Not long after Iowa University phenom Caitlin Clark waved off Raven Johnson’s offensive abilities in a viral video last year, Johnson—a guard for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks—officially named the 2023–2024 women’s NCAA basketball season her “revenge tour.”

On Sunday afternoon, that tour finally ended. Johnson herself declared its completion, shouting into a microphone on the Rocket Mortgage Field House court in Cleveland, Ohio as confetti fell and her teammates celebrated around her. Moments earlier, Johnson and the Gamecocks had prevailed over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2024 women’s Division I March Madness championship. The victory capped off a perfect 38–0 record for South Carolina—and an unforgettable season for all of women’s college basketball.

The Championship Game

In many ways, the Iowa/South Carolina championship matchup was inevitable.

Both teams were ranked No. 1 in their respective regions coming into the March Madness tournament. Both teams boasted star power (you may have heard of a certain Iowa guard with alliterative initials?) and made-for-TV storylines. South Carolina in particular was intent on earning a rematch with the Hawkeyes, who spoiled South Carolina’s chance at an undefeated season last year by knocking them out of the Final Four. 

Fans wanted the matchup even before the tournament began. In the official ESPN Women’s Tournament Challenge, 35.6% of brackets picked South Carolina to win it all, while 28.8% chose Iowa. (For context, the next most selected team was the University of Connecticut, which garnered 4.8% of the total vote.)

South Carolina had a fairly smooth ride to the championship. Even in tournament games where they trailed in the first half, they surged back, overwhelming teams in the third and fourth quarters. Iowa’s path was more fraught. They narrowly avoided an upset from No. 8 University of West Virginia in the second round of the tournament, before squeezing out a victory against No. 3 Louisiana State University in the Elite Eight. The Hawkeyes went down to the wire in the Final Four, too, beating UConn 71–69.

As Iowa navigated their tough matchups, a record number of viewers tuned in—a testament to both the Caitlin Clark effect and the anticipation building around the championship game. The Hawkeyes’ game against LSU notched over 12 million viewers on average, breaking the record for the most-watched college basketball game on ESPN platforms. Only a few days later, 14.2 million average viewers tuned in to the Iowa/UConn matchup, sealing it as the most-watched basketball game—men’s or women’s, professional or collegiate—in ESPN history.

Then came the championship.

With excitement at a fever pitch, Iowa and South Carolina faced off on Sunday afternoon. The Gamecocks were looking for a perfect season, a chance at vengeance, and another championship to add to coach Dawn Staley’s dominant career. The Hawkeyes sought their first-ever NCAA tournament title. They also stood at the center of a debate over whether or not Caitlin Clark needed a national championship to be named the GOAT of women’s college basketball.

Iowa jumped out to an early lead, scoring 10 points on the Gamecocks before momentum started to shift. Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina’s 6’7” center, had a hand in that shift, dominating a smaller Iowa team in the paint and on the offensive glass. Standout Gamecocks first-year MiLaysia Fulwiley also contributed clutch defense.

Right before halftime, Johnson sank a layup to put the Gamecocks up 49–46. South Carolina would have the lead for the rest of the game. By the end of the third quarter, Iowa trailed by nine, and despite a mid-fourth-quarter rally—which included a showy 3 from Clark and a rare offensive rebound from guard Gabbie Marshall—the Hawkeyes couldn’t pull off the comeback. South Carolina’s depth and size won out, and they beat the Hawkeyes 87–75.

As Iowa players left the court and Dawn Staley began to cry, confetti poured down. In another few days, the recaps, breakdowns, and hot takes would emerge. The news would break that the championship game had drawn an estimated 18.9 million average viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game in history. Also, for the first time in history, the viewership for this year’s men’s national championship paled in comparison to the women’s. Debates over Caitlin Clark’s GOAT status would be re-ignited. Praise for Dawn Staley would come flooding in.

But for a moment after the championship, there was just the confetti, the celebration, and the long-awaited conclusion to South Carolina’s bid for revenge.

“Now it’s time for the repeat tour,” Johnson said, to raucous approval from the South Carolina fans.

So What Now?

Johnson’s enthusiasm raises the question of what’s next for South Carolina.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley has claimed her place among the greatest women’s college basketball coaches of all time. She led this year’s team to a championship and a perfect season despite losing all five of her starting players from last year. It’s much too early to tell whether Johnson’s repeat tour prediction will come true—but another deep run is certainly not out of the question for a South Carolina team that’s rapidly becoming a dynasty.

