PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Women’s Basketball Could Be the Big Winner in the NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness Debate

Eight of the 10 biggest social media followings among NCAA basketball players in the Elite Eight belong to women. The implications for NIL reform are fascinating.

The road to the Final Four is nearing its finish line. This year’s men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments have been filled with Cinderella stories and Hollywood-level heartbreak alike, with more potentially in store. But perhaps the most surprising March Madness moments are taking place off the court.

When both tournaments kicked off, however, the NCAA immediately found itself in hot water when behind-the-scenes footage captured by Oregon’s Sedona Price revealed stark disparities between the amenities provide to male versus female athletes, including team weight facilities and swag bags. The viral video sparked outrage among players and fans alike; the NCAA leapt to make changes, but the damage was done.

But the impact of teams and athletes on the women’s side will not be contained — not even by laughable weight stacks.

On Monday, Axios revealed that eight of the 10 most-followed athletes across social media in this year’s Elite Eight are women. Athlete marketing platform Opendorse took those athletes’ Instagram and Twitter followings and weighted them based on other variables including media market size and athletic department revenue, estimating what their earning potential would be… if only the NCAA permitted amateur athletes to profit off their names, images, and likenesses (NIL).

UConn Huskies freshman phenom Paige Bueckers has the biggest social following on the list, with estimated earnings that notably beat out slam-dunk NBA lottery picks like USC’s Evan Mobley and Arkansas’ Moses Moody. Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs leads the way in earning potential among men’s players, but only one can reign supreme above all:

Hailey Van Lith, Louisville’s do-it-all freshman guard.

Opendorse estimates the Cardinals star’s social media following and market impact to be worth almost a million bucks all by itself.

Unfortunately, the actual monetary value of this March Madness Bump is limited by the NCAA’s frustratingly outdated, arbitrary restrictions on student athletes. Fortunately, that could all subject to change in the coming months now that NIL legislation is set to be considered by the US Congress after similar bills have gained attention around the country at the state level.

In February, Senator Chris Murphy announced the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, which would enable college athletes “make money off their Name, Image and Likeness with the fewest restrictions possible.”

This would allow student athletes to secure paid endorsements out in the open and profit off the licensed use of their name and likeness. From video games to trading cards to autographs, the possibilities for monetization — and empowerment that goes along with it — are endless.

Until then, though, the athletes on Axios’ will only be able to dream of what might be possible if and when they’re able to realize their professional dreams. Here and now, for superstars like Bueckers and Suggs, a national title remains the best available prize.