If you’re like most people, you haven’t paid much attention to women’s college basketball through the years, even as some (ESPN) tried to force-feed it to you, as if there’s a moral obligation to watch it (and soccer, too).

It turns out that all the game really needed was a transformative player and, presto, everyone is following the women’s game. Almost overnight, it has captured the nation’s attention in an unprecedented way, and it has done so on the back of one player.

The women’s game has discovered its Jordan.

Her name is Caitlin Clark, if somehow you have not heard of her already. The University of Iowa star is a phenom, a sensation. Everyone is talking about her. She’s the Taylor Swift of college sports. She’s big. Bigger than any athlete in the country at the moment, man or woman. Google Trends reported last month that Clark elicits more internet searches than LeBron James. She is taking the women’s game where it has never been. She’s made it, well, relevant.

Iowa’s 94-87 win over LSU on Monday — a game in which Clark totaled 41 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and two steals — drew 12.3 million TV viewers. That made it the most watched game on ESPN since Game 7 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals, per Yahoo. The game attracted more viewers than any Major League game in a year and more than every National Hockey League game since 1971. By comparison, the NFL’s Thursday Night Football drew an average of 11.86 million viewers last season.

Average attendance for the Iowa women’s team this season was 11,143. That would have ranked third out of 32 conferences for the men during the 2022-23 season, trailing only the Big Ten (12,063) and the SEC (11,344).

Ahead of Friday night’s Final Four — in which Iowa will meet UConn — Vivid Seats reports that the average ticket price will be $360, a 30% increase over 2023. The average price for an Iowa ticket, home and away, more than tripled over the past four years.

It’s all because of Clark, a 6-foot point guard who can do everything and seems to be everywhere on the court. As Indianapolis writer Gregg Doyel noted, “We’ve seen someone like Caitlin Clark before, but never on the women’s side.” Clark rebounds, steals, blocks, passes like Bird, drives to the hoop like Jordan, shoots from downtown like Curry. She broke the all-time women’s basketball career scoring record by draining a 35-foot shot — almost 13 feet behind the 3-point line.

Her soaring popularity has been boosted by a certain on-court charisma — the big smile on her face, the enthusiasm of a puppy, the relentless hustle, the exhortative gestures to the crowd, the looks toward her father in the stands. “It’s so fun,” she says, something her male counterparts have forgotten (especially in the NBA).

She is a force of nature. In a win over Michigan this season, she collected 49 points and 13 assists, meaning she scored or assisted on 79 of Iowa’s 106 points. She is a four-time, first-team All-American, a two-time national player of the year, the all-time career scorer (average and total) and the all-time leading 3-point shooter.

She has scored 3,900 points and averaged 28.5 points per game during her four-year career (three points higher than any player in history), as well as 8.3 assists and 7.1 rebounds. She’s averaging 32 points per game this season.

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“She has elevated women’s basketball like no one else has,” Suzie McConnell-Serio told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Jason Mackey. Serio is a former Olympian, WNBA Coach of the Year and member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “You see the lines to get into arenas; she sells them out everywhere she goes. The viewership on TV is unbelievable.”

Mackey calls it the “Caitlin Effect.”

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt told Mackey. “We’ve never had anyone capture the imagination of the casual fan, specifically the casual male fan, like Caitlin Clark has. That has really flipped a narrative.”

As is almost always the case in women’s sports, there is the urge to compare Clark to her male counterparts, which is never fair to female athletes. But, then, there might not be any female player to whom she truly can be compared. There’s talk of putting her in a 3-point shooting contest with the NBA’s Steph Curry next year and possibly a 2-on-2 game. When asked if Clark reminded him of his own game, NBA superstar Luka Doncic said, “She reminds me of Steph Curry, man. … She shoots it better than me, that’s for sure.”

Clark is the greatest thing ever to happen to women’s college basketball. She’s the greatest thing to happen to women’s collegiate sports since Title IX.

“In my opinion, (Clark) is the best that’s ever played the game,” veteran Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht told The Gazette newspaper. She has seen all the greats of the game since she began coaching in the late ‘70s, with stops at Washington, Florida State, USC, Yale and Air Force. “I think (Clark) impacts the game more than any player I have ever seen in the women’s game. She gets my vote for the best ever. She’s amazing. And she’s great for the game. So I’m really happy to see her getting the attention she’s getting.”

Clark is doing for women’s college basketball what Larry Bird and Magic did for the NBA when they entered the league 45 years ago. At the time, the NBA was languishing. The NBA Finals were broadcasted on tape delay late at night. Bird and Magic changed all that and then the league got another big boost when Michael Jordan arrived five years later. You know the rest of the story.

For whatever reason, some women’s sports have caught on with the public and others not so much. Women’s gymnastics has a much better audience than men’s gymnastics. Women’s track and field is overtaking the men’s sport in terms of interest. Women’s soccer has outshined the men’s version of the sport. But women’s golf is not even in the same area code as the men’s game. The same could be said of women’s basketball, college or pro.

Clark has single-handedly brought the college game into the spotlight as her popularity has skyrocketed. She has an NIL deal worth well over $3 million. Her autographed trading card sold for $78,000 — and that was in 2022. She appears in State Farm Insurance commercials. She endorses Bose, Topps, Buick, Gatorade, Goldman Sachs, H&R Block, Nike and a Midwest supermarket chain called Hy-Vee (which sells a cereal called “Caitlin’s Crunch Time).”

It remains to be seen if Clark’s impact on college basketball will carry over after she is gone. She has declared that she will pass up another collegiate season and join the WNBA.

It also remains to be seen if she can create the same level of interest in the WNBA that she created in the college ranks. Meanwhile, she and her peers have a captive audience.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates during an Elite Eight game against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament against Louisville, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Seattle. | Stephen Brashear, Associated Press