After the viral videos and outrage over the gender inequities at the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, which were followed by an external review by the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, the NCAA offered women’s basketball a few new things, the most notable of which was the ability to use the term, “March Madness.” 

While people have been referring to the NCAA Women’s Tournament with that expression since it launched in 1982, the fact is it could not be used officially or displayed in any manner. That changed this year and the signage was everywhere. According to several coaches, players were genuinely excited by this. As we mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX gender inequality is still very real, but at least the players felt validation as they reached the crescendo of their season.

This season was owned by the University of South Carolina, which remained the top ranked team in the nation from week one to the title game on Sunday evening. Dawn Staley was named the 2022 NCAA Division I National Coach of the Year, and junior Aliyah Boston owned pretty much every Player of the Year honor.

There was more television coverage than ever for the women’s game as well as positive marketing. The documentary “The Queen of Basketball” won an Academy Award. As student-athletes began to explore their ability to monetize their name, image and likeness, some female ballers nabbed top endorsements.

Although it may seem silly, nothing spoke more to me about rising interest in the women’s game than the coverage of the Final Four on ESPN2. While the games ran on ESPN with the regular commentary team, two icons of the game, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, delivered historical gems and their hilarious yet still respectful take on the games. To me, that honored the rich history of women’s basketball while also giving diehard fans something different and off-beat to enjoy.

A reflection on this season would not be complete without a mention of the growing social justice activism of student-athletes. Columbia University’s women’s basketball team had a season-long campaign directed at allyship and supporting Black women for which every member of the team signed on.

The Big East Conference celebrated Black History Month by partnering with the Black Fives Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to research, preserve, showcase, teach and honor the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball. This week, the NBA unveiled the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Trophy for the league’s annual Social Justice Champion Award. 

There has indeed been progress, but so much still to do. We can celebrate this moment, but just like top athletes do, it’s back to work as soon as possible.

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