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Saturday Sports: March Madness

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I wait all week to be able to say, and now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: March Madness and the most famed name is on the women's side. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. And this year might be a milestone 'cause the biggest name in college basketball, of course, is Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes, all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, both men and women. But is the real favorite the undefeated 30-0 South Carolina Gamecocks, I mean, to be a little less swept away by the sentimentality?

BRYANT: Yeah, or the defending champion LSU Tigers. And so it's wonderful. It's great competition. I look at this tournament, and it's fantastic because you've got stars. One of the things we've been talking about on this show for 20 years now is what - why do we watch? We watch for the players. We watch for the stars. And the biggest star in the game right now is on the women's side. It's Caitlin Clark. She's the showstopper. She's the one that everyone's tuning in for. And it's turned the game upside down because when we look at the men's game, the men's game was the one that everybody was comparing the sport to in terms of who got to control the March Madness logo. Why were you watching? And it's an anonymous game on the men's side right now, and - even though you've got UConn trying to go for back-to-back championships. You've got Houston as the No. 1 team in the country. You've got the dynamic kids in Kentucky, you know, Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham. But on the other side of this, the - you know, you can't get away from the fact that the reason why we're watching March Madness right now is Caitlin Clark. And it's a great thing because this is the - you know, she's such a great player, so much fun to watch.

SIMON: Yeah. Biggest headline on the men's side may have been off the court. Players from the Dartmouth College voted 13-2 to unionize. Now, of course, there's still a long way to go, but, I wonder, are we on the verge of a whole new era in college athletics? And what will even make it college athletics?

BRYANT: I don't...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Yeah, I don't think so, Scott. I don't think so. I don't think we're on the verge of anything. I think we're here. I think we've arrived. I think that we've seen - in fact, it was a headline years ago when - not even a decade ago, when Northwestern was trying to unionize. And remember when we saw the University of Missouri use a political protest to sort of - you know, to be on campus and to produce change. And now you've got this unionization effort as well at Dartmouth. And also the NCAA just announced that there's going to be a tournament, an NIL tournament where players are going to be paid, a million-dollar tournament in - that's in the works, so the whole thing - I was texting an NBA player the other day saying, we have now moved into the professional college player. It's been coming for a long time. And you look at the NIL deals. On the women's side with LSU, they've got a reality TV show coming up, I believe on Netflix or one of the streamers where they're following college players and their own NIL deals. And now there's the unionization at Dartmouth. It is not a new era coming. The new era has arrived.

SIMON: Did you say you were texting an NBA player?

BRYANT: I did.

SIMON: Yeah. All right, I was just - hold on, hold on. I got a message from Caitlin Clark.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. Try more on the left. OK, Howard Bryant...

BRYANT: Exactly.

SIMON: ...Of - yeah, I'm pleased to be whatever help I can. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.