NCAA improves workout area for women's basketball tournament after outrage about disparity

The NCAA has improved its weight-training facilities for the women's basketball tournament in San Antonio with more equipment having been brought into the convention center where the teams practice.

Teams were working out inside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on Saturday morning. Besides nine practice courts, there are expanded weight-training facilities that now have heavier weights, six squat racks, benches, resistance bands and exercise balls, with everything socially distanced. There also are areas alongside the practice courts with exercise bikes, rowing machines, treadmills, yoga mats and upgraded weight equipment.

"It was great. It's nice. Everything that we needed,'' Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "Our strength coach was pleased, our players were pleased. We appreciate the efforts.''

NCAA vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt apologized Friday for the disparity in the facilities between the men's and women's tournaments, acknowledging the NCAA fell short. Those discrepancies led some, including South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, to say the situation is reflective of general inequality that women's programs are accustomed to dealing with.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer called the disparity "evidence of blatant sexism" and said she felt "betrayed by the NCAA."

"Women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life," she said in a statement Saturday night. "Seeing men's health valued at a higher level than that of women, as evidenced by different testing protocols at both tournaments, is disheartening.

"This cannot continue to be business as usual. There are necessary changes that need to be made."

The National Collegiate Players' Association, a reform advocacy group that has helped organize player protests this year, on Saturday called on the NCAA to address inequality in its sports more broadly and adopt rules that require all members' schools to abide by and enforce Title IX compliance.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches, the coaching organization for men's basketball, put out a statement Saturday in support of the women.

"The NABC wholeheartedly stands alongside our colleagues in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and women's basketball student-athletes in the ongoing push for equal opportunity," NABC executive director Craig Robinson said in the statement. "Coaches and student-athletes across college basketball -- men and women alike -- have endured myriad challenges and sacrifices to reach this point of an unprecedented season, and all are deserving of adequate amenities and championship experiences."

NCAA officials told ESPN's Holly Rowe that one of the issues was that the women's COVID-19 testing area at the convention center takes up a lot of space. Officials also said the large open space outside the women's practice courts, which has been shown in photos on social media, was intended as a "holding area" for teams as they waited for the courts to be sanitized.

The area that now has the expanded weight room is not entirely enclosed, but curtains have been put up around it.

Oregon player Sedona Prince, who called attention to the disparity on social media on Thursday, took to Twitter on Saturday to thank the NCAA for helping to fix the situation.

The original plan was to construct a bigger weight room for the Sweet 16 by converting one of the practice courts for that purpose, since fewer courts will be needed at that point of the tournament. The NCAA hasn't explained why the same facilities wouldn't have been in place for all 64 teams, rather than the final 16.

Much of the exercise equipment now being used in San Antonio was already ordered or waiting to be put together by the NCAA for the original Sweet 16 plan. Officials told ESPN that the NCAA didn't accept offers made via social media from various companies to provide equipment for the women.

Officials again said swag bags for the men and women were of equal value, though some social media posts seem to suggest a disparity. Men's and women's players also have the same "virtual gift suite," where they can select gifts.

As for issues with food availability in the first couple of days that teams were experiencing in San Antonio, NCAA officials told ESPN that it was based on the service of different hotels where the teams were staying. The organizing committee has been working with local restaurants to get different food to those who have been dissatisfied.

Lynn Holzman, the NCAA vice president of women's basketball, said the controversy and how it unfolded on social media "pulled the curtain back on some of the issues surrounding our sport."

"Women in sport and in many other aspects of our lives, we've been fighting uphill battles for years," Holzman told Rowe. "In a lot of ways this is no different. We have to be diligent, we have responsibilities as leaders to make sure the opportunities for our student-athletes ... have the best experience possible.

"This year, that was a miss. That was a communication, operational miss. There are other things for women in sport that are bigger systemic issues that I have devoted my career to, and there's many others who have been fighting these battles. At the NCAA we are committed to supporting our women. Where there are those issues, we're going to address them. I'm going to continue to fight these battles to make sure that happens."

Prince's mother, Tambra, on Saturday said she hopes the NCAA takes this opportunity to be more proactive in creating equal rights for female athletes.

"Instead of enforcing rules that treat college athletes like NCAA property, the NCAA can choose to enforce Title IX to ensure that female athletes are treated equitably in NCAA sports," Tambra Prince said. "The reason this isn't already happening is because NCAA sports doesn't value equal rights for women like it values monopolizing college athletes' name, image and likeness."

ESPN's Dan Murphy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.