Editorial, Opinion

Women’s domination soars beyond the court during March Madness | Editorial

March Madness is the most exciting time of the year for college basketball. The few weeks of this tournament are jam-packed with games Thursday through Sunday, friends and families make brackets rooting for their favorite teams and social media is ablaze with basketball fans betting on who will take home the Naismith trophy.

This year, everyone can agree that women dominated March Madness on and off the court.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

Men’s sports have traditionally been more popular and received more attention than women’s. But this year, the women’s March Madness tournament was saturated on our television screens and social media feeds.

The University of Iowa and Louisiana State University Elite Eight game on April 1, in which Iowa beat LSU 94-87, had an average of 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, making it one of the most-viewed games in any sport besides NFL football in the past year.

The Iowa and University of Connecticut Final Four game on April 5 broke the record for the most-watched basketball game ever on ESPN, with an average of 14.2 million viewers tuning in to see Iowa defeat UConn 71-69.

And then there’s the championship game from Sunday, in which 18.7 million viewers watched Iowa fall to South Carolina 75-87 — the first time in history that a women’s final has drawn more TV viewers than the men’s. Sorry, this was the one you lost, Caitlin Clark.

This year’s insane domination by and appreciation for women’s basketball — and women’s sports in general — has been a long time coming.

Speaking of Clark, it costs more to see one of her games than the men’s Final Four. The 22-year-old is currently the all-time scoring leader in NCAA Division I history, prompting a question of why she hadn’t gotten her flowers sooner.

This season was chock full of stars besides the Iowa guard. LSU’s Angel Reese became known for her infectious energy and trash talk on the court. South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso sunk a miracle, buzzer-beating three-point shot in the final seconds of the semifinal.

Attendance being through the roof must also feel incredible for the players. That much-deserved recognition surely boosted morale and brought such high energy and gameplay across all teams.

Beyond basketball fans, even non-sports fanatics got invested in this year’s tournament and the female players who commanded it. 

Social media has been flooded with March Madness content. TikTok videos of LSU coach Kim Mulkey screaming at her players in colorful outfits and edits of Clark, Reese and other key players in their element have made their way onto everyone’s “For You” pages.

Filling out a bracket for the March Madness tournament has always been an activity for anyone to join in on — but this year, those participants who weren’t well-versed in player stats and each team’s record had a little bit of knowledge to influence their bets.

All of this attention marks a major shift from several years ago, notably 2021 when the NCAA was called out for its incredibly disparaged treatment of the men’s and women’s tournaments in the March Madness COVID-19 bubble. 

This year still isn’t perfect. The women’s Elite Eight games were played with mismatched three-point lines on the court. This wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in the men’s tournament.

It’s also worth mentioning that the arenas where each tournament was played are of strikingly different sizes. The State Farm Stadium, where the men played, has more than 63,000 seats, while the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where the women played, has about 20,000.

But we’ve still come a long way from Oregon player Sedona Prince’s infamous “weight room” video.

That being said, if physical markers are to be noted, 2022 was the first year that the NCAA used the “March Madness” branding on the women’s tournament. It was about time.

It’s not just “women’s basketball” anymore — it’s just basketball. And good basketball at that.

It’s great to see women getting the credit they deserve this season, both on and off the court. Buick highlighted female players in its “See Her Greatness” campaign. Clark joined State Farm as an ambassador — their first college and female athlete.

There may be questions of whether this surge in viewership is the result of the star power on the court — Clark and Reese, among others, are going pro, but will they take the tournament’s audience with them?

Regardless of how long the hype around women’s basketball lasts, this year’s March Madness tournament was one for the history books.

Maybe next year’s has the ability to break more backboards, beat more buzzers and smash more records.

This Editorial was written by Opinion Co-Editor Lauren Albano.

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