Sports

What It’s Been Like at the First Women’s March Madness

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It’s laborious to flee Cocky the Gamecock on the College of South Carolina. The mascot’s statue stands prominently on the quad, and its garnet feathers are displayed on doorways and banners throughout campus. Nowhere is that extra obvious than at Colonial Life Enviornment, residence to the highest ladies’s basketball workforce within the nation.

However as followers crammed the stands within the first and second rounds of the N.C.A.A. ladies’s basketball match final weekend, new iconography emerged for the primary time: the “March Insanity” emblem.

After 40 years of competitors, the ladies’s match is beginning to extra intently resemble the lads’s, a minimum of on the floor. That features the usage of the March Insanity language, a trademark that, till final fall, the N.C.A.A. had reserved for the lads’s match. So whereas Cocky was nonetheless on the courtroom Friday and Sunday, March Insanity banners, merchandise and decals competed for followers’ consideration.

Credit score…Sean Rayford/Related Press

It was one among a handful of modifications carried out by the N.C.A.A. after a viral video finally 12 months’s match led to a landmark overview that detailed inequities between the lads’s and girls’s occasions. Right here’s how the modifications have panned out to this point, in what some coaches and gamers say needs to be simply the beginning.

Banners, towels, digital shows, inflatable indicators, cookies, socks — the March Insanity picture was seemingly omnipresent on the 16 ladies’s match websites.

These watching on tv had been additionally capable of see the emblem superimposed on the courts (match organizers stated decals might be utilized to the ladies’s courts beginning within the spherical of 16 video games this week, which might be performed at impartial websites reasonably than on the residence arenas of prime groups).

Followers, athletes and coaches observed the distinction.

“It’s loads — it feels completely different,” South Carolina’s coach, Daybreak Staley, stated Friday. “It doesn’t really feel like we’re at our residence fitness center. I do know it’s a bonus for us, however you possibly can’t inform from strolling across the constructing and seeing all of the signage.”

The deafening cheer of followers at websites across the nation had the numbers to again it up: The N.C.A.A. stated the primary and second rounds of the ladies’s match set an attendance report of 216,890 folks, simply above the earlier report of 214,290, set in 2004. The lads’s match drew greater than 348,000 followers within the first two rounds.

A built-in fan base helps: The highest 16 ladies’s groups hosted the primary and second rounds a lot to the delight of their supporters — and criticism by some visiting groups. The house-court format has been used for a number of years however was scrapped in 2021, when the whole match was held in San Antonio, Texas, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At South Carolina’s recreation towards Miami on Sunday, Leah Moore, a longtime Gamecocks fan, was happy with the turnout of 9,817. “It’s good that the ladies are displaying that we will just do as a lot as the lads can do,” she stated. “We are able to deliver our followers, identical to all the lads can, too.”

The ladies’s match was expanded from 64 to 68 groups (the quantity the lads reached in 2011), including an inaugural First 4 spherical, the earliest video games of the competitors.

Florida State, Missouri State, DePaul and Dayton competed because the lowest-seeded at-large groups, all No. 11 seeds. The 4 lowest-seeded computerized qualifiers — Howard, Incarnate Phrase, Longwood and Mount St. Mary’s — additionally performed, as No. 16 seeds. None made it out of the primary spherical.

Final 12 months’s ladies’s match, held in a Covid bubble, drew criticism for the variations within the N.C.A.A.’s choices of weight rooms, meals and present luggage for women and men. In accordance with the N.C.A.A., each women and men acquired the identical swag this 12 months, together with a baseball cap, socks, bag tag, pocket book and sleeveless sweatshirts.

LeLe Grissett, a graduate pupil guard for South Carolina, stated she hadn’t observed a change within the presents from final 12 months. “What we’ve got, I don’t suppose it’s a distinction,” she stated, including that she had seen a few videos of women’s players not becoming into shirts that had been included of their present baskets.

Mementos, presents and branding can solely go to this point. “The work will not be executed,” stated Nina King, Duke’s athletic director and the chair of the Division I Ladies’s Basketball Committee.

“We are going to proceed to be sure that we improve the ladies’s championship and ensure that it’s the absolute best ladies’s sporting occasion in our nation,” King stated.

Staley agreed and harassed the significance of extra substantive modifications like a proposal to regulate the N.C.A.A.’s income distribution mannequin, which incentivizes funding in males’s basketball on the expense of the ladies’s recreation.

“It’s a very good begin to shedding among the inequities that occurred previous to this match, and it’s cool for the primary 12 months,” Staley stated. However, she stated, “We’ve to look means down the years — 5, six, seven years — as a few years because it took for them to uncover what was taking place to our match.”

Some gamers had been additionally cautious concerning the modifications. Camille Interest, a junior heart for North Carolina State, stated the N.C.A.A. was doing “a greater job of attempting to be extra inclusive and numerous within the issues that they do.” She added, “This a step, however I feel there may nonetheless be extra issues sooner or later for us.”

She steered extra ladies’s sports activities wanted to be seen on community tv. (ABC has proven a handful of afternoon video games this match, however most video games have been on ESPN’s cable channels.)

“Have us on there and provides us an opportunity to carry out and present that we’re nice,” Interest stated. “And we’re among the greatest athletes that there are, that there could be.”

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