After a year without the NCAA Women’s College World Series, softball is back and better than ever.
The 2021 WCWS crowned the No. 1 University of Oklahoma as champion on Thursday in Oklahoma City after a jaw-dropping three-game championship series against No. 10 Florida State University.
Oklahoma entered the postseason with only two regular season losses and went on to only lose two more games to James Madison University and FSU, respectively. They finished their season 56-4.
Every single team in the tournament made plays and crushed softballs in ways that rendered everyone speechless, unable to describe what happened beyond simply “go watch the replay.”
Some of those plays? Senior Jocelyn Alo and the Sooners hitting so many home runs they set a new single-season home run record with a total of 161.
Two unseeded teams, the University of Georgia and JMU, both making it to the world series after knocking out top-10 seeds. The No. 3 University of Alabama eliminating 2020 champion the No. 2 University of California, Los Angeles in a perfect game by Montana Fouts and then losing its next two games to No. 10 FSU in the semi-finals.
And perhaps the biggest story of the WCWS, or at the very least runner-up, JMU and senior pitcher Odicci Alexander.
Alexander made headlines in almost every major news outlet for her stellar performance throughout the WCWS, leading the unseeded Dukes to their first world series ever and pitching a total of 1,057 pitchers in 64.2 innings. JMU played a total of 73 innings.
What could have gone horribly wrong for the Dukes actually went incredibly well. Alexander led the team to the semifinals and history books, catching the attention of Major League Baseball after a Seattle Mariners’ pitcher completed the same defensive play as Alexander had in the quarterfinals against Oklahoma State University.
Since then, MLB Twitter and other major sports accounts have retweeted and posted about the WCWS multiple times. After all, if someone likes watching baseball there’s a very strong likelihood they’ll also enjoy softball.
What most viewers may not know is that while they watched history unfold, they were also a part of it. Beyond records broken on the field, the WCWS saw its viewership records shattered for multiple games throughout the tournament.
All three championship games recorded an average of over a million viewers, with game two reaching an average of 2.08M with a peak of 2.6M, according to ESPN. The games before the championship series brought in an average of 1.64M viewers for the largest pre-finals audience recorded.
For the first time ever, ABC aired an NCAA softball game, showing No. 16 University of Washington and No. 1 Oklahoma in super-regionals. They brought in 901,000 average viewers to mark the second-most viewed super-regional in a decade.
The WCWS Opening Day had the largest audience since 2009 and third largest on record with 755,000 viewers.
And that’s not even taking into account stadium attendance. Here’s a hint; most were sold-out.
There’s no doubt that NCAA softball’s postseason made for some of the most entertaining weeks in the sports world, with multiple days of the tournament featuring intense doubleheaders.
But here’s the thing — the NCAA baseball tournament, with the same amount of teams, takes the entire month of June. Their players have rest days. They aren’t playing double-headers two days in a row.
They aren’t playing elimination games until 2 a.m because of a rain delay with more games scheduled for the next day. There should be days built in just in case of weather issues, but apparently not for NCAA softball.
But honestly, thanks for the rain delays. The amount of thunder and lightning in Oklahoma City really put a spotlight on the ridiculous scheduling of the WCWS, which has been criticized by coaches for years. Now, with the astronomical growth of the sport this spring, arguments against change hold even less weight and we might actually see a change.
Worried about cost? First, try allocating more money for women’s sports in general. I think it will be okay. Worried about ratings and viewership? Come on. I’ve only got one thing to say to that.
Build it and they will come.