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Women’s basketball is having a moment. And it’s long overdue

Caitlin Clark isn’t just the best show in women’s basketball right now — she might be the best show in sport. 

The 21-year-old Junior from West Des Moines, Iowa led her native Iowa Hawkeyes to a 30-6 record and the No. 2 seed in the Seattle 4 Region of March Madness, averaging 27.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game on 47/39/84 shooting splits this season. Clark won the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year award after becoming the first player in NCAA Division 1 history, man or woman, to record over 900 points and 300 assists in a single season.

But it all paled in comparison to what Clark did against Louisville in the Elite Eight, dropping 41-10-12 on 11-of-19 shooting — including 8-of-14 from three — to become the first woman to record a triple-double in NCAA Tournament history and the first player to record a triple-double featuring at least 30 points. Clark scored or assisted on 70 of Iowa’s 97 points in the 97-83 win, which is a tournament record for most points created by a player in one game. And the performance sent the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four in 30 years.

More than that, the game showed the sports world that women’s basketball is having a moment right now. Because even if you are one of the few people not watching the Women’s March Madness tournament, you cannot argue with the results: Sunday’s Iowa-Louisville game on ESPN drew more TV viewers than any NBA game ESPN has aired all season, with almost 2.5 million people tuning in. And while tickets for the Men’s Final Four tickets are going for as low as $99, you won’t get tickets for the Women’s Final Four for less than $323 (which, it should be noted, is being held in a smaller stadium). This is coming fresh off the most-watched WNBA playoffs since 2002.

Some of the current excitement around women’s basketball is based around Clark, a walking highlight reel who shoots like Steph Curry and passes like Scottie Barnes. But there is no shortage of highly-skilled and highly-entertaining women dominating college basketball, including Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, a fiery guard who scored 27 points for the Cardinals in their loss to Iowa; LSU’s Angel Reese, a versatile forward who isn’t afraid to talk some trash and is changing the narrative of what is “acceptable” for women in the sport to do; and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last year’s Naismith Player of the Year and a dominant post-hub who led the Gamecocks to an undefeated season after averaging 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds on 56.8 shooting, and the likely No. 1 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft this summer.

Plus, there is an exciting group of young Canadian women playing in the NCAA who are becoming harder and harder to ignore. In fact, we are witnessing the most stacked field of young Canadian women in our country’s history right now, with players like Aaliyah Edwards at UConn, Shayeann Day-Wilson at Duke, Cassandre Prosper at Notre Dame, Yvonne Ejim at Gonzaga, and Laeticia Amihere at South Carolina, a big x factor the rest of the tournament and a lock to get selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft and become the fourth Canadian player in the WNBA next season. There is also an exciting group of high school players that will take center stage at the Biosteel All-Canadian Games this weekend. 

At the same time, we are seeing record WNBA viewership numbers in Canada over the past two seasons. And this summer, Toronto will host a preseason game between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky, the first WNBA game played in Canada. As WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert put it, “this is the way to assess the popularity of the sport in Canada,” which got off to a good start as the game sold out a 20,000-seat venue in Scotiabank Arena within minutes. 

The increased viewership, attendance and excitement around women’s basketball in Canada and the United States is the culmination of years of grassroots work and incremental growth in the areas of representation, resources, and investments that are finally paying dividends and giving these women the proper platform to shine — a platform that provides women with all the resources they need to perform at a high level and fans with the accessibility to watch these games. 

Remember, it was only two years ago that the women’s tournament was marked by controversy when the NCAA thought it could get away with providing the women with significantly fewer resources than the men — including virtually no weight room at all. And it was only last year that the women got the “March Madness” branding for their tournament as well. 

It’s still far from a perfect world when it comes to the inequities of women’s basketball — after all, it’s hard to play catch up after decades of the NCAA negating the sport and major corporations refusing to invest in it — but things are undoubtedly heading in the right direction. 

And the most exciting part for the sport may be that the attention being paid to this year’s March Madness tournament does not seem to be a one-off. Instead, it appears to be the start of something new: an era where the women’s tournament regularly outshines the men’s tournament and becomes the pinnacle of the college basketball season.

Think about it: four of the five best male basketball prospects are not playing in college this season. The projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama, plays in his native country of France, likely No. 2 pick Scoot Henderson opted to play his last two years with the G League Ignite, while Amen and Ausar Thompson play with Overtime Elite, meaning it’s likely that only one of the first five picks at the upcoming NBA Draft will come from college. Plus, ESPN projects that only one of the top three picks in the 2024 NBA Draft will come from college, with Bronny James’ upcoming decision on whether he wants to play in the NCAA or take an alternative route looming as a potentially monumental choice for the future of men’s college basketball.

Meanwhile, ESPN projects that all 12 players selected in the first round of the 2023 WNBA Draft will come from the NCAA. Simply put, that is where all of the best young women play, and it is the only clear pathway to the pros and WNBA. Add in the fact that the best players are now getting paid through NIL deals while in college, and it feels sustainable that all the best women will continue to play in the NCAA for the next few years at least.

(As a quick aside, there are pros and cons to this. Men can play in high-level domestic leagues in their native countries or join programs like the G League Ignite or Overtime Elite because these relatively new alternative pathways exist for men, and they simply don’t for women, who have to follow a much narrower path. Plus, international students cannot get NIL deals through American companies, making it much harder for Canadians and other internationals to make significant money while in college. However, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction that most women can now get paid for playing college basketball while being seen by national audiences without having to compete with men for said audience’s attention). 

For right now, at least, all of this comes back to Clark. Her Hawkeyes will take on Boston and Amihere’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the Final Four on Friday in a game that has all the makings of an all-time classic — one that will likely decide this year’s national champion.

All eyes will be on Clark, Boston, Amihere and, more generally, the sport of women’s basketball. And going forward, because of how much the game has grown, it will no longer be such a rarity that that’s where everyones’ eyes fall. It’s been a long time coming.


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