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

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 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 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.

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

"It allows the Bexar County health officials and contact tracers to be able to identify if in fact anyone beyond the individual that may have a confirmed positive," she added.

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

The Germany-based Kinexion 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.

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Brian Kirkpatrick has been a journalist in Texas most of his life, covering San Antonio news since 1993, including the deadly October 1998 flooding, the arrival of the Toyota plant in 2003, and the base closure and realignments in 2005.