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PARIS -- Dawn Staley is getting a lot less sleep lately, but for good reason. The South Carolina women's basketball coach, who just captured her third NCAA championship after her Gamecocks beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in the national title game on April 7, is consuming a lot more women's basketball, because for the first time ever she has endless options at her disposal. 

It's a result of the growth and support that women's basketball has seen recently, with the national championship game serving as a peak moment, where a record 18.9 million people tuned in to watch South Carolina vs. Iowa. Not only was it the most watched women's national championship game, it outpaced the men's title game this year (14.82 million viewers), and was the most watched basketball game, men's or women's, collegiate or professional since 2019.

"It's not a choice anymore," Staley told CBS Sports during a Nike event in Paris. "Years ago, it was a choice. Either you watch the one game that they're going to televise once a week, or not. A lot of people chose not to tune in, it's flipped. Everybody wants to be tuned into every really good game, or not good game because we want to tickle our fancy of knowing all of women's basketball. So I think that's great."

Staley, who played in an era of women's basketball where it was not only difficult to get fans to tune in to games, but also show up in person, has on multiple occasions given props to Iowa star player Caitlin Clark -- who is projected to go No. 1 in Monday's WNBA Draft -- for elevating the women's game. Clark's collegiate career will not only go down as one of the best in history for the records she broke, but because of the attention she brought to women's hoops, making her a household name.

But the recent crop of collegiate talent in women's basketball isn't the only reason Staley thinks people are starting to take notice of the women's game. She pointed to the 2021 external review on the NCAA's gender equality, otherwise known as the Kaplan report, which highlighted jarring disparities that existed between men and women athletes. 

The report was the result of former Oregon women's basketball player Sedona Prince posting a video on social media in 2021 that highlighted the stark differences in how the men and women's players were treated during March Madness. The video highlighted the hotels they stayed at, the food offerings, merch given to each player and weight rooms available. Prince's video went viral on several social media platforms, and called attention to the gender inequality that exists in college basketball.

"I think hands were forced with the new television deal, which came at a perfect time," Staley said. "I do think that the Kaplan report revealed some things, which showed us our game is being held back. And I do think that slowly, decision makers of our game, are really finding out that if they invest in our game, they'll get a return on their investment."

The NCAA announced back in January a new television contract with ESPN for $920 million through 2032 to air 40 collegiate championships, including women's college basketball. The deal valued women's college basketball at $65 million a year, which is double the valuation from the previous deal. It's a step in the right direction, but it's still not where Staley thinks it should be.

"We need units, just like any men's program that plays in March Madness, they get millions of dollars coming back to their universities, we get nothing," Staley said. "So once our dollars start making sense on campuses, I do think our game will grow. That's the missing piece that we got to start speaking out on again."

Getting closer to gender equality at the collegiate level is just one piece to the puzzle, there's also major strides that need to happen in the professional realm as well. Two-time WNBA MVP, and back-to-back reigning champion A'ja Wilson who plays for the Las Vegas Aces appreciates the moment that women's basketball is having, but would like to see the same level of support at at the professional level. 

The WNBA saw record viewership numbers last season, with the 2023 WNBA Finals being the most watched Finals series in 20 years, and a 36% increase from the previous year. But it so often feels like once the hyped up players in college get drafted, that attention and support fizzles out, which is something that Wilson would like to see change.

"I think that sometimes we see a drop off because it's just a trend," Wilson said. "It's like, oh, it's March, we love basketball. Go women.' ... The draft is literally three weeks away. So how about follow them to that? And how about continue to follow them to a W game, and buy their jerseys and investing your time and your money in them at the next level. So I think that's something that I would love to see. It's kind of one of those moments where it's like, yeah, it's trendy. But let's keep this train going for a long, long time."

With the high of the women's national championship, there's a real opportunity for the WNBA to carry that baton as the season nears, especially with this 2024 WNBA Draft possessing some of the best talent we've seen in years. Between Clark, Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso, Angel Reese and several other high-profile players, the WNBA could see record viewership once again, it's just a matter of fans continuing their support once the craze of March Madness wears off. 

"When you get to us in the pros, we have some greats there, and it's like, it would blow your mind," Wilson said. "You're fascinated by this, oh, just wait. It's just one of those moments where I'm like, I love it. I love the energy surrounding it, but I feel like we've also been in this moment where it feels so familiar, like, oh, it's a rise, and then it's a drop off. I'm like, I'm tired of that feeling. I want it to sustain, I want it to keep going. I want it to keep growing at the next level as well."