The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Women’s basketball fans will watch Team USA in Paris, but Clark’s absence still hurts

Caitlin Clark’s omission from the Olympic team has stirred the women’s basketball world.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 10, 2024; Uncasville, Connecticut, USA; Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts after her third foul against the Connecticut Sun in the second quarter at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The dust has settled, and Caitlin Clark has officially been excluded from the Team USA women’s basketball squad in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics making two things clear.

First and foremost, it would be foolish to say fans will not tune in to watch Team USA nonetheless.

That’s because it’s not just Caitlin Clark and her alone growing the women’s basketball game and audience. Rather, it’s women’s basketball collectively growing itself. This has been a long, grueling process over the last 20 years suddenly facilitated by Clark — but not 100 percent dependent on her.

Whether you love her or hate her, Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese — the former LSU arch nemesis of Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes over the last two years — did speak some truth when she demanded credit for her role in the story that has grown women’s basketball lately.

Again, whether you love her or hate her, her game speaks for itself, especially as she became 2024’s first rookie to accumulate 100 points and 100 rebounds. What she did at LSU brought loads of attention to the sport, as have LA Sparks forward Cameron Brink and UConn guard Paige Bueckers in their own respects, for example, albeit on slightly smaller scales.

But this is only padding to the work WNBA legends have put into the sport over the last handful of years. So Clark, Reese, Brink, and Bueckers have helped propel the attention the likes of Diana Taurasi and A’ja Wilson — who will be in Paris next month — laid the groundwork for.

In fact, the U.S. women’s basketball national team has won gold in every Olympics since 1992. To say, with what these rookies have brought to the game over the last few years, that no one will want to see this team without Clark simply misses the mark.

Although Clark and these rookies have helped draw the attention, they aren’t exactly necessary to secure it. Social media sites are explosive with new coverage on WNBA happenings, and users are giving it the same attention they would give the NBA.

A 2023 ESPN report — from before this younger generation even entered the league — found that viewership was up 21 percent over the 2023 season and that its average attendance of almost 7,000 fans was the highest since 2018.

Now, of course, the WNBA found that the league concluded this past month of May with “its highest attended opening month in 26 years and its most-watched start of season across each network ever: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, ION and NBA TV.” But these fans are tuning in to see more than Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese.

And while the younger generation has certainly ushered in a new wave of attention, the content of the game is not any less interesting to watch with or without them as the established stars of the game have been drawing an uptick in attention too.

So as a lot can change in four years, from the state of women’s basketball during the 2020 Olympics to today as we approach the 2024 games, this national team is certain to draw the most fans it ever has from across the globe, simply because its names are that much more well-known now, with or without Clark.

But, to the second point that will be clear with Clark’s exclusion, much fewer fans will tune in to watch Team USA now that Clark is not on it.

Regardless of whether she should be on the team or not — although the rookie sits 17th in the league in points per game, fourth in assists per game, and sixth in three-points made per game — Caitlin Clark is the biggest name in women’s sports right now.

For example, according to Bullets Forever, Clark and her Indiana Fever drew over 20,000 fans to a game against the winless Washington Mystics on June 7, making it the most-attended regular season WNBA game since 1999 and the most at any league game since 2007 — despite both teams sitting at the very bottom of the league’s standings.

This is just one example that demonstrates Clark’s increased draw to the league.

It’s understandable to want women’s basketball to grow, but that still requires growing it beyond the WNBA.

Yet, Team USA women’s basketball national team committee chair Jen Rizzotti said the jersey sales and TV viewers — numbers that would presumably skyrocket with Clark on the Paris team, inherently expanding women’s basketball fandom across the globe — were not factors in Clark’s exclusion from the team.

“I know a lot of men that pay attention to women’s basketball,” Rizzotti said. “And I would hope that the journey that this team is about to take and the unprecedented amount of success that they’ve had is story enough for people to want to follow it.”

But that success can certainly still be attributed to Clark, so how could it hurt to put her on the team and continue this attention?

Surely, as stated earlier, Clark is by no means the only one responsible for this success Rizzotti mentions. But she is a massive piece. To suddenly take her out of the equation likens her to Steve Jobs and Apple. Jobs didn’t build the tech giant alone, but it wouldn’t have happened without him. To take him out with his firing in 1985 stunts that potential growth.

It can be argued Clark is too young and inexperienced for an Olympic team, but that completely overshadows the experience gained in leading the Iowa Hawkeyes to two consecutive NCAA National Championship runner-up finishes.

It can be argued fans would be upset with her limited playing time on a talented team, but anger at the few minutes in which Clark can still shine beats no minutes at all. Especially since fans now bash the committee for the omission and are thus more likely to boycott watching next month.

To give Clark a chance on the biggest level in all of athletics would be to give the world an opportunity to see what women’s basketball has to offer — and what its future looks like. The fact of the matter is that Caitlin Clark is the face of women’s basketball right now, and that needs to be capitalized on — to take advantage of the opportunity and propel the sport to even higher levels.

Hopefully, like Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997, Clark can get her shot in the red, white, and blue in 2028 — and expand the women’s basketball game even further.

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About the Contributor
Colin Votzmeyer
Colin Votzmeyer, Assistant Sports Editor
Colin Votzmeyer is a junior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and mass communication with minors in history and criminology, law, and justice. Prior to his role as assistant sports editor, he previously served as digital producer, news reporter covering crime, cops, and courts, and sports reporter covering track and field and women's basketball. He plans on attending law school after his graduation with hopes of pursuing a career as a criminal defense attorney.