Ohio State women glad to accept equal stage at Big Ten media day

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State women's basketball coach Kevin McGuff speaks at Big Ten media day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on October 7, 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS – The pictures that surfaced only added insult to injury for Braxtin Miller and her Ohio State teammates.

As the 2021 NCAA Tournaments were getting underway for both men’s and women’s basketball, a social media post by an Oregon women’s basketball player laid bare the inequalities their tournament was facing in comparison to the men. Both were taking place in a bubble-like environment in Indianapolis, but the images of a sad excuse for a weight room allotted to the women helped to bring a festering issue to the surface.

Back home, the Buckeyes hadn’t even been eligible for the postseason after a self-imposed ban relating to an internal investigation into former assistant coach Patrick Klein. It made the images sting even more.

“I think it’s something that women in sports have seen for years,” Miller said Thursday. “This is my fifth year and I’ve been blessed enough to be in situations where it wasn’t anything like that, but in other ways I think that women have seen that so many times and it hurts. You feel like you’re not seen and you just feel like you’re working just as hard for the same things they are and you’re pretty much being told you don’t deserve the same things.

“I loved that people didn’t stay quiet about it and it did go so viral. I thought that was super important.”

The ensuing furor brought about the hope of further change throughout women’s athletics and played at least some role in why Miller was addressing reporters. Inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Miller was sat next to teammate Jacy Sheldon and across the court from coach Kevin McGuff on the first of two media days for Big Ten basketball. For the first time, the league opted to combine its event to include both genders in an effort to bring more awareness and equality to the women’s game.

In his opening statement, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren outlined the fact that much progress is still needed nearly 50 years after the passage of Title IX.

“We all can do better, but it is a focal point of us to do it,” he said. “That's one of the reasons why we're here today in this environment, to show that we believe in equality, that we all can do better. It's the first of many things that we will do together with our women's and men's basketball programs.”

Time will tell what that ultimately looks like. Specifically, Warren said that 52% of all the live programming on the Big Ten Network this year will be devoted to women’s athletics. For Thursday and Friday, it meant at least two players from each women’s team spent half an hour interacting with more than 300 credentialed reporters in addition to behind-the-scenes work and interviews for the conference’s network – the exact same amount of exposure as the representatives for the men’s teams.

"You have my promise that I'm going to do everything that I possibly can, especially from a women's sports standpoint, that we give them the respect that they've earned and provide a platform for them to be able to come together and be treated equally, treated in the same manner that we treat our men student-athletes," Warren said.

McGuff said that he appreciated the opportunity while also acknowledging that it shouldn’t have taken March’s uproar to help make it happen.

“The gender equity review that was generated because of that will benefit us greatly,” he said of the weight room incident. “It was really unfortunate, but it probably needed to happen for substantive changes to happen. Would we be here doing this if that hadn’t happened? I don’t know. Maybe.”

Miller said the Buckeyes as a team enjoy getting behind any chance to increase exposure for the sport or address issues of gender inequality. McGuff said that, while it’s a small step, the women’s NCAA Tournament now also using the March Madness trademark is another positive for the sport. The NCAA is exploring the possibility of holding the men’s and women’s Final Four in the same city, although McGuff expressed some reservations about that idea.

Those conversations continue to grow the hope for continued change. A season that starts with a joint media day and will end with March Madness for all is underway.

“I think that (March Madness) branding is powerful and it helps,” McGuff said. “Obviously there’s a heightened awareness with how we administrate NCAA women’s basketball. I think you’ll see a lot of positive changes. I think it’s long overdue.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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