Apr 2, 2023; Dallas, TX, USA; LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese (10) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes during the final round of the Women’s Final Four NCAA tournament at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The potential was always there, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Women’s college basketball finally got the platform it long deserved, and the sport exceeded all expectations. Everyone predicted LSU’s national championship victory over Iowa would set records. Even so, the final numbers were stunning—9.9 million viewers across all networks (ABC, ESPN2, ESPN+), making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record. It’s a landmark moment that will lead to positive changes for the sport in the future.

That figure tells us two things. First, women’s basketball has been undervalued for far too long. Second, there’s substantial room for growth. This was the first time the championship game was broadcast on ABC, airing Sunday afternoon. Imagine what the ratings might have been if the game had a primetime slot. Imagine what the ratings might have been with more media coverage and more advertising.

The golden age of women’s college basketball on TV is upon us.

“The product on the court speaks for itself,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo told Awful Announcing. “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.”

Consider last year’s ratings as proof that this is a sport on the rise. The 2022 NCAA title game between South Carolina and UConn on ESPN was the most-viewed women’s title game in nearly two decades with 4.85 million viewers. Different teams with different storylines than this year. Women’s college basketball has become event television with star coaches that the average sports fan can recognize and star players that the average sports fan wants to know more about. All the sport needed was the right platform to reach its growing audience.

After setting records for Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four viewership, we might learn how valuable women’s college basketball actually is. The NCAA could remove the sport from the championship bundle and sell it separately. According to a 2021 independent Gender Equity Review commissioned by the NCAA, the women’s tournament could be worth “between $81-112 million year beginning in 2025, the first year after the current NCAA agreement with ESPN expires.” The report added, “we believe the (Women’s Basketball Championship) is significantly undervalued from a sports rights perspective.”

Many coaches, including South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, are on board with the women’s game having its own TV deal.

“It should happen,” the two-time national champion said last month. “We’re at that place where we’re in high demand. I do believe women’s basketball can stand on its own and be a huge revenue-producing sport that could do, to a certain extent, what men’s basketball has done.”

A TV bidding war for women’s basketball rights should yield more money to invest in the sport—cash that can go into improving coaching, facilities, and equipment. No more embarrassing self-made NCAA debacles like the weight room disparities of the 2021 tournament. A massive broadcasting deal would mean that the NCAA would have to treat women’s college basketball with more respect. And while the NCAA is a convenient piñata, it also means the media must continue evolving its attitudes toward women’s sports coverage. That means dedicating more resources to reporting and telling the stories of these star athletes.

In the age of name, image, and likeness, NIL deals make it easier for athletes to monetize their social media following. Iowa star Caitlin Clark has over 500,000 followers on Instagram and more than 111,000 on Twitter. We’re still at the beginning of the impact of NIL. Women basketball players are only going to become more famous going forward. And while a lot of the media conversations surrounding LSU’s Angel Reese taunting Clark were dumb, the media attention was undoubtedly great for Reese, Clark, and the sport overall.

Sunday’s monster ratings announced to the world that women’s college basketball is worthy of a bigger national stage.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.