Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — The NCAA March Madness tournaments ended with the UConn Huskies repeating as champions on the men’s side and the South Carolina Gamecocks completing their perfect season on the women’s side, exacting revenge on projected No. 1 WNBA pick Caitlin Clark in the process.

It was the Gamecocks’ last loss, making the revenge victory that much more remarkable.

For the first time in tournament history, the women’s final between the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes featured a national television and afternoon ABC audience outdrew UConn-Purdue, a nightcap game on TBS, TNT, and truTV.

The numbers were staggering, to put it lightly—an over-the-air broadcast channel, ABC, accessible across 250 U.S. affiliates, drew 18.87 million viewers, including ESPN’s game coverage.

As for the men’s final, a 75-60 UConn win in which the Huskies never surrendered the lead from the opening tip despite 37 points from Zach Edey drew 14.82 million viewers. The reasons for the historic duel going the way of the women’s side are a matter of opinion. Still, the women’s game captured new fans, sponsors, television executives, and other entities in ways it hadn’t previously.

Despite Clark not being selected first overall just yet, the WNBA recognizes its potential surge in popularity, precisely when it comes to the team that will likely pick her, the Indiana Fever. 36 out of 40 Fever games will be nationally televised, including the game against the Las Vegas Aces on July 2, which was moved to the T-Mobile Arena, home of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and combat sports, to accommodate more seating arrangements.

Women’s sports are getting an overhaul. More people are paying attention. More games are accessible to stream and watch than ever before, let alone attend. From the Pro Volleyball Federation to women’s boxing, which has stars like Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, women’s sports are becoming the furthest thing from a sideshow.

The 2024 March Madness tournament was unlike any other time before or since. From the parity to the pageantry, it had everything the average fan sought. It was bigger than sports in many ways, as it served as an American cultural moment that redefined the belief that the word “no” would refuse to be used in any fashion.

Nevertheless, with its current momentum, women’s sports can be mainstream if done correctly. More time and resources are already being put in, and it starts with leadership believing in the product it is putting out. With the joint sports streaming service entering the fold later this year, it is only a matter of time before women’s sports are seen everywhere globally and by everyone.

For now, the Women’s Final Four will look to serve as a springboard for future success in other areas of collegiate and professional athletics. If everyone involved can work together, the sky is the limit.

With that said, the only question that remains now is the ceiling. Where can it go from here, and has it reached its full potential?

Those answers remain to be seen.

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