Nicole Miyoshi | The Poly Post

March Madness reimagined

By Elizabeth Teo, Apr. 23, 2024

In the final game for March Madness, South Carolina took the championship title against underdog Iowa, scoring 87-75, completing an undefeated season and becoming national champions.

The March Madness brand has traditionally been marketed solely for men’s college basketball, where it gained most of its popularity. Any mention of collegiate basketball was automatically thought to reference men’s games, mirroring the NBA and WNBA dynamic.

The tide turned this year with the remarkable performances of players like Caitlin Clark, prompting a surge in gambling on her exceptional performance, garnering more viewership following her journey at the University of Iowa and ultimately the championship game where she was not able to clinch the win.

This single game has become the most-watched college basketball game on record for men and women, peaking at around 19 million views during the game and 24 million in the final 15 minutes.

Clark left her mark with a performance high of 30 points in the championship game, averaging 28.4 per game, beating NBA superstar Stephan Curry’s records for threes in the NCAA season and becoming the all-time leading scorer in the NCAA.

This shift has been massive for the game, especially considering that until two years ago, the NCAA did not allow March Madness branding and marketing for women’s basketball. With a stark difference from today’s mentions of March Madness, women’s basketball was at the forefront of game coverage during their season from 2022-24.

Talking with friends who know nothing about basketball to basketball fanatics, the last two years have been filled with questions like, “Did you see Caitlin Clark’s game?” or “Did you hear about Angel Reese’s technical against South Carolina?”

The Reese versus Clark rivalry has built anticipation for their matchups and ignited discussions about potential double standards in men’s versus women’s basketball, particularly regarding smack talk and game-day aggression.

Though not all talk has been positive about the coming up of these athletes, the press has been asking more questions and giving more time and space to discuss these women and the topic of how the WNBA just got more exciting.

The topic of how other  WNBA players feel about these women coming up to play in professional leagues has come up in social media during the approach of the WNBA draft. Most of the feedback has been welcoming and overwhelmingly positive, seeing the benefit of Clark, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso, joining the league and seeing the future of women’s basketball expand.

However, New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart came with criticism for , mentioning her lack of a championship, implying that to be great, she should have one under her belt. Other comments have pointedly talked about the skill level difference between college and WNBA, begging if Clark is that good.

Diana Taurasi, another big name, playing for Phoenix Mercury, sent a warning out to Clark as she was joining the big leagues, implying she can’t keep up.

It’s surprising to hear such comments considering the WNBA has long been overshadowed by the NBA, striving to demonstrate women’s basketball can be just as captivating, despite lower viewership. Consider as well how social media has pushed for women to support women and the importance of that factor in a male-dominated area.

The negativity toward Clark’s entry into the WNBA may come from a fear of being replaced or feeling threatened by someone who has single-handedly changed how the public has started viewing women’s sports.

Women’s representation is important and supporting women such as Clark who has an astronomical impact on the game has led to a stronger stance on social media about support. Though some come with negativity, a conversation should be had to better understand where it stems from and not jump straight to shaming.

Despite any controversy or any personal opinions, Clark‘s and other college women’s basketball stars’ performance time on the court have opened the door for new talent starting in college to play on a larger stage. The media has their eyes open seeing that women’s sports just got a whole lot more interesting as a topic of Clark making 300,00 dollars vs an average NBA player making 7 million is now a topic of conversation.

Feature image courtesy of Nicole Miyoshi

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