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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Is the Caitlin Clark Phenomenon Posing Issues for the WNBA?

  • A flagrant hip check on Caitlin Clark sparks a debate on the state of the league.
  • A highly compressed schedule adds to the Fever’s issues.
The Indianapolis Star

Is perhaps the biggest force to hit the WNBA now becoming a problem? Just three weeks into the 2024 season, the Caitlin Clark phenomenon has given way to a rapidly escalating level of infighting within the league, heightened scrutiny over officiating, and public criticism over the rookie star’s skills. 

Rough Play and Tough Talk

The weekend sports conversation was dominated by a flagrant body check that Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter levied upon the Indiana Fever’s Clark in a Saturday game, knocking the rookie to the floor. After the foul was retroactively raised to a flagrant 1 status, the heated debate continued across sports-talk radio and television and, most critically, within the WNBA itself. 

Fever general manager Lin Dunn took to X after the game, posting that “there’s a difference between tough defense and unnecessary-targeting actions! It needs to stop! The league needs to ‘clean up’ the crap! That’s NOT who this league is.” To this end, the Fever have submitted multiple plays from prior games for league review involving hard fouls on Clark. 

Carter, meanwhile, posted on Threads that she’s not all that impressed with Clark’s game, writing “besides three-point shooting what does she bring to the table, man?”

Mounting Questions

Amid the still-growing number of hot takes, the WNBA is now facing many pressing questions. After Clark has fueled a series of meteoric increases in attendance and television viewership—including the Fever already topping their 2023 attendance total—to what degree should the historic economic driver be protected on the court? Will the heightened physicality and trash talking drive away fans, particularly the new ones just drawn in by Clark? And is jealousy and all of the attention Clark has received over her income, including a Nike deal reportedly worth $28 million, contributing to the drama playing out with other WNBA players?

On the latter point, former NBA guard Austin Rivers says envy within the WNBA is definitely a factor—and needs to stop.

“For the longest time, the WNBA was synonymous with losing money, their athletes not being compensated properly, their athletes not being treated properly, and their brand of basketball … not really garnering proper attention,” Rivers said in a four-minute video post on X. “Now, this woman comes along and brings the world in and is now giving you that proper attention and respect. … And instead of being appreciative and acknowledging that, you guys are coming at her with these hate-ass comments.”

Too Much Too Soon?

Part of the intense focus around Clark and the Fever also stems from a simple quirk of the schedule, as Indiana played 11 games in the span of just 20 days, becoming just the second team in WNBA history to do so since 2007. Some of these schedule anomalies stem from a compression created by the upcoming Paris Olympics, when the WNBA will take a monthlong break. But the Fever’s 11 games played leads the league and is nearly twice the six played to date by the two-time defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. 

“These guys are not just physically exhausted, they’re mentally exhausted,” said Fever coach Christie Sides after a Sunday blowout loss to the New York Liberty, a game in which Clark scored just three points. “It’s just been a lot. This is different than anything we’ve ever experienced.”

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