Caitlin Clark Paige Bueckers Sports Hot Takes Women’s sports fans and enthusiasts might have to pay the ‘hot take’ tax for now.

After the pomp and circumstance of Super Bowl LVIII eroded in February, the sports calendar was set to turn to the page. Pitchers and catchers reported that the NBA season reached its All-Star Weekend; NASCAR kicked off with the Daytona 500, as is tradition, untraditionally on President’s Day after a weather delay. But something else rose to the surface at an intentionally rapid level: Women’s sports.

If you’re a sports fan, then by now, in 2024, you’re probably aware of the big women’s sports boom. Ratings are up absolutely everywhere after a superb 2023. This year will be better. In fact, it already is. The record-shattering Elite Eight ratings and viewership on cable television indicate we might be further along than we think.

That being said… it’s not all rosy yet. As we’ve begun to learn over the past few months, normalizing women’s sports comes with a price.

A “Hot Take” tax, if you will.

Thursday was a busy day, as usual in the sports world. Discussion emerged on First Take, just as it usually does. Caitlin Clark and her Iowa Hawkeyes will play Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies this weekend in a heavyweight matchup in the Final Four. Bueckers and Clark are two of the best players in the country. Bueckers became the only freshman to ever win the Naismith College Player of the Year award in 2021. And by now, you probably know enough about Clark and her greatness. Host Molly Qerim said something that caught a lot of people’s attention. Qerim appeared to imply that if Bueckers didn’t tear her ACL, she might give Clark a run for her money to be the best player in the country.

“All I gotta say is she’s lucky this UConn team isn’t healthy,” Qerim said. “If Paige Bueckers didn’t basically miss two seasons, I don’t know if we’d be talking about Caitlin Clark the way we are right now.”

On The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on Thursday, co-host Jessica Smetana indirectly responded. Smetana highlighted the challenging discourse around LSU sensation Angel Reese, especially in the aftermath of LSU’s defeat, and a grotesque column written their way by the Los Angeles Times.

Sports discourse in 2024 is sometimes rough to observe. Take your pick between the outrage/engagement bait, the forced debates, or “legacy games” discussions. Or the outlandish statements, the incorrect statements, the shouting, or the race to the bottom to say the craziest things. Sometimes, it truly feels like everyone is competing to say the wildest thing to get noticed on television. Sports punditry hasn’t always been aces, but nobody expects perfection. But sports discourse doesn’t play like a five-tool hitter or your average slugger. Sports discourse is a lot more like a three-true-outcome hitter:

You agree. Or you get mad. Or you press the mute button.

The women’s sports rise isn’t just exclusive to the hardwood. Yes, women’s basketball and the WNBA are experiencing a significant increase in interest. They’re arguably leading this massive charge right now. But there’s also women’s soccer. The U.S. Women’s National Team is not new to breaking ground, setting new standards, and/or getting your attention. They’ve been doing that since Brandi Chastain made her epic slide at the Rose Bowl in 1999. The Women’s World Cup stood up against an unusual timeline for American hopefuls, who had to adjust their sleep schedules. For the most part, it worked out. The NWSL is also doing quite alright, with more room to grow.

Elsewhere, there is rising interest in other women’s college sports. Olympic sports like gymnastics, softball, and volleyball have all experienced rises in interest. The Nebraska volleyball team recently held an unbelievable event at historic Memorial Stadium, where Husker volleyball enthusiasts packed it out for an exhibition. That college volleyball matchup also drew a significantly higher number for the sport. It’s a testament to Nebraska Volleyball and its brand and a showcase that the trickle-down effect is real. It could mean big things for the Women’s College World Series later this Summer.

Women’s sports rising in interest coincides with a need to broadcast to control that level of interest. Ideally, these networks want those numbers to keep growing. So what must be done? You’ve gotta talk about it. The National Football League is so prominent that no network can stop discussing it. Even when they aren’t in season. In the 2010s, a popular phrase emerged. “The NFL is the best reality show on television.” The NFL didn’t achieve this status just from their traditional Sunday, but rather because the insane popularity spawned a need to chat on and on and on about it.

You’ve begun to see that now with women’s college basketball. The Caitlin Clark Show is the hottest ticket in town. Once the hubbub of the Super Bowl dissipated, everyone’s eyes shot to Clark. Iowa’s sensational playmaker engaged in a hot pursuit of the NCAA’s all-time scoring record, and the chase caught everybody’s eye.

And… then Jay Williams stepped to a microphone on Saturday and delivered a hot take. Williams was unwilling to consider Clark “great” yet because she hadn’t won a championship.

The clip of Williams spread like wildfire, and everybody had something to say about it. While Williams went on to double down, it’s more proof that hot-takery was entering the women’s sports marketplace.

That assuredly continued with Qerim’s forced debate between Bueckers and Clark. The two are both excellent players with star potential through the roof at the next level. They’ve each proven themselves to be worthy. But, instead of talking about the game, we got a hypothetical to emerge instead. And notwithstanding, Bueckers’ greatness (or potential further greatness) can absolutely coexist in the same world that Caitlin Clark’s greatness got to.

Smetana went further than just talking about the usual punditry. She believes that there has to be a demonstrated ability to handle discourse when talking about racism, misogyny, and sexism—sometimes very blatant—in the sports world. And so far, she doesn’t believe there has been. She’d be right to think so, and it sometimes persists in atrocious ways. The LA Times column on the LSU women’s basketball team is a chief example.

And, to be clear, there’s a valley-sized difference between hot-take culture in sports discourse and the emphasis on tact when discussing social issues in women’s sports. But the pursuit of the middle ground in the sports industry requires heavy lifting on each side. This is not a game of tug-of-war, but one side might make us better off. That much is certain. The bigger the push, the more resounding the pushback will be toward incidents where those problems arise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we got here for a reason too.

Until we get there, women’s sports enthusiasts may be temporarily forced to pay the “hot take” tax. It’s grating. It’s mostly unnecessary. It is assuredly not the only way to do things. But perhaps, if we look through one other lens, recognizing this blindspot early can induce a collective pushback. If women’s sports fans don’t approve of these discussions, it’s clear they’ll probably make their voices heard right now. If, through normalizing women’s sports discourse, we can recognize the ignorance and the lack of tact involved in sports discourse, another trickle-down can begin. One that could help turn that Three True Outcome hitter around.

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022