During the lead-in to March Madness, the NCAA took a lot of fire for inequalities between the men’s and women’s workout space, swag bags and hotel facilities available for tournament participants.
Out of an abundance of caution, I looked into how many games the six best basketball conferences scheduled and played for their men’s and women’s basketball seasons. Keeping it to conference-only games meant the resources and restrictions around COVID-19 testing would be more likely to be equivalent for each team in the game, as well as having the same amount of scheduled match-ups for everyone in that conference. What I found would shock any athletic department administrator that insists that men’s and women’s sports are treated equally.
Well, you know, they’d say they’d be shocked to learn that in five of the six major conferences I looked at, the men finished significantly more of the scheduled games than the women did. The Big XII is the fascinating exception with all 10 women’s teams playing 18 conference games, and there’s a reason for that.
Let’s look at the teams that had some of the lowest completion percentages in each conference.
Overwhelmingly, those teams were the women’s squads. Of the 152 teams I looked at, 32 played less than 80% of their conference schedule. Only nine of those teams were men’s, including national champion Baylor. The three lowest were all women’s teams that cancelled their season one (Duke), two (Virginia), or three (Vanderbilt) games in. Now, I’m feeling sporting, so let’s see that first graph of each conference if we remove the schools that had one of their teams cancel their season.
Look at that, removing that much dead weight makes the ACC and SEC within a smidge of being level. The other reason I was feeling sporting is because I can beat up on Duke some more. Their schedule page has a link to their game programs for matchups against Louisville and Virginia Tech around New Year’s. The Blue Devils announced the cancellation of the remainder of their 2021 season on Christmas. Given that the program includes the postponement of the Dec 22 game, whoever put that PDF previewing the Cardinals and Hokies together might have done so after the season was cancelled. I appreciate them posting through it.
The three teams that cancelled their season also didn’t have much in the way of postseason dreams. Duke was four games into their new coach’s career after two seasons of slightly-above-.500 play. Vanderbilt had been scuffling under Stephanie White for a while. Virginia was 25-41 overall since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Let’s go back to the Big XII. On October 25, the conference announced their women’s basketball schedule. The actual text is quite short, but whoa nelly that “all dates subject to change” was what I like to call a load-bearing phrase. I compared the plan of when games would be played in 2021 to what actually happened to help answer the question:
I even generously gave credit for an Oklahoma - West Virginia game that was scheduled for Valentine’s Day but was moved up a day! Looking at the games by week helps show what happened.
There were supposed to be seven games between February 21 and the start of the Big XII tournament on March 11. 13 more games were slotted in that time frame. When you set your own deadlines, you can create this kind of slack for yourself and yes this is great work advice from your friends at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter.
The Big XII men’s basketball schedule was similarly structured, so why was one able to fit in the rescheduled games and the other wasn’t? Again, we look to national champion Baylor. When they paused basketball activities the second time, it was after a February 2 win against Texas. They next stepped on the court February 23 for their originally scheduled game against Iowa State. After the final scheduled game against Kansas, Baylor could only fit in three additional games before the start of the Big XII tournament. When one team has so many cancellations they can’t make up every game, that also means another team has a game cancelled.
What does this mean, aside from nobody in the ACC cares that much about basketball? (Nobody played their schedule, that’s why they are not on my chart.)
Well, first off almost everyone bit off more than they could chew. The Big XII could have finished all their games because they built in some flexibility in their schedule, and basically needed every extra day to pull it off. The Pac-12 women decided to do a full round robin starting in December, and that didn’t work. Secondly, there is in fact a difference in how men’s and women’s basketball was treated.
The NCAA Tournaments reflected what had already happened the prior three months.