Angel Reese (10) shows Iowa Caitlin Clark her ring finger during the final seconds of the women's NCAA Tournament national championship game. Syndication: Palm Beach Post

After this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament drew record ratings, and with the prospect of superstars like Angel Reese and/or Caitlin Clark once again reaching the title game, many had speculated that the 2024 National Championship Game could be played in primetime.

But as it turns out, the 2024 Women’s Final Four and title game will be business as usual, with ESPN announcing that the championship game will be played on ABC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 7. The Final Four semifinal matchups, meanwhile, will be played at 7 and 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 5 and air on ESPN — not ABC, as some had similarly speculated.

ESPN sticking with the status quo comes as somewhat of a surprise, especially considering the massive success of last season’s championship game. The matchup that saw Reese’s Tigers beat Clark’s Hawkeyes drew 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record.

“The product on the court speaks for itself,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo told Awful Announcing at the time. “Our championship game was well-played, high-scoring, and entertaining. People are watching because the product is great and the women’s stories are compelling. It’s been a long time coming, but it feels like more people are finally ready to fully embrace the women’s game.”

With both Reese and Clark back with their respective teams and now two of the biggest stars in all of college sports, it would’ve been easy to envision ESPN capitalizing on a potential LSU-Iowa rematch in Cleveland. The Tigers and the Hawkeyes enter the 2023-24 season ranked first and third, respectively, in the AP Top 25, with No. 2 UConn not only being the sport’s most storied program, but also featuring star power of its own in the form of Paige Bueckers.

Even beyond the individual stars, it’s clear there’s a growing appetite for the women’s game, as evidenced by the recent WNBA Playoffs ratings. Considering that the date of last season’s championship game featured little in terms of competition, it’s curious that ESPN wouldn’t maximize the potential eyeballs on what is suddenly one of its hottest commodities.


About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.