The Erasure of Women’s Basketball Records: Caitlin Clark and the Unrecognized Legacy of Lynette Woodard

The purpose of records is not to satisfy the incurable enthusiasms of men with sweating beer bottles in hoarse bar arguments over arcane decimals. It’s to provide some memory-measure of great deeds. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is approaching a great deed, but the NCAA record book cheapens it by historically gutterizing women’s basketball. The greatest scorer in major-division women’s collegiate history is not Clark, but Lynette Woodard of Kansas. You’d never know this, however, because the old NCAA had no respect for Woodard’s era, so it canceled it, and asterisked it.

The most remarkable thing about Woodard’s scoring mark of 3,649, set at Kansas from 1978-1981, is that many of those points came after she’d been folded into a van because nobody would pay for women athletes to fly. The most airtime Woodard got was when she’d go skylarking to the rim. She could flutter a shot in the net like a pianist touching keys, despite being cramped up for hours — the tallest women suffered the most in those vans. Yet Woodard’s accomplishment isn’t formally in the record book because NCAA male administrators flatly refused to recognize or fund women’s sports until, get this, 1982. In response to a query, an NCAA spokesperson responded that women’s records pre-that date “were not completed while the schools/teams in question were NCAA members.”

To sum up, the NCAA doesn’t regard women’s basketball records as records, because before 1982 the NCAA didn’t want women in their organization.

“Those records should have been merged a long time ago,” Woodard says. “ … We’re so quick to erase anything we don’t like or think we don’t like. It’s just not fair. There’s a lot of history there and it just should not be dismissed.”

Giving Woodard’s performance the proper respect and recognition therefore matters — greatly. The perfect occasion to remedy that is right now, so that when Clark sets the record, the real record, it means what it should. With three games remaining in the regular season, Clark was still 56 points shy of Woodard and 75 points shy of men’s record holder Pete Maravich, and seems likely to break both marks by March. If and when it happens, we should remember that without Woodard, and all the other heroines of the AIAW era, there simply is no Caitlin Clark.

“Caitlin is having a wonderful, sensational career, and when there is a high tide, all boats float,” Woodard says. “There are so many things she is making people aware of, and I think it’s a great thing. But I just hope that if the call letters ever changed on ‘NCAA,’ her records might be blended.”

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