Opinion: Sedona Prince has left her mark on NCAA Tournament, women’s sports

SAN ANTONIO — Sedona Prince’s impact on the NCAA women’s tournament will continue, even if she’s no longer playing in it.

Prince and Oregon are headed home after being routed by second-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night. But the inequities between the men’s and women’s games, long acknowledged but rarely addressed, will never again be ignored, thanks to Prince.

“I couldn’t be more proud of that young lady,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said after the 60-42 loss. “Sedona is a marvel. I’m so inspired each and every day by her.

“I’m glad that she stood up,” Graves added. “She’s, quite frankly, made change and that’s super, super powerful.”

For decades, even as women’s basketball has grown and gotten increasingly popular, the NCAA has treated the women’s tournament as an afterthought. Whether that was intention or indifference, the NCAA has devoted considerable resources, support and attention to the men’s tournament while giving the women’s event little more than what it needed to survive.

The men got the “March Madness” brand while the women got the generic “NCAA Women’s Basketball.” The men’s champion got a payout while the women’s winner got a pat on the head.

It was never right, and there was grumbling by coaches and players, some louder than others. But there was never a seminal, line-in-the-sand moment.

Until Prince’s now-viral TikTok.

Let me put it on Twitter too cause this needs the attention pic.twitter.com/t0DWKL2YHR

After Stanford’s sports performance coach posted a photo of the “weight room” at the women’s tournament, which consisted of one rack of dumb bells and a few yoga mats, Prince put the NCAA – and everyone who continues to short-change women, for that matter – on blast. Her video on TikTok not only exposed as a lie the NCAA’s claim that there wasn’t enough space for a weight room, she juxtaposed the measly equipment provided to the women with the state-of-the-art facility at the men’s tournament.

The NCAA blamed it on a lack of communication, and said what Prince showed the world was never intended to be the actual weight room at the women’s tournament. That was going to be set up after the first two rounds of the tournament had finished.

As if that was supposed to somehow make it acceptable.

Prince’s TikTok unleashed a torrent of other complaints, to say nothing of years of pent-up anger. Some of the biggest names in the game – Tara VanDerveer, Dawn Staley, Geno Auriemma – called the NCAA out for its discrimination in blistering fashion.

But the outrage went beyond the NCAA tournament. It touched a nerve with every woman who has been treated as a second-class citizen – which is pretty much all of us – and a distraction that NCAA president Mark Emmert no doubt hoped would be forgotten once the games began has become a full-blown crisis.

Congress has asked the NCAA for answers. Emmert announced that the NCAA had hired an outside law firm to investigate the disparities and the reasons behind them.

And still the furor continues.

“We want to win every game, we do,” Graves said. “But what we're trying to do is build strong, young women who have a voice and feel empowered. I think that's what we're doing at the University of Oregon.”

Oregon forward Sedona Prince, center, celebrates with teammates after a victory over Georgia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Eric Gay, AP)

That Prince would be the player to challenge the all mighty NCAA should come as no surprise to anyone who knows her story. She left Texas for Oregon after her freshman year, her body ravaged by a series of missteps in her treatment for a broken tibia and fibula, and her psyche shredded by what she saw as indifference from the school and her team.

Despite what she and the Oregon staff believed was a compelling case for immediate eligibility after transferring, the NCAA ruled that Prince needed to sit out last season.

“When you think about it in the long run, there's not a lot of care for student-athletes. That sucks because we make the money. We do the hard work. We're in the gym, grinding, lifting, putting our bodies on the line for our sport,” Prince told ESPN in a February story that detailed her injuries and her reasons for transferring.

“We don't feel like we're cared for or represented."

That’s always been the case. But now, the athletes are fighting back.

Prince is among the athletes suing the NCAA over its restrictions on name, image and likeness. And she has the NCAA on its heels, trying to explain how it can justify its unequal treatment of women’s sports and the athletes who play them.

“It’s so amazing that now I have such a big platform,” Prince said last week, “and I’m able to inspire and help so many people and bring so much attention to my sport, because that’s what it deserves.”

Oregon was better this season because of Prince. All of women’s sports will be better in the future because of her, too.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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