By John Bohnenkamp
Lisa Bluder said there are “some really good things” about the NCAA women’s basketball tournament setup in San Antonio.
But the Iowa coach knows that the disparities between what has been made available to the women’s teams as compared to the men’s teams for their tournament in Indianapolis are unacceptable.
“It’s like, ‘Here we go again,’” Bluder said. “It’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”
The tournament is being played in one city this season to create a controlled environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But players and coaching staffs from different teams have pointed out the differences in how they’ve been treated compared to the men’s tournament, from weight-training areas to food to even the gift bags players received.
“We want our women to use their voices,” Bluder said. “We want our women to use their platforms. We want them to speak out when things are not right, because for too long, too many people didn’t speak out when it was wrong.”
“Like Coach Bluder said, it’s one of those here-we-go-again situations,” center Monika Czinano said. “I’m just hoping the more and more recognition that gets put to it, the more the entire nation sees the stuff like that isn’t OK.”
Bluder said she and her staff have worked to make the tournament work for their players.
“To me, we’ve made it as good of an experience as we can, and I’m happy with that,” she said. “But I’m really proud of the women who are using their voices to bring attention to this. And I’m proud of the men who are standing behind us, too.
“Some teams are getting treated better than others. Those teams are not sticking up for everyone else. We have to look out for all of the teams, all of the women’s teams. Not just, like, ‘Oh, my team’s being treated OK, so I’m not going to worry about everybody else.’ As women leaders, we have to make sure all teams are treated the same, and treated well in these situations.”
“I think we’ve done the best with what we’ve been given, and we’re having fun,” Czinano said. “We’re in Texas, we made the NCAA tournament, we’re really blessed to be where we are. Seeing (all of the disparities) is definitely discouraging.”
Bluder, who has now taken 15 Iowa teams to the NCAA tournament, said there have been some positives with the tournament setup.
“We got 64 teams to San Antonio,” she said. “We’ve got great courts that we’re practicing on. They’re tremendous. Yeah, there’s been some areas they could have done better. I can’t imagine what they had to navigate to make this happen.”
Past tournament trips have had some fun to them for the Hawkeyes. But sight-seeing, and everything else, is out while the teams are confined to just hotels and practice areas.
“Now, we just kind of have to like each other, because that’s what we’ve got,” Bluder said.
Past tournaments have been held on home courts for the first weekend. Iowa, the 5 seed in a regional, plays 12 seed Central Michigan at 11 a.m. on Sunday. In a past setup, that game would have been played in Lexington, Kentucky, since Kentucky in the No. 4 seed in the bracket.
“I think it’s tremendous that these are being played on neutral courts this year,” Bluder said. “I think that’s a real step forward for our game. We should be playing on neutral courts. Nobody should get to host when you’re playing in a national tournament. So, yeah, it’s great when you’re a top-4 seed, and we’ve been a benefit of that — we probably would have benefitted from it last year if we had an NCAA tournament. This year, we wouldn’t have been — we probably would have been traveling to Kentucky for games. So I’m glad it’s on a neutral court.”
The Hawkeyes will be in the first game of the tournament, which is something Bluder also appreciates. They have been in San Antonio since Wednesday.
“We got down here so early,” Bluder said. “Usually you play on Thursday (after arriving on Wednesday), right? You’re used to playing right away someplace.
“Everybody wants to get out and get ready to play. I’m glad we get to do it right away.”
Photo: Iowa goes through a practice session for the NCAA tournament on Friday in San Antonio. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)