Women's College Basketball
Why Caitlin Clark isn't the GOAT of women's college basketball, but its most influential
Women's College Basketball

Why Caitlin Clark isn't the GOAT of women's college basketball, but its most influential

Published Apr. 8, 2024 3:44 p.m. ET

Caitlin Clark's monumental college basketball career is over, with one notable thing still missing from her résumé. Clark and her Iowa Hawkeyes fell in the national championship game Sunday to a juggernaut South Carolina team that became the first undefeated national champion since 2016.

Clark still leaves the collegiate ranks with numerous records, led by her 3,951 career points that shattered the all-time NCAA Division I scoring mark for both men's and women's basketball. She also left a profound mark on the sport, with her otherworldly scoring prowess drawing record crowds and television viewership as she led Iowa to Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and another national title game berth in 2023-24. 

At the end of South Carolina's on-court trophy ceremony Sunday, Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley made a point to thank Clark for "lifting up our sport."

"She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it's not gonna stop on the collegiate tour," Staley said. "When she is the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, she's gonna lift that league up as well. So Caitlin Clark, if you're out there, you are one of the GOATs of our game, and we appreciate you."


It's Clark's overall impact that has "Undisputed"'s Rachel Nichols ready to label Clark — who is indeed projected to be the No. 1 pick by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Draft — as the most influential player in women's college basketball history, but not necessarily the "G.O.A.T."

"Even if she had won [a title], I wouldn't necessarily said that she was the greatest of all time," Nichols said Monday. "Breanna Stewart is a four-time [NCAA] champ, three-time Player of the Year. Candace Parker — two-time champ, two-time Player of the year. Diana Taurasi, three-time national champion. I would still put Cheryl Miller up against anyone. Reggie Miller will tell you, as a Hall of Famer, he is not the best basketball player in his own family."

Skip Bayless agreed, pointing out that this would have been less of a debate had Iowa not caught some lucky breaks in previous rounds of the NCAA tournament, including LSU star Angel Reese dealing with an ankle injury in the Elite Eight and a controversial offensive foul call against UConn in the closing seconds of Iowa's two-point Final Four win. He also believes Iowa's supporting cast around Clark was ultimately not good enough to keep up with the best team in the country.

"I thought [the rest of Iowa's roster] was very average to below average," Bayless said. "And I think we saw that yesterday because the rest of the team got exposed by a really good, 10-deep South Carolina team. … I just didn't think there was any hope unless she went completely 3-point crazy, like she is capable of doing. If she had beaten South Carolina sort of single-handedly yesterday, then I'm sitting back saying, ‘I got to rethink this [G.O.A.T. debate] a little bit.'

"So what did she do? What were her biggest accomplishments on the floor? She was the greatest distance shooter we've ever seen. So she was the female Steph Curry in revolutionizing the way women play basketball, because we've never seen that before."

Nichols, however, believes Clark's influence extends beyond just how players perform on the court, including how they advocate for themselves off it.

South Carolina completes undefeated season with championship win vs. Iowa

"[Clark] is not the greatest player of all time in women's college basketball to me, she is the most influential player of all time in women's college basketball to me. … She's one of the greats of the game. The influence she has had on women's college basketball and women's sports is going to be felt for a very long time. Those TV numbers, the interest of the country, is something that women's college players are going to be able to talk about and present as, 'Hey, we're just as good. We deserve just as much.'"

Nichols agrees with Staley that the WNBA will receive a boost from Clark, but she believes that impact will go beyond just basketball and into other women's sports.

"If you're a Women's Soccer League, you are going to go into the broadcast meeting and say, 'You better pay us because people will watch women's sports. Here's the evidence.' And I think it's going to have even a ripple effect beyond that. … There are kids who have been watching Caitlin Clark who now believe they are as good as any of the little boys in their class next to them in a way that maybe they didn't agree or a year or two ago. And you cannot underestimate the power of that."

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