O’Donnell: Women's basketball owns the month but the Clark comet now dips to the WNBA

A GRAND ACID TEST for college basketball on TV would have been if the masters of the partnership dared to put the Iowa-South Carolina women's championship directly opposite the UConn-Purdue men.

ABC vs. Turner. Caitlin Clark against the inanimate Canadian loom of Zach Edey. Fiery Dawn Staley attempting to out-pantomime the thermonuclear Danny Hurley.

No contest … the women win.

The women won big time this year. For the first time ever, their championship game — South Carolina's 87-75 win over Iowa Sunday afternoon on ABC — had a larger TV audience than the men.

Staley and Clark drew an average of 18.9 million. UConn's 75-60 men's victory vs. Purdue Monday night managed only 14.8 million on the Turner triumvirate of TBS, TNT and truTV.

The driving force was Clark.

Some went so far as to suggest America has not been as engaged by charisma-driven main stage basketball since the final NBA championship of Michael Jordan. And that was — gulp — 26 years ago.

That's also a stretch. Jordan integrated sustained theatrics — both on and off the court — into a remarkable run as a global champion. He also had a whole lot of heavy image lifting done by the gold-panning folks from Nike, Gatorade, Hanes and others. NBA commissioner David Stern and associates continually covered his wild-hare backside.

Clark, by comparison, was a General Audiences comet. Her game may have suggested an elevated era for women's basketball. But her underpinnings — Iowa, suburban, unflinchingly straightforward, exemplary and controversy free — recalled a time when basketball media primarily focused on final results and points scored.

Jack Armstrong stuff.

She now moves on to next week's WNBA Draft and what is positioned as nothing better than a second-class second act. The women's pro game still rides the back of the basketball bus. That statement is written with no glee — only reality.

The WNBA remains crowbarred into an artificial slot on the annual sports calendar. The league is replete with amazing talent and intense high-level competitiveness. But its games are played against the flickering shadows of Major League Baseball pennant races and the opening quarters of both major college football and the billion-dollar big feet of the NFL.

Clark will raise revenues. She'll induce more mainstreamers to sample the WNBA. But barring some sort of dramatic alteration, her best pro moments will be fashioned off basketball's Broadway.

Again, that's reality.

But what a ride she gave sportin' America.


WHEN THE ANNOUNCEMENT was made that Doug Collins will be among the Class of '24 entering the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, it was easy to list multiple reasons why he belonged.

Still, there's no question the pride of Illinois State (Class of '73) played, coached and broadcast through some very difficult moments during his career.

(Playing with zany ball hog Bubbles Hawkins at ISU was a primer.)

Perhaps the most deflating was his firing in July 1989 after three seasons as head coach of the Bulls. The possibility was first tipped in the Daily Herald five months earlier with tremendously credible — and unfortunately accurate — sourcing.

But the sacking of Collins was particularly brutal because Jordan and Air mates were clearly on the cusp of some very serious championship contention. Collins was poleaxed primarily because of the intrusive and insecure territorialism of NBA pothole Jerry Krause.

SEVENTEEN YEARS EARLIER — September 1972 — “The Benton Blur” made the two most clutch free throws in the history of U.S. Basketball at the Munich Olympics. With the Americans trailing the U.S.S.R. 49-48 in the gold medal game and :03 remaining, Collins was violently fouled.

His head swirling, he somehow made both free throws. But the Russians were allowed to run a full-court inbounds play three times before giant Aleksandr Belov caught the third pass and dropped in a controversial game-winning layup.

The “loss” was the first for the U.S. men at an Olympics (dropping their record to 63-1 after seven gold medals). But a Collins tale from before the game endures:

“THE GAME TIPPED LATE ON a Saturday night Munich time to accommodate American TV (ABC),” he said. “I was trying to relax listening to music, mainly Motown and Stax, on headphones at the athletes rec center when I was told it was time to get on the bus.

“I'll never forget the last tune that played before I left. It was Jimmy Ruffin's 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted'. Later I couldn't get it out of my head for days.”

Maybe with his Naismith enshrinement later this summer, he finally can.


The Masters rolls into view beginning Thursday and trying to bet a winner is about as precise a science as predicting hotel rates in Cleveland for the next solar eclipse. Experts say six Amen Cornerers loom above the rest: Scottie Scheffler (4-1), Jon Rahm (12-1), Hideki Matsuyama (20-1), Joaquin Niemann (28-1), Ludvig Aberg (28-1) and the inimitable Will Zalatoris (33-1). (Good luck pallie.) …

Less than two weeks into the fresh MLB season and media power rankers are near unanimous: Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox are the worst team in baseball. Maybe Pedro “Flush” Grifol and his witless wonders can farm out some home games to U.S. Steel Yard in downtown Gary just to spread the miserly misery. …

Unless they throw a bluegrass ransom at him, the idea of Billy Donovan succeeding John Calipari as HC at Kentucky is quickly dismissible. Donovan is an excellent basketball mind who has never lost his competitive fire. But those cushy direct deposits in the NBA are far preferable to the expanding chaos of the NCAA's NIL shenanigans and transfer portal. Besides, who wants to make nice with the Mitch McConnell types in UK's smarmy power foundation? …

And Steve Van Wye, after the Cubs blew an 8-0 lead and lost 9-8 Monday night at San Diego: “Craig Counsell must have forgotten to pack his well-timed rain delay.”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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