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It's 'game on' for equality in NCAA athletics

The women's Final Four is coming to Minneapolis, and this year will showcase the most equality between the men's and women's March Madness tourneys to date.

MINNEAPOLIS — On April 1st the NCAA women's Final Four comes to Minneapolis. It was a year ago glaring inequities between the men’s and women’s tournaments went viral. It's something the NCAA and the local organizing committee has worked to correct before the tip-off this year.

Dr. Nicole LaVoi is the director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. She’s also had a very busy year on the organizing committee for the Women’s Final Four at Target Center and is ecstatic to welcome the high caliber athletes to our city.

“It’s really a time to showcase women’s sport,” Dr. LaVoi said. 

Dr. LaVoi is confident this year’s tournament will look and feel much different than previous years. Some of it stems from Sedona Prince’s social media post from last year's event. The Oregon player pointed out the inequities between the men’s and women’s training facilities.

“It’s really got a lot of people, policies, movement and resources going now to rectifying this historic problem,” said Dr. LaVoi. 

New this year, the NCAA will brand both men's and women's tourneys as "March Madness." Both tournaments now have 68 teams, and LaVoi says even things like swag bags will be the same for all players.

RELATED: After scathing report, NCAA makes changes for March Madness

“There’s very specific strategies that are in place to ensure that the student athletes experiences, the fan experiences and the tournament experiences are very similar,” Dr. LaVoi said. 

Overall, the gap in spending between the men’s and women's tournaments has been narrowed by millions and is much closer than the $35 million difference in 2021.

It appears change is hitting like a tidal wave. But Dr. LaVoi has been in the system for years, creating ripples to have woman equally supported and valued within NCAA athletics.

“When you have a male dominated, male led, male centered system like sport and you want to change that it is going to take a lot of effort,” said Dr. LaVoi. 

The playing field is still far from even, and people like Dr. LaVoi will continue to champion the cause until a proper commitment is made to women’s sports.

“When you invest in women’s sport you will get the same return on value as you do in men’s sport and women’s basketball is a perfect example of that.”

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