Updated: Jul 20
It’s March so all eyes are on college basketball. This year, the men’s and women’s tournaments present a unique opportunity for brands looking to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize off college basketball being at the center of the sports universe.
NIL is still functioning as the wild west, with little guidance given to universities, athletes, and companies on how to best facilitate these transactions. The NCAA has refused to take an institutional stance to embrace NIL and instead has turned a blind eye refusing to acknowledge that athletes can now profit off their publicity. But despite his, some athletes have cashed in on the first ever March Madness in the new NIL world.
Let’s look at the biggest winners:
How could we start anywhere else? The star of the men’s tournament, Doug Edert, came off the bench for the Cinderella St. Peter’s team during their run to the Elite 8. Edert was a 3-point sniper for the Peacocks, often pulling up from well beyond the line and showing fiery emotion during upsets. But what made him a nationwide sensation went beyond just his play on the court – it was the mustache.
According to teammates, the origin story behind the ‘stache dates back to midseason when St. Peter’s was forced to enter Covid-19 quarantine protocols. Like many others who were bored during the pandemic, Edert felt this was a great time to experiment with his facial hair. And much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, the mustache stuck.
I’m skeptical if this guy has what it takes to steal America’s heart.
But March Madness Edert, with the mustache, was capable of fame and (NIL) fortune:
After the first weekend of the tournament with two upsets over Kentucky and Murray St., Edert entered into an NIL deal with Buffalo Wild Wings. In the blink of an eye, Edert went from unknown hooper in New Jersey to the face of the #OvertimeWingtime campaign:
Edert also offered the opportunity for fans to sport “Dougie Buckets” merchandise through Barstool Sports:
Edert will forever be remembered for this NCAA tournament run. Thanks to NIL, he was able to monetize it. Edert has set the gold standard for players taking advantage of these few weeks in March.
We’ll stick with the facial hair theme. Drew Timme has been one of the top players in college basketball since he began at Gonzaga in 2019. Gonzaga had a disappointing exit to the tournament in the Sweet 16, but not before Timme could capitalize on his fame. Timme signed an NIL deal with Dollar Shave Club, becoming a spokesperson for the brand while sporting a notable mustache of his own.
Timme epitomizes the benefits NIL can provide. A star in the college ranks, Timme doesn’t project to have an NBA career. Crazier things have happened, but it’s likely Timme’s spotlight will never shine brighter than during his time at Gonzaga. So why shouldn’t he be able to profit while wearing a Gonzaga uniform?
NIL critics predicted that all of the money would be funneled to men’s college basketball and football stars and create a large inequity for college athletes. These same critics downplayed the benefits of NIL: If these football and basketball stars are bound to sign professional contracts in the coming years, why is it monumental if they make money a few years earlier while in college?
Drew Timme is a perfect example of how NIL has allowed someone to profit off their brand when their future earning potential is unknown. Timme very well may go on to have a prolific pro career filled with earnings and partnership deals, but in the meantime NIL provides certainty of profit today.
Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren
Unlike Timme, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren are set to sign multi-million dollar NBA contracts in just a few short months. Banchero and Holmgren are both projected to be top three picks in the upcoming NBA draft this June. Banchero has led Duke to the Final Fourt while Holmgren stood alongside Timme in Gonzaga’s frontcourt all year leading them to a #1 seed.
Banchero and Holmgren both signed NIL deals before the tournament with Yahoo Sports to represent their Tourney Pick’Em contest. Many NIL policies and legislation prohibit athletes from entering into deals that promote gambling, but the Yahoo Tourney Pick’Em is free to enter so the athletes remain in compliance.
In this promo, Banchero and Holmgren are wearing blank jerseys instead of their usual Duke and Gonzaga threads. Another common restriction on NIL deals by school policies and state legislation is the prohibition of using school branding in partnerships. You can see from the above posts that Timme and Edert weren’t sporting team logos in their sponsored instagram posts either. Just another example of how current policies and laws are making this difficult for athletes every step of the way.
NIL is constantly framed as a mechanism to benefit players. But NIL isn’t a form of charity, sponsorship deals work both ways. Yahoo Sports recognized the value in having two of the biggest stars in college basketball promote their contest. The players get compensated, but the companies benefit from the publicity and recognition the players provide. When the masses start viewing NIL deals like other partnership deals in which both parties benefit, restrictive policies may start to disappear.
Quietly, women’s college basketball players have made more money from NIL deals than men’s players.Many women college basketball players moonlight as social media stars off the court. Cameron Brink of reigning champion Stanford has partnered with Great Clips to promote the hair salon franchise:
Brink has also partnered with a clothing brand that showcases her hometown of Portland, Oregon:
Other NIL deals on the women’s side have been even more creative. The chicken wing restaurant Wingstop partnered with 11 different women who play the “wing” position on the basketball court. Wingstop’s Chief Growth Officer, Marisa Carona, said “We're excited to support women's athletics and continue our engagement in other ways within the space”.
March Madness NIL deals aren’t just reserved for stars. The bedding company, Sheets & Giggles, reached deals with five men and five women who are the “most rested” players in the tournament. Some of the benchwarmers who cashed in on their inactive status included Brock Janek of Tennessee, Russell Stong of UCLA, Becca Ripley of UCF, Conor Serven of Illinois and Justin Taphorn of Wisconsin.
The first March Madness in the post-Alston NIL reality has signaled there is a market for both large-scale and smaller NIL deals in both men’s and women’s basketball. In the years to come, expect to see more deals facilitated as education surrounding NIL increases and unnecessary restrictions go by the wayside.
Matt Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow at the Office of the General Counsel for Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN and find him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-netti-ba5787a3/. You can find all his work at www.mattnetti.com
 NCAA, The Story Behind Doug Edert’s Mustache (last visited Mar. 29, 2022) https://www.ncaa.com/video/basketball-men/2022-03-27/story-behind-doug-ederts-mustache.
 Kelly Kohen, March Madness 2022: Women's and men's Sweet Sixteen players are heavily involved in NIL deals, ESPN (last visited Mar. 29, 2022) https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/33589255/women-men-sweet-sixteen-players-heavily-involved-nil-deals.  Tamera H. Bennet, Can A Student Athlete Use The University Logo, Colors, or Trademark?, Bennett Law Office (last visited Mar. 20, 2022) https://www.tbennettlaw.com/createprotect/2021/10/28/nil-can-a-student-athlete-use-the-schools-colors-logo-mascot-jersey-endorsemen
t#:~:text=Potential%20sponsors%20and%20endorsers%20have,School%20and%20team%20colors.  Dean Golembeski, College Basketball Players Cash In With March Madness NIL Deals, Best Colleges (last visited Mar. 29, 2022) https://www.bestcolleges.com/news/analysis/2022/03/21/ncaa-march-madness-college-basketball-nil-deals/.