Big Ten, NCAA placing emphasis on women’s sports

At Big Ten Basketball Media Days Thursday, commissioner Kevin Warren announced initiatives to further women’s sports in the league.


Grace Smith

Iowa women’s head basketball coach Lisa Bluder talks about Iowa defense during Big Ten Basketball Media Days at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. “Defensively, I think we look much better but I guess the proof is in the pudding when we see it on the court.” Bluder mentioned the team changing certain aspects of their defense to give the girls more confidence. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten Conference, along with the NCAA, is putting an emphasis on supporting and airing women’s sports ahead of the 2021 winter season.

At Big Ten Basketball Media Days Thursday, conference commissioner Kevin Warren announced that the league created a new executive role ahead of the 2021-22 season — vice president of women’s basketball.

“It’s important because this individual will be the leader from our women’s basketball standpoint,” Warren said. “We will have a designated person who will lead those efforts, which is incredibly important.”

Warren noted Thursday that 52 percent of programming on the Big Ten Network in the upcoming season will be women’s sports.

The 2021 Big Ten Basketball Media Days also marked the first-ever time when men’s and women’s conference basketball coaches appeared on the same stage at the same time. 

“It’s really kind of hard to put into words just how important this is,” Nebraska women’s basketball head coach Amy Williams said Thursday. “… Right now, we’re at a very pivotal time in women’s basketball. I think there are a lot of people that are paying attention to and finding ways to grow our game.

“One year ago, there was a lot of attention drawn and brought to women’s basketball in some of the ways and areas that we were not kind of matching up or doing everything we could for our student-athletes and for our sport,” she added. “It’s a great time when that attention is grabbed nationally across the country to make change.”

The NCAA came under fire last March for disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball weight rooms at its national tournaments. 

The weight rooms for the men’s teams at the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis featured squat and lifting racks, cardio machines, and various dumbbell sizes. The weight rooms for the women’s teams in San Antonio, however, only had yoga mats and dumbbells up to 30 pounds.

The NCAA remedied the issue after multiple college men’s and women’s basketball players took to Twitter to point out the disparities. 

“Can you believe one weight rack made this much difference,” Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder said Thursday. “And that’s really what it was — one person taking initiative to use social media, and really raising awareness about the inequities that were going on. It’s just made the NCAA have to open their eyes and hear what’s happening. I think as women’s basketball coaches right now, we have an opportunity, we have an opportunity to keep building awareness about the inequities, and keep fighting to straighten things out.”

Now, the NCAA is taking another step to reduce disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — starting in the 2021-22 season, the NCAA will use March Madness branding for the national women’s basketball tournament.

“It seems like such a little thing, doesn’t it,” Bluder said. “Those two words, I mean March Madness — are you kidding, like it was that protected that we couldn’t use those two words. And everybody associated NCAA basketball, men’s or women’s, with March Madness, and yet we couldn’t use those words. To me, it almost seems childish.”

The NCAA is also looking into holding a joint Final Four starting in 2027, with men’s and women’s basketball games in the same weekend in the same city. Sites for the Final Four basketball tournaments are already locked in through 2026.

The women’s basketball 2022 Final Four and title game will be held at the Target Center in Minneapolis, while the men’s will be at Tulane University in New Orleans.

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