It’s her moment. Driving around Iowa City, Nike billboards make it clear that “Caitlin Clark does things very few athletes can do.” Even bigger, Clark was featured on a Times Square video billboard during her visit to New York City last month after her buzzer beater win against Michigan State on January 2.[1] Caitlin Clark, a star player on the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, never ceases to amaze the world of college sports. On February 15, Clark broke two records in Iowa’s game against University of Michigan.[2] Not only did Clark break Kelsey Plum’s record of 3,527 points—she also broke her own single-game scoring record with an outstanding 49 points on the board.[3] It only takes a few minutes of watching Caitlin Clark play to understand that she is an all-around incredible athlete.

Her accomplishments amount to more than just fame and success for Iowa women’s basketball, though, for Caitlin Clark is an inspiration for the next generation of female athletes and women more broadly.[4] Clark knows this and takes this to heart, sharing:

The little girls that come to our games, that's what it's all about. At the end of the day, I could have been 3-for-20 and they probably still would have been screaming and wanting my autograph. I think that's the coolest thing, you get to inspire them and make their day. Everybody on our team is such a good role model and is always going to go out of their way to inspire somebody else and give them a second of our time. That's how the game grows, that's always what I wanted my favorite players to do for me when I was younger.[5]

Clark does not only want to be a great basketball player—she also desires to be a contributing community member and positive role model. From her tenacity on the court, charm in interviews, and care for fans, it is evident that Caitlin Clark makes young girls “want to be like 22.”[6]

While Clark has revolutionized many aspects of the game, NCAA women’s basketball still has a long way to go in its journey toward equality with men’s basketball. During the 2021 NCAA March Madness tournaments, women’s basketball players shared several social media posts revealing vast disparities among the facilities, food, and gifts awarded to the men’s teams in comparison to the women’s teams.[7] Subsequently, a report released by a law firm hired by the NCAA to investigate gender disparities among the league found that the NCAA “prioritizes men’s basketball, contributing to gender inequity” and thus the NCAA has been “significantly undervaluing women’s basketball as an asset.”[8] Despite the NCAA’s efforts to remedy these inequities, the disparities among men’s and women’s basketball continue to persist.

Two years after the initial report, however, Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese took the stage in the highest-viewed women’s basketball game to date. Recorded at an average of 9.9 million viewers for the national championship game on April 2, 2023, Iowa and LSU made history for women’s basketball.[9] Given this, many wonder if players like Clark will usher in a new era of equality among men’s and women’s sports.[10] Will rising levels of viewership and game attendance help combat the structural sexism that is embedded among collegiate sports?

While star players like Clark may advance women’s basketball in the public eye, placing the burden on young female athletes to undo systems of sexism is both unrealistic and too high of an ask. At the same time, the ability for the NCAA to enforce changes has recently been undermined in two prominent legal losses, questioning the NCAA’s ability to combat structural inequality as an organization. First, on February 5, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Dartmouth basketball players are employees of the school, opening the door for a labor union to be formed among NCAA athletes.[11] This, in turn, grants more power to the athletes themselves and detracts from the NCAA’s organizational control.

Second, on Friday, February 23, a federal judge issued an injunction against the NCAA, barring them from prohibiting recruits from signing monetary deals with booster groups.[12] By preventing the NCAA from attempting to stop universities and their supporters from paying athletes to play at their schools, the recruitment standards have been drastically changed.[13] While “[t]he notion of amateurism has long been a bedrock principle of the NCAA,” Judge Clifton L. Corker held that the lawsuit filed by the Tennessee and Virginia attorney generals against the NCAA regarding restrictions on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) for recruiting had enough merit to proceed.[14] Without a congressional exemption, Judge Corker wrote that the NCAA’s stance likely violates antitrust law.[15] Thus, the injunctive order is applicable to athletes in all states and is effective immediately.[16]

Given these two recent losses for the NCAA regarding their ability to control collegiate athletes, more questions arise regarding the NCAAs capacity to continue to enforce their standards. Therefore, will these losses undermine the NCAA’s ability to enact structural changes to further gender equality? At the moment, it appears only time will tell. Nevertheless, regardless of the fate of the NCAA, structural equality must continue to be pursued, whether it come from further legislation[17] or universities themselves. Ultimately, these changes will hopefully usher in further generations of teams like Iowa women’s basketball, and players like 22.


[1] Michael Ehrlich, Iowa Star Clark’s NIL Gets Times Square Treatment, NIL FanNation (Jan. 6, 2024),

[2] Scott Dochterman et. al., How Caitlin Clark Broke the NCAA Women’s Scoring Record on a Career-Best 49-Point Night, The Athletic (Feb. 16, 2024), [].

[3] Id.

[4] Daniel Perreault, How Caitlin Clark is Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Athletes, KWWL (Feb. 16, 2024), [].

[5] Mike Lopresti, Be Like 22—Why Caitlin Clark’s Already Historic Legacy is Just Beginning, NCAA (Feb. 15, 2024), [].

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Paul Myerberg, Investigation into Gender Disparities Finds NCAA ‘Significantly’ Undervalues Women’s Basketball, USA Today (Aug. 3, 2021), [].

[9] Scott Polacek, LSU vs. Iowa NCAA Title Game Averaged 9.9M Viewers; Most-Watched WCBB Game Ever, Bleacher Report (Apr. 3, 2023), [].

[10] Kim, Caitlin Clark Making Women’s Sports a Slam Dunk, Nat’l Org. for Women (Feb. 21, 2024).; Will Leitch, Women’s Sports Are About to Explode,  Intelligencer (Feb. 21, 2024),

[11] Jimmy Golen & Ralph D. Russo, US Labor Official Says Dartmouth Basketball Players are School Employees, Sets Stage for Union Vote, Assoc. Press (Feb. 6, 2024), [].

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Teresa M. Walker & Ralph D. Russo, Judge Hands NCAA Another Loss, Says Compensation Rules Likely Violate Antitrust Law, Harm Athletes, The Hill (Feb. 23, 2024),

[16] Nicole Auerbach, Federal Judge Blocks NCAA from Enforcing NIL Rules, The Athletic (Feb. 23, 2024), [].

[17] Dale Goodwin, Title IX: Five Decades of Positive Changes on Gonzaga Women’s Sports Scene, Gonzaga Univ. (Feb. 2, 2023), [].

Monday, March 4, 2024