Jack and Carol Benzinger.

My bride, Jacqueline, is a Hawkeye through and through. After we met in the early ’90s we would fly back to Cedar Rapids once or twice a year to visit her parents, Carol and Jack Benzinger, before they passed away in 2011 and 2012 respectively. On a visit in the early 2000s—I’m not sure exactly what year—Jack took me to a basketball game at the University of Iowa down in Iowa City, an easy half-hour drive. A women’s basketball game, to be exact, featuring the Lady Hawkeyes. And that’s where this story begins.


I’d never attended a women’s basketball game before, but what the heck, I enjoyed hanging out with Jack. He’d gotten the tickets, he told me, for free—not too difficult, as the program appreciated having any butts in the seats. We arrived a bit early, so there weren’t too many folks—maybe a hundred or so—in the cavernous Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a 15,000-seat venue.

Since the tickets were free, I figured we’d be sitting in the rafters. No, an usher told us, it’s open seating. Go ahead and sit wherever you’d like. Really? We parked our butts about five rows up, right at mid-court. Never had such good seats in my life.

Tip-off approached. The hundred in attendance had grown—to maybe two or three hundred. That was it. You could hear the players’ sneakers squeaking, and the coaches’ instructions to their teams, the entire game, which—I do recall—the Lady Hawks won.

Such was the state of women’s college basketball, and not all that long ago. Oh, there were exceptions. Universities such as Tennessee, UConn, Stanford, and others were hotbeds for the sport. But you couldn’t go looking for a women’s game on ESPN, or any other sports network.

All-American Caitlin Clark.


Flash forward to the present. Thanks in large part to a phenomenon named Caitlin Clark, arguably the greatest player, man or woman, on the planet, women’s college basketball has undergone a remarkable transformation. With regard to the University of Iowa, the entire 2023-2024 season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was sold out months in advance. In critical games, such as a recent one against Ohio State, tickets on the secondary market went for $600 on up. On the road, sellouts were de rigueur when the Lady Hawks came to town. The universities loved the revenue; they didn’t love the fact that their teams usually lost.

Last October, prior to the start of the regular season, the Lady Hawks played an exhibition fundraiser game against DePaul at Kinnick Stadium, the football venue on the campus. In this, the first outdoor game of its kind, the event drew 55,646 fans, the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s college basketball game. (Oh yeah, the Lady Hawks won, 94-72.) And there is hardly a day gone by that multiple women’s matchups can be viewed on network and sports TV.

Kinnick Stadium…over 55,000 at a women’s basketball game!

As for Caitlin Clark, I would need a couple more posts to list all of her accomplishments, which include multiple National Player of the Year honors. This season she became the all-time leading scorer, women or men, in NCAA history. She led the nation in scoring average at 32 points per game, and was also number one in assists. Check out all of her records; they are voluminous. Best of all, she is a class act and a great role model.

The Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament (which sold out in advance for the first time ever) just wrapped up. Led by the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, Caitlin Clark, the Lady Hawks won it for the third year in a row. With a record of 29-4, and ranked #3 in the nation, the team will be either a #1 or #2 seed in the upcoming Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness). They lost in the championship game last year. Let’s hope for one more win in 2024!

I have no doubt that the current state of women’s college basketball in general—and the Lady Hawkeyes in particular—would have made Jack Benzinger quite happy.


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