Maddy Siegrist is having arguably the best season of any player in the country. The reason she isn’t getting the attention she deserves is tied to exposure.
Who are your national player of the year candidates in women’s college basketball?
You can make compelling cases for Aliyah Boston and Angel Reese – maybe more so for Boston after the Gamecocks dominated the Tigers on Super Bowl Sunday. You can throw Caitlin Clark and Mackenzie Holmes into the mix as well.
But make no mistake: If any of those four wins National Player of the Year — particularly Boston or Reese– they’ll owe an assist to the conferences they play in and their TV deals.
Do NOT mistake that as me saying they wouldn’t deserve it. When this all shakes out, any of them could be the clear top candidate. But national TV has certainly kickstarted each of their campaigns.
How do I know this?
Because Maddy Siegrist is having (arguably) a better season than any of those four and barely cracked the national discussion until she went off for 50 (FIFTY!) points in a blowout win over Seton Hall this weekend.
Siegrist plays for Villanova, a team good enough to make the NCAA women’s basketball committee’s top 16 seed reveal last week. She leads the nation in scoring average (29.1 PPG) and, per Her Hoop Stats, in PER (49.1) and Win Shares (13.8).
The one thing she’s missing? The opportunity for the nation to watch her consistently.
Boston and Reese play in the SEC, a conference with a lucrative ESPN deal and ownership over the SEC Network. While ESPN does not give women’s basketball the shine it deserves, the fact remains that between all of their networks (including SECN), they need inventory to fill air time. Women’s basketball does that, and so more games air on those channels than anywhere else. Even when Boston and Reese don’t make it on TV, their games are accessible via ESPN+, a service with nearly 25 million subscribers. And when they are on TV, well, the ratings speak for themselves.
Clark and Holmes get a little less national coverage, but not by much. In Clark’s case, Iowa plays eight games this season on Big Ten Network and seven on an ESPN network.
So we’re left rarely, if ever, seeing Siegrist play. The Wildcats are in the Big East, whose primary TV deal is with FOX. The problem is that FOX, despite carrying almost the entire men’s basketball conference slate, does not prioritize women’s basketball – rarely even putting it on FS2. The Wildcats have one conference game this season on big FOX (thanks to a matchup with ratings giant UConn), then just two on FS1 and one on FS2. Their two games on CBS Sports Network and one on ESPN rounds out their televised schedule.
It wouldn’t be fair to omit that ESPN is the default sports-watching network for most households, bars, and restaurants, so naturally games on the Worldwide Leader will get more eyeballs. But that doesn’t mean games on FOX can’t have an impact. In fact, men’s college basketball games on FOX were actually drawing better ratings than ESPN games at the halfway point of this season.
Villanova is just rarely on TV. And unlike teams in the SEC, the Wildcats’ non-televised games are mostly inaccessible. The Big East puts the lion’s share of its women’s basketball games on FLO Sports, an over-the-top streaming service that costs $30 a month, unless you use a rarely publicized Big East discount link that can get it to you for half price.
By hiding their women’s basketball product in such a way, the Big East stifles its biggest stars outside of Storrs. FOX isn’t much help either, seemingly doing everything it can to avoid putting women’s basketball on TV. Over the next two weeks, FS1 will air five women’s basketball games – one of them a replay at 2 a.m. Contrast that with the 38 men’s games that FS1 will show. FS2 isn’t any better. FOX’s secondary sports network has 29 men’s basketball time slots over that span, though many are early morning replays of previous games. FS2 will show nine women’s games in that span, with only one of them live.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that Villanova’s win over Seton Hall was behind the FLO Sports paywall. Because of that, not only did we miss a 50-point performance, we missed history. That’s when Maddy Siegrist set the Big East single-game scoring record and became the Big East’s all-time leading scorer. This in a conference that has featured the likes of Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry, and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
Villanova will get its chance on the big stage on Saturday, hosting UConn on FOX. Siegrist had 25 points and eight rebounds in the teams’ first meeting – a narrow Husky win on CBS Sports Network. She better shine even brighter on Saturday, or I’m not sure her Player of the Year hopes won’t stand a chance. I hope I’m wrong.
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