San Antonio is quiet at the start of the women’s basketball tournament

SAN ANTONIO – It would not have been unusual in San Antonio for the past few days to see a women’s basketball team walking from its hotel to the coronavirus testing facility at a nearby conference center.

It would be the largest group of pedestrians carrying basketball goods in the city at the start of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament.

San Antonio is not sleepy. Residents and tourists are here for the nightlife, food and warm weather, and there is a 50 to 50 chance they have masks on the outside, despite the local recommendation that people wear them on the country’s property.

But here for basketball? No – not yet.

“Some people have asked where we come from, what game we’re playing, and they know the tournament is here,” Skyler Curran, a junior guard from High Point University, said in an interview Sunday after her virus test.

The first matches of the 2021 women’s basketball tournament took place on Sunday, days after images and statements about inequalities between men and women were spread on social media, highlighted by differences in workouts, meals and virus tests.

“We’ve all been through the same things this year, we’ve all taken the same precaution,” Curran said. ‘We all work for the same thing every year – and especially for us the first time we were here, and we were excited for the experience – and to come here and see that our facilities and their facilities are essentially better because they men is, it was super frustrating. ”

According to NCAA spokesman David Worlock, players and staff are tested daily in their hotels. All of these tests are polymerase chain reaction tests, which are more sensitive and less likely to produce false negatives than rapid antigen tests, which women teams receive primarily.

“With the clear difference between women’s and men’s tournaments, the message sent to our female athletes and women around the world is that you are not valued on the same level as your male counterparts,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. , wrote in a statement posted on Twitter on Saturday.

Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, apologized in an interview with The New York Times and other organizations for setting up the training room and described the situation as “disappointing”.

But the differences between the two tournaments extend beyond the facilities and testing. Fans are not allowed to attend games in San Antonio and nearby cities until the round of 16, Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president for women’s basketball, said in an interview Thursday. The men’s tournament in Indiana has allowed a limited number of spectators from the start.

For the first time at women’s matches, six members per individual in a team’s travel company can enter the stadium. All matches starting with the round of 16 are played in the Alamodome, which is cut through a curtain to designate two lanes and will allow up to 17 percent capacity including staff, teams and supporters.

In Indianapolis, the centerpiece of the 2021 men’s tournament due to concern about viruses, it’s hard to make a turn without seeing a massive “March Madness” banner over an air wall, a bracket attached to the face of the JW Marriott Hotel hangs or a pop-up merchandise stands T-shirts, hats and water bottles with colleagues basketball insignia.

Not in San Antonio. Signs hang on lampposts near the Henry B. González Convention Center with the caption “San Antonio Is Tourney Town, March 21 – April 4” or “Final Four Ladies 2021, San Antonio,” if a passerby is close enough to distinguish them . Police cars are at the venues used by the tournament, but are otherwise inconspicuous.

The airport and hotel lobbies in Indianapolis are decorated with ‘March Madness’ signs, and there are tables with trinkets for sale, stickers with logos and social recommendations. San Antonio offered some floor stickers, official signs with the caption “NCAA Women’s Basketball, Only Team Entrance,” and clipboards with printed pages to advertise the Final Four.

Precautions taken in accordance with local health authorities to limit contact and spread of the virus within the so-called controlled environment prevent those who are not part of the members of athletics programs or officials who would come into contact with them from entering places used by the NCAA, including food delivery servers and even lower-level officials.

Coronavirus cases have been trending in the San Antonio area for several weeks, according to Anita Kurian, the assistant director of the city’s public health department. There have been an average of less than 300 new cases a day in Bexar County, Texas over the past week, according to a New York Times database.

Players and staff will stay in their individual rooms throughout the tournament and meet virtually unless they go to the conference center for daily antigen tests, rehearsals or meetings. According to Paul Jacobs, a travel agent who works at the tournament, two of the hotels that host teams – a Holiday Inn near the River Walk and the St. Anthony – teams everywhere with buses with police cars, regardless of distance. All the remaining teams will move to a centralized hotel opposite the conference center for the round of 16.

Meals, provided by the NCAA or purchased by the programs themselves, are taken in the rooms only, unless coordinated in a team’s meeting room or grabbed at the conference center in the morning. Teams have some autonomy over how they want to meet.

Some can handle the insulation better than others. Curran and her teammates, grateful that they could be in the tournament, play cards online, do schoolwork or otherwise relax when they are not together.

“The new Justin Bieber album came out this weekend, so I listened to a lot of it,” Curran said.

Natalie Weiner contribution made.

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