This March Madness, basketball players can monetize their shining moments.
The NCAA lifted its ban last summer on athletes earning money off their name, image and likeness. Since then all kinds of business opportunities have sprung up from modest online endorsement deals to national sponsorship campaigns to booster-funded collectives that can pay athletes thousands of dollars.
The NCAA Tournament is a chance for new stars to emerge, such as New Mexico State’s Teddy Allen.
Allen scored 37 points in an upset over fifth-seeded UConn on Thursday, flexing, dancing and waving goodbye to the Huskies fans.
By Friday night, there were T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts available for purchase online with a graphic of Allen, the words “BYE BYE” and the score and date of the 12th-seeded Aggies’ first NCAA Tournament victory since 1993.
“Everyone understands how crucial it is to really capitalize on the moment in the moment. As this is happening. As it’s the talk of the town. As it’s trending on Twitter. That’s the time to really make a strong post,” said Hunter Pomerantz, co-founder of The Players Trunk, an online merchandise store for college athletes to sell their gear and memorabilia.
Pomerantz, a former student-manager for the Syracuse basketball team, said The Players Trunk reaches out to athletes and offers them a contract to make a cut of the sales of the apparel. He declined to say what percentage goes to the players.
The shirts sell for $29.99 and the sweatshirts go for between $49.99 and $59.99. Pomerantz said the contract covers only sales of the gear and all they ask of the athletes is to promote the merchandise on their social media accounts.
Even before the tournament began, The Players Trunk started making money on March Madness.
The company produced shirts and hoodies for Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn, whose bank shot in the final seconds against Purdue sealed the Big Ten regular-season title for the Badgers, and Chattanooga’s David Jean-Baptiste, who sent the Mocs to the NCAA Tournament with a long buzzer-beater in the Southern Conference championship game.
Selling merch is just the tip of the earning potential for March’s shooting stars.
Jim Cavale, CEO of INFLCR, a company that works with thousands of college teams and athletes on a range of NIL programs, said there is a potentially lucrative market for March Madness related NFTs and digital collectibles.
But that takes planning and coordination and the current state of the NIL market is not set up to allow athletes to efficiently take advantage.
The NCAA does not have uniformed, detailed rules governing NIL compensation. The association has instructed its member schools to follow state laws where applicable or to create their own rules in states without legislation.
Many athletes are not permitted to use their schools’ marks and logos in their NIL activities. In some cases they can’t work on NIL deals while representing the school.
The Players Trunk gear with Allen’s image makes no reference to New Mexico State, but it does use the colors of the Aggies basketball uniforms.
Also, licensing agreements between the NCAA and media rights holders CBS and Turner put restrictions of what athletes can use to create content.
Even if the content can clear legal hurdles, it takes quick work and insight to capitalize on newfound fame.
“You still have to be knowledgeable enough and take enough initiative or have help in being knowledgeable and taking enough initiative to make the most of that new value,” Cavale said.
This first March Madness with NIL is likely to set a blueprint for schools and athletes to better position themselves for sudden stardom in years to come.
“This will be the last year that kids aren’t fully ready for it,” Blake Lawrence, the CEO of Opendorse, another company that works with schools and athletes to manage NIL activities.
Lawrence said the muddled nature of current NIL rules and regulations is holding back the market.
He said a national brand wanted to do advertising around both the men’s and women’s tournaments using athletes whose teams advanced from the first round to the second round.
So a player such as Allen could have appeared in an ad on Saturday after his big game on Thursday. But there were questions about whether athletes would be permitted to engage in NIL activities while on road trips, representing their schools.
“Once they started to navigate this stuff they decided it’s too hard and so they decided not to spend with student athletes at all,” he said.
For now, T-shirts and hoodies will have to do.
No. 1 Kansas survives Creighton
Remy Martin scored 20 points, Ochai Agbaji put Kansas ahead for good with his first basket early in the second half, and the Jayhawks held off Creighton, 79-72, in a second-round Midwest Region matchup in Fort Worth to advance to the Sweet 16.
Martin hadn’t led top-seeded Kansas (30-6) in scoring all season as the fifth-year senior transfer from Arizona State battled a sore knee, but he’s done it in both NCAA Tournament games.
The shorthanded Bluejays (23-12) were without 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner who injured his knee late in overtime of a 72-69 win over San Diego State on Thursday. Still, ninth-seeded Creighton stayed close with an uncharacteristically hot showing from 3-point range. One of the worst teams in the country from beyond the arc, ninth-seeded Creighton went 12 of 28.
The biggest came from freshman Trey Alexander, who swished an off-balance heave from well behind the line as the shot clock was about to expire. Keyshawn Feazell’s bucket soon after got Creighton within one in the final two minutes.
The Bluejays had a chance to go ahead in the final minute, but Alexander’s errant pass went off Alex O’Connell’s hands, leading to a breakaway dunk for Agbaji, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
Hall of Fame matchup
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Hall of Fame coaches who have been the faces of March for decades, will meet in the NCAA tournament, making it the most common coaching matchup in tourney history. Coach K and Duke are 3-2 in those games and 12-3 overall against Izzo and his Spartans.
“I like the game,” Izzo said. “I just don’t like the record in that matchup over the years.”
Will the 67-year-old Izzo send his longtime friend into retirement and take seventh-seeded Michigan State back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019?
Or will the farewell tour for 75-year-old Coach K continue on to San Francisco, site of the West Region semifinals?
No. 2 seed Duke barely broke a sweat in its 78-61 first-round win over Cal State Fullerton. The Spartans were pushed to the limit before winning 74-73 over Davidson.
And now the meeting of titans in Greenville, S.C.
Coach K’s 98 NCAA Tournament wins are most in history, as are his 36 tournament appearances. His 12 Final Four appearances are tied with John Wooden for most, his five national titles are second to the Wizard of Westwood’s 10 and his .766 tournament win percentage is best among active coaches.
Izzo’s 54 tournament wins and eight Final Four appearances rank fifth all-time and his .707 tournament win percentage is third behind Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari (.746).
Villanova assistant Dwayne Anderson, injured during Friday’s 80-60 win over 15th-seeded Delaware while trying to keep Jermaine Samuels from crashing out of bounds, is expected to be back on the bench for the Wildcats’ game against No. 7 Ohio State.
Samuels’ elbow hit Anderson’s nose, and the coach had to be helped off the court. The team’s medical staff was monitoring Anderson for concussion symptoms.
“We’re checking him, but we think he’s pretty good,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, adding that Anderson’s nose “does not look good.”
Wildcats star Collin Gillespie and the team’s director of basketball operations, Joey Flannery, tended to Anderson, who had a bloody nose. Anderson played on the 2009 Villanova team that reached the Final Four.
“He’s a tough dude,” Gillespie said. “He said he played in the old Big East, so he’s fine.”
No hard feelings
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was content to bide his time with Cormac Ryan, who picked Stanford over the Irish when he was at Milton Academy in 2018.
Ryan left Stanford after his freshman season, and Brey was glad to offer him another chance to join the Irish.
Ryan has been a 9 points-per-game scorer for two years, but he goes into Notre Dame’s game with Texas Tech off a career-best performance of 29 points and seven 3-pointers against Alabama.
Brey said he never begrudged Ryan passing on his first offer.
“If the dude can help us win, man, my feelings aren’t hurt. I’ll date you again. And I’ll pay for everything, baby,” Brey said. “Even if you break up with me, I may still come back.”