Happy Wednesday, SporticoU readers. Welcome to the end of the academic year. Whether you’re studying for final exams, grading them or preparing to celebrate the graduation of another class of athletes, we’re happy you’re here.
Much of this year was marked by milestones, particularly within women’s sports. There was record attendance at and viewership of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, and Nebraska sold more than 80,000 tickets to this summer’s volleyball doubleheader at Memorial Stadium, which is now guaranteed to shatter the sport’s attendance record and could creep up on the all-time attendance record for a women’s sporting event in the U.S. Five Oklahoma women’s programs (gymnastics, softball, volleyball, soccer and tennis) set at least one attendance record this year, according to The Oklahoman. Florida gymnast Trinity Thomas earned her 28th perfect score of her college career, tying the all-time record (ESPN commercial, anyone?). I could go on.
There’s momentum, and there’s movement.
Deion Sanders’ tactics at Colorado aside, it feels like players had a tangible sense of agency over their athletic futures thanks to the transfer portal. This year we saw women’s basketball players now exercising this kind of power.
It also seems naïve to ignore the role NIL is playing in where athletes choose to compete.
Just look at LSU, which landed two of basketball’s top transfers in Louisville graduate transfer Hailey Van Lith and DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow. Angel Reese, Flau’jae Johnson and Co. just got even scarier for the 2023-24 season, which many are already dubbing Caitlin Clark’s revenge tour, but Morrow also got an NIL deal along the way.
Morrow, the fourth-highest scorer in DI last season, announced her decision to join the reigning champion Tigers through essay-generator Caktus AI.
Reese and LSU’s Olivia Dunne were already part of the company’s NIL roster, as are Haley and Hanna Cavinder. Beyond the inherently controversial nature of a college student partnering with an essay generator lies the reality that joining what’s now presumably an NCAA superteam comes with exposure and more marketing dollars.
I’d pay money to see what Mark Emmert’s reaction would’ve been five years ago if you’d told him that a college player would soon be able to get a sponsor to underwrite her transfer announcement—oh, and she’ll be immediately eligible. Penalties, restrictions, be gone! I wouldn’t go so far as to say the NCAA has modernized here, but this year felt like the baby steps it has taken are furthering progress. We’ll see what’s next as new NCAA president Charlie Baker makes his first major chess moves after the Bain & Co. report comes back.
Don’t forget the college lacrosse, baseball and softball seasons are still underway—and all are looking for big-time broadcast numbers from their upcoming championships with media rights negotiations coming down the pipe for that particular package of NCAA inventory. Since we’ve been on the topic of records today: The final game of last year’s Women’s College World Series saw a bigger television audience than the final game of the Men’s College World Series, 1.74 million viewers to 1.54 million. Oklahoma’s softball championship win was the most-watched college softball or baseball game of the year. Now we wait to see what 2023 has in store for the sport.
Enjoy summer break, and don’t worry, we’ll keep up with our writing assignments.