Caitlin Clark Photo Credit: ESPN

No. 1 seed Iowa survived a major scare against No. 8 West Virginia Monday night but escaped with a win to save their season — and to save ESPN’s ratings going forward in the NCAA Tournament.

Superstar Caitlin Clark scored 32 points on the night as the Hawkeyes pulled away in the final minute to win, 64-54. The score was 55-52 with 1:07 remaining.

And so the Hawkeyes and Clark — who has brought record attendance, attention and TV ratings to the sport this season — advance to the Sweet 16.

No disrespect intended to any of the other players in the sport, but a tournament with Clark eliminated before the Sweet 16 would have lost much of its appeal, for fans, ESPN and advertisers. Much has been written about how Clark and the Hawkeyes have spurred record ratings this season. Fox reported earlier this month that women’s college basketball averaged more viewers than NCAA men’s games on Fox networks this season. The network reportedly even considered offering Clark an NIL deal to convince her to stay in college another year.

There’s even been speculation that a women’s national title game involving Clark could draw higher ratings than the NCAA men’s tournament championship.

So if the Hawkeyes and Clark had exited Monday night, many ESPN executives would have been very sad. There is no “Plan B” for that situation.

Fans were busy on X/Twitter after the game toasting ESPN’s good fortune and imagining the horror unfolding in network offices as the Hawkeyes faced disaster. As you would expect, some fans thought the refs might have had a little push from ESPN to tilt the scales in favor of Clark and her teammates.

[@awful announcing; Photo Credit: ESPN

About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.