Take the Money and Stay, Caitlin Clark!

She is the best show in town wherever she plays basketball.  If you have a child or grandchild remotely interested in basketball, make it a point to get together and watch an Iowa women’s basketball game at some point before the end of the NCAA March Madness tournament.

After that, she is going to have a big decision to make.

As expected, Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record on Thursday night at home against Big Ten rival Michigan.  The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes won 106-89 in front of another sell-out crowd to improve their season record to 23-3.

Needing just eight points to get the record, Clark drilled a 30-footer from near the school’s Hawkeye logo on the basketball court to take the scoring title in the game’s opening three minutes.

“You all knew I was going to shoot a logo 3 for the record,” said Clark.  The senior has scored 3,569 points in her four years at Iowa.  She also leads the nation in scoring with 32.8 points per game.

Clark connected on 8-of-10 shots from the field (hitting five of seven attempts from behind the 3-point line) for 23 points.  And that was just in the first quarter of the game.  She finished with a career-high 49 points on Thursday night in Iowa City.

“I don’t know if you can really script it any better”, Clark told the assembled media afterwards.

Where have I seen that shooting touch before?

Caitlin Clark’s incredible ability to shoot a basketball is an art form which young players would be wise to emulate.  Her shooting form looks a lot like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.  The 6-foot Clark has become a threat to score as soon as she crosses the half court line.

For those of us old enough to remember, her shooting skills remind me of former Purdue great Rick Mount (late 1960’s) and Indiana State’s legendary Larry Bird (late 1970’s).

Both of those players averaged more than 30 points per game in college.  Like Caitlin Clark, they possessed a classic smooth shooting touch with incredible range and accuracy.

By drawing so much attention from the opposing defenses, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark gets her teammates a lot of easy buckets.  She leads the nation in assists with nearly nine per game.

Her Iowa Hawkeyes are hoping to make a return appearance to the Final Four this season.  Last year, Coach Kim Mulkey’s LSU Tigers surprised Iowa 102-85 in the national championship game.

A brief dust-up between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s emotional leader, Angel Reese, happened near the end of that game.  Though Clark scored 30 points in the loss, Angel Reese reminded Clark that LSU would be the team sporting a championship ring afterwards.

LSU’s 2024 team has struggled at times but still has a respectable 21-4 record at this point in the season.  Basketball fans across the country would love to see another match-up of these two women’s teams in the 2024 Final Four coming April 4-7 in Cleveland.  Last year’s game drew a women’s college record television audience of nearly 10 million viewers for ESPN.

Caitlin Clark is now a senior and finishing her fourth year of college basketball.  Since her career started during the COVID-19 outbreak, the NCAA will permit her a fifth year of college eligibility.

Heading to the WNBA next year would be an economic mistake

The top salaries being paid in the WNBA are just a fraction of those paid in the NBA.  The average pay for men playing in the NBA this season is now a fraction under $10 million/year.  Yes, that includes all of the starters and benchwarmers on each team.

The top individual pay this year goes to Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors at a whopping $51 million.  The NBA’s minimum pay to free agents is still more than $1 million.

Perhaps that’s why so many young men spend so much time on the playground practicing basketball.  Imagine if your profession paid that much!

Unfortunately, the women’s professional basketball league called the WNBA doesn’t generate anywhere near the television or ticket revenues like the men’s league.

The top salary being paid to a player in the WNBA this season is nearly $250,000.  The average WNBA salary was about $103,000 for the 2022 season.  The league’s minimum salary was $62,000.

Fan interest in the WNBA has slowly been rising.

The WNBA’s 2023 regular season saw an average paid attendance of 6,615 per game for the 12-team league.  That was an increase of nearly 1,000 per game over 2022.  The league signed a revised television deal last year with the ION Network (which generally shows mostly reruns of classic television shows).  ION featured one or two primetime Friday night WNBA games every week of the regular season hoping to build a recurring television audience.

ESPN and ABC still televise some WNBA games, too.  However, the WNBA’s decision to play during the middle and late summer months has made it difficult to build loyal viewers.

Basketball is generally considered a winter sport.  The WNBA games on ESPN during the summer months rarely pull a total audience of more than 500,000 viewers.  That equates to last year’s weekly viewership for the now-cancelled USFL and XFL spring football league games.

ESPN and ABC are protecting a rather hefty financial investment for the rights to NBA games, too.  The NBA Finals now stretch into the second week of June.

The WNBA’s summer schedule arrives once most sports fans are either tuning into Major League Baseball or simply vacationing prior to the start of the fall football season.

NIL to the rescue!

Even before setting the NCAA scoring record this week, Caitlin Clark’s “Name, Image, and Likeness” offers have been heating up.

According to one source, her personal endorsement deals were approaching $1 million annually before her senior season at the University of Iowa.  Caitlin Clark has inked NIL deals with Gatorade, Nike, State Farm, and several other national companies.  Her endorsement opportunities will continue to grow after this season comes to a close.

Since the NCAA has opened the door for a possible fifth year of college basketball eligibility, Caitlin Clark will make more money by playing another year of college basketball than playing in the WNBA next year.

Her current NIL value is about four times what the top WNBA players are earning this season.

Let’s not forget about the NCAA’s transfer portal!

As we have covered for months, some college football players are placing their names into the NCAA’s transfer portal to immediately move from one school to another for next season.  Though some are pursuing more playing time, the vast majority of transfers collect significantly higher valued NIL deals offered by many of the so-called “collectives” at many universities.

Translated – “Come to our school, and we’ll make it worth your while”.

Thursday night’s game in Iowa City was another sell-out with nearly 15,000 fans.  Clark has been selling-out arenas nearly as quickly as Taylor Swift or, back in my day, The Beatles.

The University of Iowa will do its best to encourage their star player to stay for a fifth season.  Caitlin Clark is good for business.  Other major schools are quite good at calculating the numbers, too.  The economic benefit of signing Caitlin Clark may bring some jaw-dropping offers from other schools in the next few months.

She has become the women’s basketball version of Pistol Pete Maravich.  Everyone wants to see her play in person.

Iowa born, Iowa “bread”?

Caitlin Clark will let you how much she loves playing basketball for the University of Iowa.    She grew up in the state and has played four years at the state’s flagship university.  Would she even consider jumping to another school for her fifth season of college eligibility?

Money talks.

Purely for discussion purposes, let’s say that a well-funded major college athletic program in the SEC like Texas A&M made a very substantial offer to Caitlin Clark.  The Aggies have a modern basketball arena and the financial resources to make a Texas-sized offer.  The pitch by Texas A&M might be that Clark’s presence would help grow women’s college basketball in the state of Texas by leaps and bounds.

Here’s a wilder idea.  Think about the reaction up in corn country if Iowa’s intrastate rival Iowa State was able to lure Caitlin Clark to come play next season for their Big 12 Conference school!

Depending on what Caitlin Clark wants to accomplish academically during her fifth year in college, nearly every major basketball program in America would roll out the red carpet to sign her.

Even LSU?  Yes…except the carpet would be purple and gold!