Depicting Stephen F. Austin as a digital token
TRADING CARDS & COLLECTIBLES

The Story Behind the First-ever College Sports NFT

The Stephen F. Austin LadyJacks secured their place in history by minting the first NFT in college athletics, a move that has serious implications for the player pay debate.

While it is no surprise that the NCAA is angling for a piece of the explosive digital sports memorabilia boom, the very first digital collectible to be minted within the college sports ranks ended up coming from an unexpected place: The Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament in Katy, Texas.

On March 14th, the Stephen F. Austin LadyJacks of Nacogdoches, Texas took a historic step towards the NCAA Tournament — and into the world of non-fungible tokens. As the LadyJacks punched their first-ever trip to the Big Dance with a 56-45 victory over the Sam Houston State Bearkats, Assistant Athletic Director for Ticketing and Business Development Wally Crittenden announced that the school minted the first-ever college sports NFT to mark the occasion.

The athletic department immediately placed the piece of virtual memorabilia — a digital frame capturing the LadyJacks’ postgame celebration — as a fundraiser for the SFA Purple Lights Fund on the auction site The Fan Block. The NFT eventually sold for $100.

Stephen F. Austin isn’t new to the crypto game, however. Since 2018, they have offered multiple types of well-received digital tokens that students and fans can exchange for merchandise, game tickets, and certain on-campus services.

It should be noted that in addition to serving as the school’s assistant AD, Crittenden works for the company that built the app where the NFT was auctioned, giving them a leg up on the rest of the field.

He had previously approached university brass about the potential role of digital assets, pushing them as a potential major revenue-driver for not just SFA, but schools and athletic programs everywhere. As he told Sportico, “There is no shortage of digital assets that talented creatives are making internally, and certainly there is no shortage of moments that can be celebrated.”

Licensing challenges may obstruct the widespread creation of NFTs across college sports in the immediate future, and their proliferation raises some potentially uncomforable questions about player compensation and the ongoing NIL (name, image, and likeness) debate in amateur athletics. For now, Crittenden advises that colleges would be wise to develop their creative muscles to capitalize on this opportunity.

The future of digital assets is bright, and Crittenden wonders if one day, instead of getting a commemorative t-shirt, fans might receive digital tokens through an app that they can redeem for several tiers of rewards and experiences.

This has us wondering, though: what’s the NFT equivalent of the t-shirt gun?