“Do the men have showers?” one softball coach said. “For us, we don’t have the opportunity to shower. We just get in our bus and go back to the hotel.”
But under the microscope focused on the NCAA’s treatment of women athletes, there may be no better contrast than the men’s and women’s College World Series.
Both the baseball and softball championships have become marquee events in the heartland cities that host them, with large sellout crowds, and drawing similar audiences on ESPN. But the tournaments remain unequal. Softball athletes play in a stadium with less than half the capacity and subpar facilities, and their tournament is condensed into a much smaller window than the men’s. And that’s after what coaches describe as a years-long battle with the NCAA for such basic amenities as bathrooms, which were eventually added, and showers, which they’re still waiting for.
Jacquie Joseph, who has spent three decades as the head coach at Michigan State University, said the events of last month were the tip of the iceberg at the NCAA championships.
“Women’s basketball is the premier women’s sport,” Joseph said. And yet, she said, even they were left with “scraps” compared to the men.
“When I saw that, what I wanted to say is, imagine how we feel, the rest of us? They’re the chosen ones, and they’re treated like afterthoughts. What’s lower than an afterthought? That’s us.”
A solution that stunk
The men’s College World Series is one of the NCAA’s marquee championships, drawing an average of 22,000 thousand fans per game to Omaha every spring to watch future pros ping balls around the $131 million TD Ameritrade Park.
But on television, the Women’s College World Series draws nearly as many viewers as baseball. While the ratings for the NCAA men’s basketball championship far outstrip the women’s, the softball tournament drew an average of 1 million viewers over the 2019 tournament, according to ESPN, while baseball drew 1.1 million.
ESPN, which airs both championships, considers the sports to be roughly equal in value to the network, according to a person familiar with the sports’ television rights. The network paid $500 million in 2010 for the right to broadcast the two events, along with the women’s basketball tournament and nearly two dozen other championships, until 2024.
The NCAA declined to comment.
In Oklahoma City, the Women’s College World Series has become a marquee event in its own right: ESPN has dubbed it “the center of the softball universe.” Coaches and players praised the city for its dedication to softball and said the event — the biggest stage most softball athletes will ever have a chance to play on — was a positive, memorable experience.
But the venue where the tournament is hosted, the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, has lagged behind the men’s facilities for years by virtually every measure. Coaches recall a series of frustrating battles with the NCAA and their hosts for the most basic amenities.
Until 2011, there were no locker rooms; players changed into their uniforms at their hotels or on the bus. There were no bathrooms in the stadium dugouts, forcing players to run along the baseline or into the stands to share bathrooms with fans. When coaches begged for bathrooms, they arrived the next year at the tournament to find a Port-a-Potty waiting for them in the dugout.
“I used to tell my players to go before the game, because how would you like to be caught coming out of a Port-a-Potty on national TV?” one coach said. “And then there was the smell.”
The NCAA has been part of a push to get Oklahoma City to improve the Hall of Fame Stadium over the years, including a renovation that added changing rooms and, in 2014, dugout bathrooms. The stadium remains the country’s premier softball facility….