Not a great game, but a legit event


Allegany Communications Sports

LSU star Angel Reese declared for the WNBA Draft on Wednesday, while Iowa star Caitlin Clark had declared much earlier, even though both players still have college eligibility.

On the surface, Joe Everyman wonders why on earth either one of them would declare since they’re both currently collecting millions of dollars in NIL money (Clark, a reported $3.1 million),and will collect even more next year should they return to the college game. Certainly, they’re making more money now than they will on the WNBA pay scale, even if they go No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft, which could happen.

Yet Joe Everyman sees only what is on the surface because that is all that is available for him to see. Joe Everyman doesn’t have the same kind of people advising him that Reese and Clark have advising them. After all, Joe Everyman isn’t asked to do State Farm commercials, even though like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

What Joe Everyman doesn’t see is the WNBA marketing about to go boom, in large part, because of Clark and Reese and the many stars of women’s college basketball the nation has suddenly begun to watch in record numbers, even though women’s college basketball has been big-time good for at least 40 years.

Keep in mind the WNBA is owned by the NBA, which, since former Commissioner David Stern and a couple of fellows by the name of Bird and Johnson came along, has shown itself to know a thing or a thousand about marketing. On top of that, Clark and Reese will be pretty much assured of receiving even more big-brand deals once they make the jump to the professional game and are playing in metropolitan markets..

In other words, it’s all been very-well calculated, by Clark and by Reese, and by the NBA, which will finally see its WNBA wishes come true.

And why not? Clark and Reese have earned it. In different ways they’ll both make the WNBA brand bigger and stronger, the WNBA hopes, the way they helped make the brand of women’s college basketball bigger and stronger, with Reese winning the national title in what had been the most-watched women’s game in television history until Monday night when Iowa beat LSU in the rematch, and as Clark has become the most prolific scorer in the history of college basketball – men’s and women’s.

How hot is the women’s game? Television viewing is up 60% from last year alone and Fox Sports says it drew a larger audience this year from the women’s game than it did the men’s game, with this year’s Ohio State-Iowa game being the highest-rated women’s game in 25 years.

Clark, of course, has been chiefly responsible for that, as Iowa has sold out arenas and made ticket brokers happy everywhere for the past two seasons, which has helped the NCAA receive a record rights deal with ESPN as women’s college basketball has outperformed the NBA head-to-head in the ratings.

So, yes, the NBA has to be quite pleased that both Clark and Reese will be playing professionally beginning next year.

As for Monday night’s game in which we saw Iowa avenge last year’s title-game loss to LSU, it was a good game, particularly in the first half, though I don’t think it was nearly as great as the anticipation that preceded it; but a real good game nontheless, even though I was for LSU for a number of reasons.

I’ve seen better games, of course, men’s and women’s (Maryland-Duke 2006 national championship game comes immediately to mind), but make no mistake about it, this game was strictly heavyweight in the major sporting event category, and there are 12.3 million ESPN viewers, according to Nielsen, who will vouch for it, making it one of the most viewed games in any sport other than the NFL over the past year.

What I found amusing, though, was watching an early-morning news program on Wednesday at the time of the morning when these “real news” hawks like to dabble into the so-called toy department of sports news. Said it a million times in 40 years of newspapering, “They wish.”

Won’t mention the network, because I like its political coverage in the evenings and sometimes learn something. The only thing I learned on Wednesday morning was what wanna-be sports hacks these mugs, including the host, truly are because they were so condescending in their praise.

“I watched it with my entire family and we usually don’t watch women’s games. But my girls really loved it.”

“Yes, these girls are amazing. We watched the whole game.”

Well, watch three more games this weekend. You might learn something.

Though I doubt it.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT