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Caitlin Clark Could Face Suspension

For the WNBA to carry forth the momentum created by the buzz around the star power of this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, they need former University of Iowa star Caitlin Clark both scoring and on the court.

On the first count, Clark seems to be acclamating to the WNBA’s increased talent level; after a series of dodgy performances to start the year, she’s scored 50 points in her last two games, according to ESPN, bringing her points-per-game up to 17.3 for the season.

That’s good enough to be the top scorer for the Indiana Fever — although what that proves is still up for debate, considering the team that held this year’s No. 1 pick also seems to be on track to be in the draft lottery for the first pick next year. Despite being one of the league’s top draws thanks to Clark and 2023 first-round pick Aliyah Boston, the Fever are a meager 1-8.

As for keeping her on the court — well, that might be a bigger problem than the league anticipated.

As the New York Post reported Friday, Clark has racked up three technical fouls in nine games thus far this season. Four more and she’ll be suspended for a game.

Once a WNBA player hits seven technical fouls and serves that first suspension, they can be suspended for every other technical foul accumulated. That means a one-game suspension for a ninth foul, 11th foul, 13th foul, and so on.

(Technical fouls are typically assessed for unsportsmanlike conduct like aggressive taunting or excessively complaining to a ref.)

Clark has 31 games to go this season. If she continues to rack up T’s at the same rate she’s doing right now, she’ll end up sitting out at least four games.

The latest technical came after Clark confronted Seattle Storm guard Victoria Vivians during a 103-88 loss for the Fever Thursday night. Both players were hit with technicals for the confrontation.

Fever coach Christie Sides also got hit with a T after Clark was quite obviously fouled underneath the basket but the refs decided to let it slide.

However, the casual fan isn’t tuning into a WNBA game to see Victoria Vivians, a former Fever player who hasn’t managed to score over 10 points per game in any of her six seasons in the league. Nor are they tuning in to watch the Storm — a team that may be 5-3 compared to the Fever’s 1-8, but which haven’t captured the audiences that Indiana has during Clark’s first year in the league. And they aren’t tuning in to watch Sides, who isn’t exactly the Vince Lombardi of women’s hoops.

They’re tuning in for Clark, instead. According to The Associated Press, ESPN scored its highest-ever rating for a WNBA broadcast for the Fever’s season opener against the Connecticut Sun on May 15; the broadcast drew an average of 2.1 million viewers across ESPN’s platforms, well over half a million viewers over the previous high — WNBA legend Diana Taurasi’s 2004 debut, which drew 1.5 million viewers.

The second game — which showcased the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces against the Phoenix Mercury, home Taurasi and (presently injured) celebrity diplomatic bargaining chip Brittney Griner, among others — only drew 464,000 viewers.

The average of 1.28 million for those two games was still up 192 percent over the network’s average viewership for WNBA games last year.

And viewership has kept up, too. According to a May 22 Yahoo Sports report, “[a]ll three of Clark’s games on Nielsen-rated TV have surpassed the one million viewers mark,” with the lowest-rated still drawing 1.56 million viewers.

Thus, Clark’s mandated absence from any games isn’t just going to hurt the Fever, it’s also going to hurt the league as a whole.

Sides has admonished Clark, albeit gently, for her penchant for racking up T’s.

“We’re spending too much time talking to the officials. We’ve got to leave that alone. We’ve got to just play our game and let them do their job and not put it in their hands,” she said.

“We shouldn’t get technicals. Let me get the technicals,” the coach added.

As for Clark, she seemed frustrated by the unwanted attention from the zebras.

“I feel like I’m getting hammered, I don’t know,” she told reporters Thursday after the Vivians incident left her with her third technical.

“I appreciate Christie getting a tech too. I don’t know.”

Well, we don’t quite know what the answer is, either. What we do know is that the WNBA, in order to capitalize fully on Caitlin-mania, needs her on the court. Without her, the Fever are merely another lousy team angling for either a miraculous run of good fortune or a good draft pick next year.

The latter seems more likely than the former — but, whatever the case may be, people aren’t going to tune in unless Clark is on the court. Whether she stays there is entirely up to her and her maturity levels. Even if the refs make a bad call, she’s still putting herself in a position where they can make those calls in the first place. Jawing with officials and the opposition won’t make the transition to the pros, as Clark is quickly discovering.

READ 7 COMMENTS
  • FLA-GAL says:

    Don’t know the woman, never watched her play–I’m not “into” basketball. But this just looks like “Lawfare” on a different Court.

  • TexMexDave says:

    The ‘league’ (such that it is), the refs, and the coach need to find a quick solution for an obvious issue (black jealousy towards a white player). Until or if that happens, her teammates need to do a better job at having her back.

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