Scott Rabalais: Caitlin Clark deserves her due, but Pete Maravich still a record holder

Scott Rabalais: Caitlin Clark deserves her due, but Pete Maravich still a record holder
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Sometime after noon Sunday — probably in the first half and possibly in the first quarter, — Caitlin Clark’s career point total at Iowa will surpass that of LSU’s Pete Maravich during her team’s game against Ohio State.

Headlines immediately will sprout across the internet that Clark has broken Maravich’s all-time NCAA scoring record. There already have been plenty of them leading up to the watershed moment:

“How to watch Caitlin Clark break Pete Maravich’s all-time NCAA scoring record.”

“Magical season has Caitlin Clark close to Pete Maravich’s scoring record.”

“Who’s next for record wrecking ball Caitlin Clark? ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich.”

There can be virtually no doubt about one thing: Clark, with 3,650 career points, will surpass Maravich’s 3,667 career points. She will be the leading scorer in Division I basketball, men’s or women’s, ever.

But does that make her the all-time record holder? Is there a combined record to break?

The NCAA says no.

“We do not have joint women’s and men’s basketball records,” David Worlock, the NCAA director of media coordination and statistics, wrote in an email Thursday. “We consider them two different sports and thus maintain separate records, just as we do for lacrosse, soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, etc. Therefore, Pete Maravich remains the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Division I men’s basketball.”

Let’s be clear about something right here: This is not to diminish Clark’s achievement. She is an incredible basketball talent, full stop. Seeing her play in person in the Women’s Final Four last year against South Carolina and then against LSU was a career highlight for this writer.

It remains to be seen what she does in the professional and international basketball ranks, but based on her career so far, she is well on her way to joining Maravich in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

But there seems to be a broad — though not universal — attempt in sports media to celebrate Clark’s achievements by diminishing what Maravich did. To crown her the game’s all-time record holder when there is no such record to hold.

In that respect, former Detroit Mercy shooting star Antoine Davis literally was more of a threat to Maravich’s record than Clark is. Davis is the guy who came up four points short of breaking Maravich’s record last year, finishing with 3,664 points.

Davis had five years to play compared with Maravich’s three — Davis got a COVID year and freshmen were ineligible in Maravich’s day — and played 144 games to Pistol Pete’s 83. But nonetheless, as distasteful as it would have been if the CBI tournament had invited Detroit Mercy to extend its season despite its 14-19 record (it did not), Davis’ point total would have been considered a legitimate record. What isn’t legitimate is Davis carping afterward that he was cheated out of the record because his 14-19 team stayed home.

Extending seasons and/or playing careers has been a point of controversy for years. The most celebrated case: the distinction then-baseball commissioner Ford Frick wanted to make between Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in 1961 in 162 games and Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers in a 154-game season.

NFL teams once played 14 games and now they play 17, skewing records toward modern players. A college football season was only 10 games and bowl statistics didn’t count when LSU won the 1958 national title. This season, if a team goes from the first round of the newly expanded College Football Playoff to the championship it could play 17 games and by rule count up all the stats.

The fact that Clark is playing her fourth collegiate season and Maravich could only count three is therefore immaterial. So is the fact that Maravich scored 741 points in freshman-only games. So is the fact that Maravich didn’t have a 3-point line to shoot behind. Games change and seasons get longer. It’s the way it is.

But Maravich still has his Division I record, something that amazingly has stood for nearly 54 years. Clark has her Division I record. You can argue that she’s a greater shooter/passer/ballhandler than Maravich if you want. But those are merely opinions, not necessarily verifiable by the mathematics of the game.

To that end, Clark still has a long way to go to score the most points ever in college basketball regardless of divisions or organizations or gender. That distinction belongs to John Pierce, who scored 4,230 points from 1990-94 at NAIA Lipscomb. A women’s player named Pearl Moore scored 4,061 points from 1975-79 at Francis Marion in the AIAW days (the NCAA did not sanction women’s sports until 1982).

There are a lot of layers to this onion. Let’s just say what Clark is doing is great, what Maravich did was great and leave it at that. That won’t play well in our “latest must be the greatest” world, but it should.

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About Marc Lemoine 1529 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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