OPINION: Stern: LSU makes women's college hoops relevant again

Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark
Photo credit Maddie Meyer / Staff / Getty Images

To get anybody interested in anything, there always needs to be a reason for engagement. Monetary incentives can be motivation, and in other instances, jumping on the bandwagon of interest around a new trend is all the rave. After LSU's commanding win over Iowa in Sunday's national championship game -- that featured numerous superstars -- women's college basketball is now back on the map, and relevant again.

On the eve of the men's title game, LSU head coach Kim Mulkey and her team gave people wanting a healthy dose of college basketball before the season's end something to entertaining watch. Of course, poor one-sided officiating -- which featured numerous awful calls -- put a sour taste in some fans' mouths. But the game itself was a sight to behold.

Iowa star Caitlin Clark became a must-see player this spring, as she averaged 31.6 points across seven NCAA Tournament games. She was so dominant on the court, she drew comparisons to Steph Curry. And on the other end of the sideline, Mulkey drew attraction by way of her flashy outfits and assembling a squad that gave off a "We don't care about your norms" type of a vibe. Led by a trio of LaDazhia Williams, Jasmine Carson, and Alexis Morris -- who went out of her way to taunt Clark -- the Tigers outwilled the Hawkeyes all game long.

Past women's title games have drawn attention from fans across the country. Superstars who've played in the NCAA Tournament, such as Sabrina Ionescu, Brittney Griner, and Chiney Ogwumike, have also garnered attention for their stardom. However, none did so in a swaggy, in-your-face type of manor like this season's LSU team.

Perhaps social media helped market Clark as well. But her stellar production and performances on the offensive end of the court couldn't have been any more impressive. So a championship game matchup between Clark, a rising superstar, and a powerhouse in LSU was enough to get people engaged.

Caitlin Clark
Photo credit Maddie Meyer / Staff / Getty Images

Expecting the women's tournament to eventually match the March Madness on the men's side -- in regard to its popularity -- would be more foolish than expecting Mulkey to stop yelling at the officials. There's just nothing like the thrill of upsets and Cinderella runs, which are featured in the men's bracket. These qualities allow college basketball to become more popular once the Super Bowl is over in the first place.

However, the magnitude of this year's Final Four on the women's side could help draw additional coverage for years to come. This year's finale was more eventful than anyone could've expected, which could -- and should -- make people pay a little more attention next spring.

The top storyline heading into next season will revolve around seeing whether LSU and Iowa can maintain their success. As is the case with the men's game, getting people to watch before the stakes rise is assumed to be a tough task. Featuring prominent matchups on national TV is one way to increase visibility, and ultimately, popularity around the sport. Just like the NBA and other major sports, fans love watching high-profile matchups. And once that's achieved, clips can then find their way onto social media and build on the initial hype.

It’ll take years for women's college basketball to climb to greater heights and appear on more sports fans' radar. But with some persistence and proactivity, the gameplan all of a sudden becomes feasible. And if this year's tournament has taught the sports fans anything, it's that there's several reasons to watch the women's game. Shortcomings have stemmed from lack of promotion and being blanketed by other sports. Finding that workaround may not be simple, but it's certainly doable.

Considering how Ogwumike has taken off as an ESPN basketball analyst, and how Ionescu's risen to popularity in commercials, it's clear that female hoops players in the college ranks have potential to be major sports world stars. Now it's up to the NCAA to find ways to make women's college hoops important to those who aren't necessarily tuned into the sport year-round. As was the case with Mulkey shouting during the national championship game, sometimes you need to be the squeaky wheel to get some grease.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer / Staff / Getty Images