Updated: Aug 11
“March Madness” is one of the most popular and recognizable brands in sports. The NCAA’s trademarked “March Madness” brand has turned the men’s college basketball tournament into a must-watch event even for the most casual sports fan. Whereas its notable absence from the women’s basketball tournament has been a silent contributor to the gender inequalities in collegiate athletics. The NCAA has continued to use the “March Madness” brand solely for the men’s tournament even though its trademark registrations would allow for the phrase to be used for both the women’s and men’s basketball tournaments. The stark differences between “March Madness” and the “NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament” for decades has gone underreported in mainstream sports media.
However, that all changed on March 18th, when University of Oregon basketball star, Sedona Prince, went to TikTok to broadcast the disparities at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament by comparing the women’s weight room with mere hand weights and yoga mats with the men’s weight room which had a plethora of equipment. Prince captioned her TikTok: “It’s 2021 and we are still fighting for bits and pieces of equality.” Prince’s TikTok brought to light a much-needed discourse regarding gender equity within women’s college athletics. The TikTok went viral, and the NCAA was called out on a global stage for their unequal treatment of women’s basketball.
The NCAA was then prompted to conduct an external review led by New York Law Firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP of gender equity issues specifically during the NCAA championships and to make recommendations for the NCAA to implement for the future. KHF reached out to all 64 NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball programs that participated in the women’s tournament and the 113-page report found that “The NCAA’s organizational structure and culture prioritizes men’s basketball, contributing to gender inequity.” The report stated that: “The primary reason, we believe, is that the gender inequities at the NCAA—and specifically within the NCAA Division I basketball championships—stem from the structure and systems of the NCAA itself, which are designed to maximize the value of and support to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as the primary source of funding for the NCAA and its membership.” However, as the report found, “nothing could be further from the truth”, as television viewership for the women’s tournament was the highest it’s been since 2014, and an increasing number of women’s basketball players have huge followings on social media that triples their male counterparts.
Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP recommendations included that the NCAA should take “steps to maximize value through gender equity in marketing, promotion, and sponsorships” and to “Use ‘March Madness’ for both the Division 1 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships” and to “Hold the men’s and women’s Final Fours together in one city.” On August 17, 2021, Bryan Fisher tweeted that the NCAA will officially start using “March Madness” branding with the women’s basketball tournament moving forward.
This decision from the NCAA is monumental for the future of women’s college basketball and for women’s sports. As Sedona Prince, stated in her TikTok, “if you aren’t upset about this problem then you are part of it”. With this recent decision to use the trademarked “March Madness” logo, the NCAA is finally making progress to fix the problems for women’s basketball it originally caused.
Hannah is a 2L at Elon University School of Law and host of Podcast “Bars to the Bar” from Hoboken, New Jersey. Hannah graduated from Providence College where she was a four-year manager for the Men’s Basketball Team.
Sources:  Bachman, Rachel, Louise Radnofsky and Laine Higgins. "NCAA Left Women Out of 'Madness' --- the 'March Madness' Phrase has been used Only for the Men's Basketball Tournament." Wall Street Journal Mar 23 2021, Eastern edition ed.ProQuest. 22 Aug. 2021. Sedona Prince (@sedonerrr), TikTok (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.tiktok.com/@sedonerrr/video/6941180880127888646.  Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, NCAA External Gender Equity Review, Phase 1: Basketball Championships (Aug 2, 2021) https://kaplanhecker.app.box.com/s/6fpd51gxk9ki78f8vbhqcqh0b0o95oxq  Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, NCAA External Gender Equity Review  Id.  Id.  Id.  Fischer, Brayn [@BryanDFischer] Twitter, 17 August 2021, https://twitter.com/BryanDFischer/status/1427654842516852738  Sedona Prince (@sedonerrr), TikTok (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.tiktok.com/@sedonerrr/video/6941180880127888646