Women’s College Basketball Players Love NIL. So Why Doesn’t Women’s Basketball?
Image via The Spun
A lot remains unclear in the NCAA athlete name, image, and likeness (NIL) space. States are unsure how their laws interact with NCAA policy. Schools remain confused in the role they play in brokering these deals between athletes and third parties. The NCAA has requested Congress to step in and provide uniformity, but so far their begs have gone unanswered. Despite all this uncertainty, one group has emerged to reap the benefits from NIL – women’s basketball players.
Haley and Hanna Cavinder are members of the women’s basketball team at Fresno State. The twins share a backcourt and lead the Bulldogs in points and assists. But even more impressive than their on-court work is their off-court following. Their joint TikTok account @cavindertwins has nearly 4 million followers. To place that into perspective, two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry’s TikTok account has 2.2 million followers. These sisters are social media superstars.
The Cavinder twins have pounced on the opportunity to profit from their name, image, and likeness more than any other college athlete. They were the first college athletes to sign an NIL deal with Boost Mobile on July 1. Since then, they have signed deals with Champs, Eastbay, the WWE, and even had their images plastered onto a billboard in Times Square.
The old guard at the NCAA must be sick to their stomach.
The Cavinder twins aren’t the only women’s hoopers growing their brand while also lining their pockets. Paige Bueckers, the UCONN superstar and widely considered best player in the country, has inked NIL deals with StockX and Gatorade. Bueckers, the former Gatorade Player of the Year in high school, joins athletes such as Michael Jordan, Zion Williamson, and Serena Williams representing the brand.
Brands have taken notice of the obvious – women’s basketball players are marketable. They can reach a young following through social media that not even the best men’s basketball players on the planet can accomplish. Women’s college basketball players are bigger digital media stars than their male counterparts, and the numbers back it up. Since the NIL floodgates opened this past summer, women’s basketball trails only football in compensation for deals signed.
There could be a variety of factors as to why women’s basketball comes in higher than men’s when it comes to NIL. First and foremost is the social media presence mentioned above. But the chart above also reveals a lot about the current landscape of men’s basketball. The combination of the one-and-done era and the rise of alternative routes to the NBA has resulted in men’s college basketball players not having the same national star power they once had. If Zion Williamson stayed four years at Duke, he likely would have been the first collegiate men’s athlete to sign with Gatorade. Instead, stars like Zion are on campus for a couple months and then sign their lucrative endorsement deals once they hit the NBA.
Conventional logic would follow that the sport of women’s basketball must be benefitting from this added exposure to their athletes. Well, not so fast. NIL goes against everything that the NCAA has always stood for, so they are refusing to embrace the benefits while simultaneously placing unnecessary roadblocks to halt progress. Likewise, schools seem afraid of breaking the law or NCAA policy and are also missing out on valuable opportunities.
Fresno State has a strict Intellectual Property use policy when it comes to athlete NIL deals:
As a result, the Cavinder twins can’t promote the school or their conference in any fashion through their brand deals. You would think Fresno State would love the free publicity that comes with their famous backcourt’s exposure. Apparently not.
The Cavinder twins recently signed a groundbreaking NIL deal with the sport apparel company Baseline Team, making themselves co-founders and granting themselves a 25% ownership stake. Baseline Team’s main business focus is developing retro basketball shorts. Due to Fresno State’s NIL policy, even after Baseline Team acquired a license to use Fresno State’s logo, as student-athletes the twins must black out the logo when promoting their merchandise.
Below is the home page of Baseline Team’s website found at: https://baselinecpg.com/
If companies are investing in these athletes to grow their brand exposure, why isn’t Fresno State or the NCAA utilizing the same methods to grow the sport they play? The social media engagement could go a long way in increasing the popularity of women’s basketball. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to think that the Cavinder twins or Paige Bueckers should be all over NCAA social media accounts and other media outlets.
Women’s basketball has constantly battled with the NCAA for equal treatment with the men’s game. NIL is an area is where the women’s game has growth potential even over the men’s game.
Just recently the NCAA surrendered to mounting pressure and changed its Final Four logos and social media accounts to separate the men’s and women’s game. Previously, the logos were the same and the twitter account @FinalFour called it’s itself the “official” feed of the NCAA Final Four but only tweeted about the men’s sport with no updates about the women’s tournament.
NIL is commonly thought of as a groundbreaking mechanism that allows players to take power back from the NCAA and profit off their own brands. But NIL also provides opportunities for schools and the NCAA to grow their sports. The NCAA needs stop being hesitant and start developing plans to embrace NIL to grow women’s basketball. The players are becoming superstars – Why not grow the game alongside them?
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
 Dan Murphy, Everything You Need to Know About the NCAA’s NIL Debate, ESPN (last visited Jan. 23, 2021) https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/31086019/everything-need-know-ncaa-nil-debate.  Scott Polacek, UConn's Paige Bueckers Becomes 1st College Player Ever to Sign Contract with Gatorade, Bleacher Report (last visited Jan. 23, 2022) https://bleacherreport.com/articles/10019464-uconns-paige-bueckers-becomes-1st-college-player-ever-to-sign-contract-with-gatorade.  Kristi Dosh, Cavinder Twins Flex Their Muscles as Entrepreneurs With Latest NIL Deal, Forbes Sports (last visited Jan. 23, 2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristidosh/2022/01/18/cavinder-twins-flex-their-muscles-as-entrepreneurs-with-their-latest-nil-deal/?sh=1602564f17fa.  Matthew VanTryon, The NCAA Changed It’s Final Four Logos. It’s Another Step For Women’s Basketball Equality, IndyStar (last visited Jan. 23, 2022) https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/college/2022/01/05/ncaa-changes-final-four-logos-social-media-handles-womens-equality-march-madness/9101782002/.