There’s also the question of what’s next for Caitlin Clark. The Indiana Fever will almost certainly select Clark as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, but the basketball world is divided over what will happen next. Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi predicted this week that Clark is in for a rough transition to the big leagues. On the one hand, it’s not an outrageous claim, especially if you look at Kelsey Plum, the previous holder of the women’s NCAA DI all-time scoring record, who struggled in her first few seasons in the WNBA. On the other hand, Clark has surpassed Plum’s college performance—to many of her fans, her court vision and ability to pass out of the double team proves she’s more than just a high-flying sharpshooter.

Either way, the Mercury have seized on the controversy: The team’s social media advertisement for single-game tickets against the Fever featured a looming Diana Taurasi, labeled “The GOAT,” casting a shadow over “The Rook” Caitlin Clark.

The Iowa/South Carolina game—and the record-breaking college season that preceded it—has prompted fans, players, and coaches alike to ask questions that go beyond just one team or one player.

What’s Next for Women’s College Basketball?

The one-word answer is growth.

The 2024 women’s March Madness semifinals recorded a 138% average viewership increase from last year, while viewership for the finals more than doubled. It’s true that the departure of high-profile college stars—including Clark, Cardoso, LSU’s Angel Reese, and Stanford’s Cameron Brink—to the WNBA may mean that college viewership trends slow next season. But there are up-and-coming stars who have the potential to galvanize the college game. University of Southern California freshman JuJu Watkins, for example, recently broke Clark’s freshman-year NCAA scoring record. Watkins’ performance has sparked some way-too-early debates over whether she will outshine Clark by her senior year. 

Setting the big names aside, if the NCAA wants to continue to grow the women’s game, the logical next step is to increase financial compensation. The men’s tournament currently operates according to a units system: teams that make the tournament are rewarded with financial performance dollars called units, and teams win more units the deeper their tournament runs. Women’s teams do not currently work within the units system, and coaches like Dawn Staley have long advocated for the NCAA to provide more financial support for women’s basketball.

NCAA president Charlie Baker has signaled his intent to bring the units system to the women’s game as early as the 2024–2025 season. The logistics aren’t yet clear, and any deal would be contingent on an approval vote from the full Division I membership during the NCAA convention next January. But if a units system deal does pass, it could be a game-changer for the financial longevity of women’s college basketball.

What’s Next for the WNBA?

The question of what’s next for the WNBA is bound up with the question of what’s next for Clark. 

Case in point: The Fever announced this week that they will play 36 of their 40 upcoming games on national television. They will have more nationally televised games than even the Las Vegas Aces, the defending WNBA champions.

The schedule is huge news for a team operating within a league that has struggled to claim national airtime and draw ratings. And although most WNBA teams have not released sale numbers since tickets for the 2024–2025 season dropped, Clark could also be a boon for teams that have struggled to fill arenas. The Fever franchise in particular was second-to-last in attendance last year, and will presumably gain a much-needed boost from Clark’s arrival.

At the same time, though, the WNBA should consider ways to harness the Caitlin Clark effect without becoming totally reliant on it. If, as Taurasi has suggested, Clark does struggle in her first few years in the league, it will be important for the WNBA to find other ways of growing and promoting the league. 

In the long run, the league will look to media rights to increase revenue. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has announced plans to double the league’s rights fees when the WNBA’s TV rights come up for negotiation in 2025. The hope is that increased revenue will lead to higher salary caps and potentially more roster spots, whether through existing or expanded teams. No matter how much raw talent comes out of the NCAA, the WNBA will stagnate as long as most of that talent continues to be lost to the roster cap.

What’s Next for Women’s Basketball as a Whole?

If there’s one takeaway from this NCAA season, it’s that you can no longer get away with ignoring women’s basketball.

Let’s be honest: At this point, tuning out the players, storylines, and games would be genuinely challenging. Mainstream companies like State Farm feature Caitlin Clark in their ads. Increasingly many national platforms air women’s games. News companies send breaking news alerts about women’s March Madness scores. Articles point out the untapped investment within the world of women’s sports. NIL deals run rampant. Former NBA players can more easily name five women’s college basketball players than five men’s.

The fact that women’s basketball is “having a moment”—only a few short years after the NCAA, under fire, conducted an external review of its gender equity issues—is certainly indicative of surging talent at the collegiate level. But longtime fans know talent has never been the problem. After all, several of the women’s records that Caitlin Clark broke this season were set before the NCAA even existed. 

Rather, access, visibility, and money have been the factors holding women’s basketball back. Its meteoric rise this year says less about talent and more about what happens when the media airs, promotes, and prioritizes women in sports.

To their credit, the rest of the world has finally caught on to what’s happening in women’s basketball: the excitement, the heroes, and the capacity for enormous change.

Audrey Nelson can be reached at