The most equitable Final Four of all time?

The NCAA will crown a national champion of its men’s basketball tournament this evening, but only after its women’s championship and a novel all-star game dedicated to showcasing athletes at historically Black colleges and universities served as incredible appetizers

The University of South Carolina captured its second national title in five years with a convincing win over a blueblood of the sport, the University of Connecticut. The title game and the marketing leading up to it was larger than it had been in any preceding year, thanks to a public relations nightmare over inequitable treatment of athletes at men’s and women’s tournament sites.

But there’s still a long way to go. While it may have been the best produced, best-exposed women’s tournament in history, it still was the first year the women’s tournament was even allowed to use ‘Final Four’ branding. And there’s still much-needed dialog about inspiring true equity by combining the men’s and women’s Final Four.

From Front Office Sports:

In 2013, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman suggested hosting both Final Fours in the same city in a white paper — though the NCAA largely ignored the idea. But after last year’s report by Kaplan Hecker & Fink agreed, the NCAA finally commissioned a formal review.

  • The Kaplan report said the idea could increase ticket sales, enhance media coverage, and ensure an equitable experience given the NCAA’s problematic corporate sponsorship program. 
  • Two potential concerns, per the papers: the logistical hurdle of finding a host city for such a large event, and fears of the women’s tournament being “overshadowed.”

The gender issue gets an indirect salve from the NCAA’s handling of the inaugural HBCU All-Star Game. This contest, produced only for men participating in Division I and Division II HBCU basketball, delivered a competitive game with quality production that stayed true to HBCU roots and themes.

From HBCU Gameday:

The game, the brainchild of former HBCU head coach Travis L. Williams, was more than two years in the making. Williams began planning the event, which was set to debut at 2020 Final Four in Atlanta. But then the pandemic hit, altering those plans. While that delay could be viewed as a setback, in many ways it may have helped amplify the event. HBCUs have received an increased level of interest, including publicity from mainstream media.

The HBCU All-Star game was far from the first time one was played with HBCU players — but none of those games have had the visibility of a platform such as CBS. That’s big for HBCU basketball at a time when there is currently just one HBCU product (Tennessee State’s Robert Covington) currently in the NBA.

If there’s a complimentary place to showcase the growing audiences for women’s and historically Black basketball, this past weekend showed what’s missing and what is yet still possible. But can the NCAA position these needs and support players having more power and consumers being more socially conscious, while still meeting the needs of corporate sponsors and power five conference movers and shakers?

In the end,

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