Women’s March Madness Championship was Historic… and Controversial

LSU upset Iowa in the finale to the biggest tournament in women’s college basketball history, but not without controversy.

LSU players celebrate after their victory. (Photo: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

This year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was historic in many regards. The tournament experienced a massive 42% jump in viewership compared to last year, with the eventual championship garnering a staggering 9.9 million viewers — the most in women’s college basketball history by a comfortable margin (the previous record was 7.4 million viewers for the 1995 title game).

It’s not hard to see why so many tuned it. Records were broken on the court, and with the star of the tournament being Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who scored the most points in the tournament’s history in both mens and womens basketball. It all culminated in a matchup between Clark’s Hawkeyes and the LSU Tigers, who stunned Iowa in a high-scoring shootout that allowed the school their first title in program history.

2023 will truly be a year to remember in the world of college basketball, and not just for the records. Controversy arose in the final minutes of the title game. With the Tigers holding a comfortable lead, LSU forward Angel Reese repeatedly taunted Clark, using the “you can’t see me” gesture popularized by wrestler John Cena and pointing to her ring finger. Nothing out of the ordinary in the hypercompetitive world of sports, but analysts and fans alike didn’t take kindly to the taunt.

Dave Portney of Barstool Sports called the move “classless,” and podcaster Keith Olbermann called Reese “a [expletive] idiot” before issuing an apology. It’s worth noting that Clark hasn’t shied away from showboating herself, becoming so infamous for it that ESPN cut together a 90-second compilation of her taunts and describing her as the “queen of clap backs.” Clark has stepped in to defend Reese, saying in a recent interview “It’s not just me and Angel. We’re all competitive.”

The controversy didn’t end there. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was in attendance at the game, and her remarks afterwards only fanned the flames. It’s a tradition as old as time for the reigning champions of their respective league to visit the White House, but Biden extended her invitation to the runner-up Iowa Hawkeyes. This move sparked rage among LSU players and fans for diminishing the Tigers’ championship before Biden rescinded her quote. Ultimately, President Biden only invited LSU and UConn, who won the men’s basketball championship, to the White House.

These controversies have been seen by some as another result of racial bias in sports. The predominantly black LSU team had received much more criticism than the predominantly white Iowa Hawkeyes. Many have speculated that if Iowa won the championship, they likely wouldn’t have dealt with the same controversies.

Regardless, the controversies put a stain on the tremendous leap forward for both women’s sports in general, and the two programs participating in the National Championship. While it is uncertain what the most memorable aspect of the game was, it can be confirmed that the new territory that these players are facing will be the future of women’s basketball.