Success and Setback Within Women’s Sports

Success and Setback Within Women’s Sports

By Caitlin Chatterton ’27; Image by The Sporting News

Just weeks ago, college basketball’s biggest month culminated in the Final Four, with the University of South Carolina winning the title for the women, and the University of Connecticut for the men. March Madness consistently drives viewership up with its one-and-done bracket and many upsets which lead to #1 ranked teams eliminated in early rounds. Although both the men and the women’s tournaments received massive viewership this year, this year’s women’s final received more viewers.

According to Axios, “the women’s championship gathered nearly 18.9 million views, compared to 14.8 million for the men’s final” (Miranda). Both championships exceeded last year’s finals, with the men having 14.7 million and the women 9.9 million viewers in 2023 (Miranda). This represents that viewership nearly doubled for the women’s final in only a year, and it has much to do with the emerging stars that have elevated the game to new heights, including the record-shattering season Caitlin Clark had for the University of Iowa. Although there were several stars in women’s basketball this season, Paige Bueckers, Angel Reese, and JuJu Watkins to name a few, the lights were most often pointed towards Clark.

Prior to the start of March Madness, on March 3, 2024, Clark broke the all-time scoring record in NCAA Division I College Basketball history by surpassing 3,669 career points (Helsel and Cohen). “Pistol Pete” Maravich had previously held the record for more than 50 years, however with 4.42 million viewers watching only a regular season game, Clark passed Maravich and led her team to victory over Ohio State University (Bohannon). Clark’s season contained several more records, and culminated in reaching the championship for the second year in a row. Although the South Carolina Gamecocks prevailed, women’s basketball won as a whole with the amount of attention, viewers, and excitement about the tournament. People, regardless of their gender, watched and enjoyed the fast-paced and skilled nature of these games, many realizing that they are equally entertaining as men’s games.

The next step for Clark as she finishes her senior year of college is the WNBA, which held its draft on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Within its star-studded draft class, Clark was the #1 overall draft pick for the Indiana Fever. The WNBA team has already seen interest in tickets significantly rise prior to Clark even being drafted. Fanatics, a top sports retailer, reported that after draft night, “her Indiana Fever jersey is the top-selling jersey ever for a draft pick” (Lenthang). Given these already visible signs, Clark is expected to continue her major impact in the world of basketball in the WNBA, however, one look at her rookie salary and that of last year’s men’s #1 overall draft pick for the NBA represents a major discrepancy.

Clark’s salary for the next four years will amount to $338,056, yet Victor Wembanyama’s, last year’s #1 overall pick in the NBA draft, was $55 million (Vigdor). This drastic difference is one that is neither shocking nor surprising for followers of women’s sports, but still disappointing to see after the progress that occurred this past season. This is nothing new however, as historically and to present day, women’s sports have been undercovered, underfunded, and undervalued.

One only has to look three years ago to the 2021 NCAA basketball national championships to see this discrepancy. There was an uproar amongst the public after video of the facilities provided to women’s teams were shown in comparison to the men’s. Juliet Macur and Alin Blinder wrote of the facilities provided in 2021 that, “the men were given workout equipment including dumbbells, barbells and squat machines, all arranged in what appeared to be a hotel ballroom, while the women apparently had only a rack of dumbbells, none heavier than 30 pounds” (Macur and Blinder). Not only that, but even with both tournaments occurring amidst the continued threat of COVID-19, men’s teams were given the best and most detectable tests, whereas the women were given cheaper and less reliable ones (Macur and Blinder). It is very clear from these differences in accommodations the priority of the NCAA was not the women’s tournament, but rather the men’s. This is true because before this was shown to the public, the women’s tournament was not even allowed to use “March Madness” branding, a staple to the image of the college basketball championships. Inequality was also seen within the other NCAA divisions in 2021 as the women’s Division II championship was held in a small capacity venue which sold no available tickets to the public, in comparison to the men’s which could sell thousands to the public (Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP 103-104). It is very clear to see the large gap between the resources available and the opportunities given towards the women’s game by the NCAA.

After the 2021 tournaments, the NCAA did have an external review conducted regarding its gender equity that resulted in several recommendations, and some improvement towards equity for collegiate basketball (Johnson). These improvements did include the women’s tournament being allowed to use the “March Madness” brand which has been important towards expanding the image of the women’s game and uniting the tournaments under one trademark. However, despite continued progress, there are still significant steps that need to be taken, as seen with the starting difference in salaries of the NBA and WNBA.

This fight is one not unique to basketball, as across sports the pay gap is apparent. The USWNT has continuously fought for equal pay, and in February 2022, they achieved a history-making settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation that did so. This was in the face of the women’s team being paid significantly less while achieving more success and popularity than the men’s, a key indicator that the lack of pay was based on gender (Vu). Although the USWNT has achieved massive success in the fight for equality, there is still much action needed as “at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, women players earned on average 25 cents for every dollar earned by the mens’ teams at the 2022 World Cup” (Vu). This was an improvement in comparison to the previous World Cup, but not nearly enough as female athletes should not be paid a quarter of what male athletes make on soccer’s biggest stage (Vu).

Without a doubt, there has been significant progress in the world of women’s sports, especially in the aftermath of the 2024 March Madness Tournament. Increased viewership and attention towards the women’s game will only benefit the long-term goal for equality that women’s sports deserve. Since Title IX to today, women’s sports is only growing with more successes, yet there is still significant work to be done. Female athletes deserve the same respect and opportunities given to male athletes, and it should be the status quo that they are paid, not based on their gender, but rather based on their game. Now is the time for continued initiative to be taken as women’s sports is on the minds of Americans as these athletes are more than due equal respect and value for all they have done for their sports and future generations.

Works Cited

Bohannon, Molly. “Caitlin Clark Helps Iowa-Ohio Game Snag Best Women’s College Basketball Ratings in 25 Years.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Mar. 2024,

Helsel, Phil, and Rebecca Cohen. “Iowa’s Caitlin Clark Breaks ‘pistol’ Pete Maravich’s NCAA Division I Scoring Record.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, 3 Mar. 2024,

Johnson, Greg. “March Madness Brand Will Be Used for DI Women’s Basketball Championship.” NCAA.Com, NCAA, 29 Sept. 2021,

Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, 2021, NCAA External Gender Equity Review, Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Lenthang, Marlene. “Caitlin Clark’s Indiana Fever Jersey Becomes Top-Selling Jersey for a Draft Pick.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, 17 Apr. 2024,

Macur, Juliet, and Alan Blinder. “Anger Erupts over Disparities at N.C.A.A. Tournaments.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2021,

Miranda, Shauneen. “Women’s NCAA Championship Garners More Viewers than Men’s Final.” Axios, 9 Apr. 2024,

Vigdor, Neil. “Biden Weighs in on Caitlin Clark Salary Debate after W.N.B.A. Draft.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Apr. 2024,

Vu, Kaitlyn. “U.S. Women’s Soccer: A Legacy of Athlete Activism.” Harvard Political Review, 1 Jan. 2024,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *