Any remaining pretense the NCAA may have tried to maintain about their supposedly fair and equitable treatment when it comes to men’s and women’s athletics went out the window in the early days of this year’s tournament, when it was revealed that the men’s teams were granted a full array of workout equipment and the women’s teams...well, there are better setups in hotel gyms. The NCAA at least had the decency to not simply lie to everyone’s faces after the inevitable backlash, admitting that the women’s accommodations were lesser and eventually rectifying the situation at the risk of further public embarrassment at the hands of private companies that offered to provide the missing equipment.
There is still one significant difference between the parallel tournaments, one that had escaped my notice until a story from the CBC made the disparity glaringly obvious: why don’t the courts for the women’s game feature the “March Madness” logo?
This being an IP blog, you might expect that there’s an obvious answer to be found in the rights to the image or phrase, but no such easy explanation exists: the trademark for “March Madness” belongs to the NCAA, and as noted in the CBC article, there’s nothing preventing them from using it for both the men’s and women’s tournaments. Certainly there’s no risk of confusion, as it’s evident to viewers whether they’re watching men’s or women’s teams playing.
The answer to the question is one that predates issues of trademarks or rights, and is so obvious that you needn’t have even read the story to arrive at it: the NCAA doesn’t value women’s basketball, and indeed women’s athletic programs, as much as they do their male counterparts. If the lack of a logo isn’t convincing enough, years of undercutting and underfunding women’s sports should cement the case.
But that reasoning fails to fully explain the failure to use the “March Madness” trademark with the women's tournament. Regardless of what they may think or how they value the women’s game, the NCAA is shrewd in one area: using its unpaid athletes to wring every sponsor dollar out of corporate pocketbooks and into their coffers. So why would they not, out of pure, atavistic self-interest, use that trademark and any other tools to derive even marginal dollars from potential and existing sponsors? Whatever bias exists against women and women’s sports surely can’t be as great as the NCAA’s bias towards making money, can it?
Of course, it would be nice to think that the NCAA might, just once, do the right thing regardless of financial concerns and let the women’s tournament be called “March Madness” as well. But if the NCAA ever does the right thing, it’ll surely be by accident.