dismissive treatment of the women playing in the Division I basketball tournament revealed a damning blend of misogyny and incompetence.

The NCAA exists for two reasons — to promote college athletics and make money, and forgive me for listing their priorities in an order that might make their executives' nerves jangle.

When NCAA women's basketball players showed up in San Antonio to prepare for the tourney last week, they were reminded that they are afterthoughts. Instead of impressive, fully stocked gyms like the ones provided to the men, the women found a small pyramid of light weights in a mostly empty room.

They received far less in their swag bag, and poorer food options. A few women players said on social media that they were given a hot dog for breakfast, and because of COVID-19 precautions, players couldn't fare for themselves. Men were even given more reliable COVID tests.

Pressured by the predictable outcry, the NCAA belatedly upgraded the workout facilities and added pink lighting to the workout room.

Don't let them gaslight you. This is a rich sports organization that claims to care about its "student-athletes" but didn't care enough about women to do the right thing until their PR people told them how bad they looked.

Here's why the NCAA is just as misguided as it is wrongheaded: Women's college basketball is profitable. It's one of the best growth stocks in sports. And the NCAA's treatment of women has been like this for-ever.

Don't take it from me.

As the great Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote, "Sick and tired of the chiseling administrators with their million-dollar salaries and monstrous heaps of revenue who act like women's basketball players should be thankful for a uniform that isn't funded by a bake sale.

"The women's basketball tournament ought to be an NCAA flagship event, yet it continues to be treated as some kind of cheap subsidized junior varsity by the book-cooking crooks. All these women do is raise their arc of performance, command steadily increasing viewership and graduate at a sky-high rate of 93%. For which they get petty insults and cheap treatment."

David Berri, the renowned economist at Southern Utah University who writes frequently about sports and equity, noted that in 2002-03, NCAA men's basketball produced $848.5 million. In 2018-19, women's basketball produced $974 million, less than only football and men's basketball, despite receiving a tiny percentage of overall media coverage.

As legendary Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said in a statement, "A lot of what we've seen this week is evidence of blatant sexism. … The message that is being sent to our female athletes, and women across the world, is that you are not valued at the same level as your male counterparts."

Former Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw said in a statement: "We have been fighting this battle for years and frankly, I'm tired of it. Tired of turning on the TV to see `NCAA basketball tournament,' only to realize that of course that means men's. Tired of seeing Twitter accounts called March Madness and Final Four that are run by the NCAA but only cover men's bball."

Dawn Staley, the Hall of Fame player who coaches South Carolina and the USA national team, wrote on Twitter: "What we now know is the NCAA's season-long message about `togetherness' and `equality' was about convenience and a sound bite for the moment created after the murder of George Floyd."

The 2019 women's Final Four set attendance records. In 2021, the WNBA was one of the few sports to increase viewership during the pandemic.

Women's basketball might be the best place the NCAA could invest its wealth, yet it treated women's basketball players, who produce tremendous revenue without drawing a paycheck, like they were afterthoughts.

What's strange about this case is that it's so self-defeating, and was so certain to become a public-relations nightmare, that any competent organization would have simply done enough to avoid the inevitable embarrassment.

What's infuriating is that the NCAA could have saved itself all this trouble simply by doing the right, decent, thing to begin with.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com