The Student News Site of Liberty High School

The Live Wire

The Student News Site of Liberty High School

The Live Wire

A historic season: the rise of women’s college basketball

The 2023-24 women’s college basketball season soared in popularity in comparison to past years, but why?
Ben Soleman/NCAA photos via Getty Images
In an NCAA tournament post game press conference, Caitlin Clark commented on the legacy she hopes to leave, “I hope it’s what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball. I hope it is the young boys and young girls that are inspired to play this sport or dream to do whatever they want in their lives.”

As the final buzzer of the NCAA women’s national championship game sounds, it marks the end of a historic season for women’s college basketball. ESPN saw more regular season viewers than ever before, averaging 476,000 viewers per regular season game. The growth of women’s basketball this season is undeniable. But what is the catalyst for this growth? Former sports journalist John Riehl thinks it’s simply “The Clark Effect.”

“Caitlin Clark is driving what we are seeing. Everyone else is riding in her coattails,” Riehl stated. Riehl covered Iowa women’s basketball starting in 1999 and has watched the program’s ups and downs. He recalls having to persuade his editors to get his pieces front page status.

“When I was writing about them, I had to really push my editor to get them on the front page,” he said. Riehl also discussed the attitude surrounding women’s college basketball during this period of time. 

“At that point in time people thought, ‘Well they’re women’s basketball players, their style of play isn’t interesting to the general fan,’” Riehl said. Twenty years later, everything has changed for Iowa women’s basketball, as well as women’s college basketball as a whole. Iowa women’s basketball sold out every single home game the entire season, along with breaking many viewership records during the NCAA tournament. 

“It started with Caitlin… she has changed everything. She has changed the profile of Iowa tremendously, and raised the profile of women’s basketball as a whole,” Riehl said. But it’s not just Iowa women’s basketball that has grown. Women’s basketball in general has skyrocketed this year at an astounding rate. 

Heather Burns is the Senior Deputy Editor at and runs digital coverage on the website. She has personally witnessed this phenomenon from the perspective of the media. Having attended many women’s NCAA tournaments, this one she says, is the biggest she has ever seen.

“I’ve been to 18 final four tournaments…The excitement level right now around women’s basketball is incredible,” Burns said. Burns believes the excitement stems from the amount of time the players are spending in the league. 

“The men have this one-and-done thing and they go to the NBA, but we [women’s basketball] have teams where you see the stars really build up over 4 years, and you’re able to really sort of develop relationships with them,” stated Burns. 

Due to more opportunities being provided for men by the NBA, many male college athletes will spend a year playing college basketball, and then declare for the draft. Women, on the other hand, are making much more money playing college basketball, due to NIL sponsorships and other brand deals. Burns also thinks that the media attention has opened people’s eyes to the individuality of players, as well as the sport itself.

“Part of it is the people covering it, but part of it is the personalities [of the players], and the fact that the play is so so good.”

While women’s basketball has come a long way, the inequalities are still glaringly obvious, especially as viewership and media coverage expands. Unequal pay and lack of opportunities continue to barr female athletes from reaching their full potential. Burns hopes that through more media coverage, steps will be taken in the right direction.

“We always had a strategy around women’s sports, starting with ESPNW (a branch of ESPN dedicated to engaging people with women’s sports). We’ve always valued women’s athletics, understanding what an important piece they play in our society and in developing an audience,” Burns stated. Burns also emphasized the work ESPN has done this year regarding the coverage of Caitlin Clark.

“…This year we had a plan around Caitlin from the start…We had a running file that kind of showed you how close she was to history, and every game that we knew she was gonna break a record, there was a content plan around it.” Burns is excited about where this sensational season will take women’s college basketball. 

“I think [the future is] incredibly bright, we’re just going to have more stars. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the game to evolve to the place we are with men where women are forgoing years of school to go pro, things like that,” said Burns. Riehl echoes this sentiment. 

“What is going to be interesting is she is going to take that same popularity to the WNBA and raise the profile of the WNBA. But what is going to happen to the college game?” Riehl said. 

Only time will tell what the future will bring to women’s college basketball. Burns is confident that this won’t be the last time we hear about a standout season for women’s college basketball. 

“I think we’re in really good hands in the women’s game,” said Burns.

Don't miss our latest posts!

Subscribe to our mailing list to keep up to date with the Live Wire's newest content!

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Madelyn Johnson
Madelyn Johnson, Social Media Manager
Madelyn is a Junior at Liberty and is a Social Media Manager for The Live Wire. This is her 3rd year in journalism, 2nd year on staff. She runs cross country and track and is also a member of the speech team. In her free time, you can usually find her hanging out with friends and watching romcoms.