The NCAA must do more to address gender inequality in sports. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Has the NCAA Tournament really changed?

In the wake of last year’s tournament, and with this year’s looming, the question remains to be answered. Last season, players and coaches alike flocked to social media to show the world what the behind-the-scenes of being a women’s basketball player is really like.

Tweets and TikToks laid bare the stark differences between the men’s and women’s weight rooms, merchandise, meals and more. The examples just kept coming. The posts gained traction quickly, with retweets and subsequent posts from people like WNBA Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner and NBA Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Things quickly moved outside of just basketball as well, with other women’s sports icons — like Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins — commenting on the inequalities.

“It’s disgusting,” senior forward Naz Hillmon said during last year’s tournament. “To see that, on the biggest stage of women’s college basketball, there are still so many discrepancies in what women and men are receiving.”

Only after the storm on social media — and Dick’s Sporting Goods stepping in to provide a better weight room — did the NCAA even comment on the differences.

“We have intentionally organized basketball under one umbrella (at the NCAA) to ensure consistency and collaboration,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said last season.”When we fall short on these expectations, it’s on me. I apologize to women’s basketball student-athletes, coaches and the women’s basketball committee for dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio.”

This season, things are looking up.

An external gender equity review conducted during the off-season brought about many changes in the NCAA. For the first time ever, the women’s tournament is allowed to use the March Madness branding. Originally reserved for just the men’s tournament, this was a crucial and necessary step in leveling the playing field. 

Another first for the women’s tournament is a full 68 team bracket. Previously, the women’s tournament only had 64 teams. Now the format includes the First Four games that the men’s tournament has deployed, allowing more teams to compete in the tournament. The same external gender equity review recommended the expansion in relation to increasing demand for more competition in the women’s tournament. 

“The NCAA really tried to do a good job in the offseason of evaluating our tournament and evaluating the men’s tournament and trying to figure out ways that they can make it more equitable and ways that they can make the women’s tournament better,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And March Madness was one of those ways. We’re also up to 68 teams.” 

“… It’ll be interesting moving forward, but I know that they obviously are aware and they’re trying their best to definitely make improvements on the women’s side.”

But even with the changes, the question about true changes still remains unanswered. From the outside, it seems as if the NCAA is finally taking the women’s tournament seriously. But it remains to be seen if they’ve truly changed anything on the inside.

If they actually care.

Oregon forward Sedona Prince, one of the many athletes that went viral after criticizing the NCAA last season, posted a TikTok on Feb. 26, one year after her first TikTok went viral. Her caption read “time for more thirst traps and exposing one of the biggest monopolies in America.” 

All jokes aside, Prince’s TikTok highlighted the worries players, coaches and fans have heading into this year’s tournament. The changes made are great steps in the right direction. But are they enough?

Time will only tell if the changes made represent a greater move towards equality between the women’s and men’s tournaments. And with more coaches and players gaining fame on social media, they’re ready to call out any inequalities they see.

So the question still remains. Has the NCAA Tournament really changed? With no concrete answer yet, there’s only one thing to do.

Watch the tournament and find out.