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Saturday Sports: March Madness Continues Inside And Outside Basketball

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's a tough week, but now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Traveling to the Tokyo Olympics - not so fast. And they call it March Madness for a reason. Oral Roberts upsets Ohio State, and some weighty disparities in the men's and women's tournaments. Here to talk all about it is ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Olympic organizers say they do not want fans, international fans, from outside the country to attend the Tokyo Games this summer. Of course, my first thought - this means B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, won't be able to attend. But in addition to B.J., tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of visitors - what are the calculations they're making?

BRYANT: Well, the calculation they're making is the opposite calculation of the one we're making here. It's just not time yet. And I think that having not had the Olympics last year and having Japan be one of the countries that has really controlled the viruses as well as any of the countries in the world have outside of Australia, that this is a message that we're close, but this is a very big risk, and they weren't willing to take it.

SIMON: Howard, some videos, as they say, went viral this week that shows stark differences in the NCAA tournaments weight rooms for women and men athletes. For the men, it looks professional. For women, you know, it looks like something at a roadside motel. And then we learn late this week that men got gold-standard coronavirus tests. Women's tests were cheaper and less reliable. After all this time and attention to gender equity, how could officials have let this happen?

BRYANT: Well, they didn't let it happen, Scott. It's not an oversight. They did this on purpose. They did what they thought they could get away with. And we all know the differences. We all know that after losing the tournament last year that the March Madness is a billion-dollar product for the NCAA on the men's side. And that's what they give their attention to. And whenever we talk about these subjects, no matter what the subject is, in the United States - race, class and gender can not be discounted, that you have made your decision that the money is the most important thing. But at the same time, you say that you're committed to gender equality, and then you do this. This is another reason why we're really thankful for all the things we complain about with social media that social media exists because it was the athletes who came forward and sent pictures of the unequal treatment. Otherwise, if they had stayed silent, we wouldn't even know about this. So good for them. This is another example of their activism.

SIMON: University of Connecticut women's basketball team - they're elsewhere in the show. Of course, we - there's a profile we have of their great star right now, Paige Bueckers. Haven't won the tournament in five years. What does that say about the state of women's basketball now?

BRYANT: Well, it's good. I think that what it says is that there is more parity. Now, let's not forget, they didn't play last year. But this is what it is, Scott. I think once again, when we talk about misogyny and you talk about not wanting women's sports, you keep trying to find - keep trying to find ways to say that the women aren't - that their game is somehow inferior. If you go back and look, they've only been playing the NCAA Women's Championship since 1982. It's only 38 years. And in those 38 years, OK, UConn and Tennessee have won 19 championships. But if you go back and look at the first 38 years of the NBA championship, the Celtics won 115 by themselves. If you go and look at the first 38 years of the World Series, the Yankees and the Red Sox won 13 championships. This is what happens when you start a sport. And there's a dynasty, and then the talent spreads out. But let's not forget, UConn is still second in the country. There's still 24-1. They're still very much favorites to win this championship. So we've got a little bit more talent spread out. But at the same time, they're still pretty darn good.

SIMON: Very quickly - don't believe anybody who says they had Oral Roberts over Ohio State, right?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Buzzer beaters galore.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.