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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The Caitlin Clark Effect

How A Legend Changed Women’s Basketball
Photo by John Mac, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the buzzer sounded off and the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks celebrated their 87-75 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday, April 7, to win the NCAA women’s national basketball championship, the camera panned to Caitlin Clark, who couldn’t help smiling despite losing the final game of her college career.

Regardless of who won or lost on April 7, women’s basketball came out as the ultimate winner after the title game, as it has been all season, with Clark as the leading catalyst. The 22-year-old senior point guard’s last three college games broke the record for the most viewed women’s college games ever played.

Iowa’s games against LSU and UConn reeled in 12.3 million and 14.2 million views, respectively, while the national championship game pulled in 18.7 million viewers—making it the most watched basketball game played at any level, including the NBA, in the last five years, according to Front Office Sports.

While on the podium to receive her trophy and celebrate with her team, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley took the time to acknowledge Clark for her impact on the sport.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said. “She carried a heavy load for our sport and it just is not going to stop here on the collegiate tour, but when she is the number one pick in the WNBA draft, she will lift up that league as well.”

The Indiana Fever hold the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, which takes place on April 15. But Clark has already made an impact at the professional level before even being drafted.

According to the WNBA, 36 of the Indiana Fever’s 40 games will be nationally televised in the upcoming season, compared to the single game that was televised this past season.

Why all the attention and spotlight on Clark? Because she’s simply that good.

“She’s the face of college basketball for men and women,” said Dan Patrick, sports broadcaster and radio host, on an episode of “The Dan Patrick Show.” 


Record breaking season

Clark capped off her illustrious four-year college career with an all-time record-breaking season, in which she passed Kelsey Plum’s record on Feb. 15 for most points scored by a player in women’s NCAA history.

Then she broke the men’s NCAA record on March 3 for most points scored all time—a record that was previously held by the late Pete Maravich for 54 years. Her feat makes her the leader for most points scored by anyone, man or woman, in college basketball history as she finished her career with 3,951 points across four seasons.

Five days after breaking Maravich’s record on her way to 35 points and a win against Ohio State, Clark hit her 163rd three-pointer of the season, passing Stephen Curry’s record for most threes made in a single season by a man or woman in college basketball history.

After Clark’s record-breaking game, Curry went on CBS Mornings to speak about her performance. ​​

“I’ve been watching from afar and understanding just how much of a power she is out there on the court,” said Curry. “The cool part is the way that she plays, and her range, and the level of difficulty on her shots is obviously a very close comparison to the way that I play.”

Clark has earned comparisons to both Maravich and Curry, averaging 31.4 points, 8.9 assists, and 7.6 rebounds on the season while shooting a blazing 37.8 percent from three point range. Clark accumulated these nation-leading numbers with deep threes that electrified crowds and perfect passes to set up her teammates to score.  

Following the career-high 49-point game in which she dominated Michigan while breaking Kelsey Plum’s record, former Hall of Fame basketball player and TV personality Shaquille O’Neal went on TNT’s “Inside The NBA” and declared, “I’m gonna go on the record and say she’s the best female collegiate player ever.”


Growth of women’s basketball

Despite all of her on court success, Clark said she hopes she’s most known for the impact she’s had on the sport itself. 

When asked what becoming the greatest player in women’s college history meant o her, Clark said, “I don’t want my legacy to be, ‘Oh Caitlin won x amount of games or scored x amount of points.’ I hope it’s what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball.” 

According to TickPick, the women’s side of the March Madness Final Four sold six times more tickets than the men’s Final Four.

The shift in the sport has some prominent basketball figures saying that the women’s game is more popular than the men’s game right now on the collegiate level.

J.J. Redick, a former NBA player and ESPN basketball analyst, said on the “Mind The Game” podcast. “I think the women’s game, particularly in college, has more icons right now.”

Following a 91-65 win against Holy Cross in which Clark went for 27 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds, Clark spoke to the shift in the locker room,

“People are more excited about the women’s side than the men’s side,” she said. “I think that’s something that’s really never been the case before. It’s cool to see how it’s evolved.”

She added, “When I was a freshman we couldn’t even use the March Madness branding. Now it’s taken to a whole [other] level and I expect it to continue to grow this year, and that’s the coolest thing for myself.”


Bringing in revenue 

On Jan. 4, following an all-time season that saw the 2023 NCAA championship game between LSU and Iowa earning 9.9 million views, and in the middle of a successful 2024 season, ESPN signed a new eight-year, $920 million deal with the NCAA, committing a historic investment  in women’s college sports. 

According to the NCAA, the deal pays $65 million a year annually to the women’s basketball tournament—10 times the current number.

This promotion of the sport has led to more exposure and showcased multiple stars across the women’s game who have made a brand for themselves.

According to On3, which tracks college NIL (Name, Likeness, and Image) deals, three of the top five NIL earners in the March Madness tournament were women.

Caitlin Clark is valued at $3.4 million, earning the number one spot. Star LSU center and 2024 WNBA projected top 10 pick Angel Reese earned $1.8 million at number two, while her teammate Flau’jae Johnson came in fourth at $1.2 million.

Clark draws a crowd of people and gets fans in seats no matter what arena she sets foot in.

According to the NCAA, opposing arenas that host the Hawkeyes see their attendance grow by 150 percent relative to their other home games. These opposing teams have included Northern Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska, which experienced sold-out crowds for the first time in their schools’ history when playing against Clark and the Hawkeyes.

“The spotlight she has put on this sport is amazing,” said Northwestern senior Jasmine McWilliams. 

“Going to the Elite Eight, Final Four, all that last year was, first of all, great for the Big Ten and showcasing how great our teams are here, but also just showing how great women’s basketball is. And the fact that she’s selling out all these stadiums everywhere she goes is amazing.”

Clark has additionally generated a lot of money for her home school. According to Vivid Seats, average ticket prices at Iowa University have gone up 224 percent since 2020, Clark’s freshman season. 

Days away from the April 15 draft, Iowa Athletic Director Beth Goetz announced that Clark’s No. 22 jersey will be retired and hung up at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena at Iowa, an appropriate ending for a legendary career.

“We always knew your jersey would be hanging in the rafters,” said Goetz. “There will never be another 22.”

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About the Contributor
Azane Massey, Staff Writer

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