In the NIL era, business is good for those returning to college hoops

FILE - Baylor forward Flo Thamba dunks during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 10, 2022. While Baylor returns just two starters -- guard Adam Flagler and big man Thamb -- the roster includes two guards returning from injury, two Division I transfers and the league's top incoming freshman.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE – Baylor forward Flo Thamba dunks during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 10, 2022. While Baylor returns just two starters — guard Adam Flagler and big man Thamb — the roster includes two guards returning from injury, two Division I transfers and the league’s top incoming freshman. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

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Armando Bacot did not leave North Carolina early after a memorable run to the NCAA championship game to pursue a professional playing career. Neither does Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, an All-American star from one of the nation’s top shows.

No, business is already good for male and female college basketball players who can now cash in on their fame.

The option to stay in school is more appealing than ever since the NCAA allowed college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in the summer of 2021.

“It’s definitely a factor, definitely something that helped,” said Timme, a two-time Associated Press second-team All-American and a preseason selection this year. “If you look at the landscape of not just college basketball, but all of college sports, that’s a big reason why a lot of people are leaning toward coming back.”

That’s particularly true on the women’s side, where NIL deals and charter travel offer more appeal than the WNBA’s hotly debated rookie salaries and commercial flights.

The women’s game has seen stars like Connecticut’s Paige Buckers, who is sidelined this year with a knee injury but will return in 2023-24, and Iowa State’s Ashley Joens opt to stay. Other prominent names like Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith and North Carolina’s Deja Kelly will soon face options; they become eligible for the draft when they turn 22 next year.

“If you’re an influencer, especially as a student-athlete in college, and that’s your appeal to NIL, you’re going to want to stay in college because that’s how you’re going to make money,” Van Lith said. . “But I think when it comes to people who are going to pursue a professional career (playing), I don’t know if it’s going to be a big change.”

Offers have poured in quickly from companies looking for the most marketable athletes, many of whom have hired agents to manage those opportunities. Businesses in college towns have looked for ways to partner with athletes to take advantage of local notoriety. National companies have done it with promotions or advertisements on social networks.

Athletes have wide latitude as long as they provide some type of service in exchange for compensation. While the terms of the deal are not public, it is estimated in some cases to be in the six figures or more, with some of the best-known athletes even surpassing projections of a million dollars.

“The difference in college sports, and we’ve seen it over and over again, is: do they follow individuals?” said Columbia University professor Joe Favorite, a sports and entertainment marketing consultant. “More or less. But they really follow the school.

“So there are people who invest in Duke, North Carolina or Notre Dame because that is part of the school. So if you go from St. John’s and transfer to Villanvoa, does that mean all the brand equity will come with you? Maybe not.”

Favorite added: “That is the challenge of college athletics. Sometimes it is much more about the community and the collective than about individuals.”

However, that also explains why it’s valuable to stick around to remain attached to the university’s brand, especially in the annual March Madness spotlight.

On the women’s side, Bueckers’ partnerships include Gatorade. Van Lith has deals with adidas, Dick’s Sporting Goods and JCPenney, prompting Louisville-area kids to do some back-to-school shopping over the summer. Kelly’s associations include Dunkin’ Donuts and Beats By Dre, she even introduced her crew to custom headphones from the company, and she modeled a line of Sports Illustrated-themed swimwear for retailer Forever 21.

“It’s just taking that (NIL) into consideration to the extent that I definitely want to play professionally,” Kelly said. “But it’s just seeing what’s the best option as far as what’s going to help me establish myself most successfully, financially at that point. So I guess we’ll talk about that when the time comes.”

A preseason AP All-American, Joens returned to Iowa State rather than enter the WNBA draft. While NIL money and charter flights influenced her decision, her biggest motivator was getting her to complete her graduation requirements this fall.

“It was a long process and I went back and forth,” he said. “I didn’t think about it much last year because you’re focused on the season. I talked a little more with my family and they told me what is more important to you right now? I knew that being able to graduate and have a degree was a big thing.”

The dynamic differs on the men’s side with players eligible for the NBA draft at age 19. There’s also the fact that big men who were once safe first-round draft picks have seen their value drop as the pro game evolves to more floor space and 3-point shooting.

Neither Bacot nor Timme were considered first-round prospects. Neither was Kentucky big man Oscar Tsheibwe, the AP Men’s National Player of the Year last year. The three of them are back in college and making money from NIL partnerships, notably Timme turning his handlebar mustache into a Dollar Shave Club deal.

And then there is Bacot. The 6-foot-11 fourth-year center suffered a serious ankle sprain in the Final Four and limped his way into the NCAA title-game loss to Kansas, so he wouldn’t have been healthy enough to workouts prior to the NBA draft.

But NIL also mattered.

The AP All-American’s long list of preseason sponsorships includes local outlets like having a burger named after him at Town Hall Burger and Beer and helping local organization Me Fine raise money for families with children experiencing a medical crisis. .

Expanding beyond North Carolina, Bacot partnered with Arkansas-based Bad Boy Mowers and Kentucky-based Thoroughbred and Breeding Center Town & Country Farms, which eventually landed him a trip to the Derby. Kentucky this year.

“Because of the success we had at the end of the year and myself, having a pretty big name in college, it allowed me to take advantage of that and capitalize on those great opportunities,” Bacot said. “It was definitely something that weighed to return.”

And Bacot is not finished. Over the summer, she filmed a role in the upcoming season of Netflix’s “Outer Banks,” a teen adventure series set on the coast of the Carolinas.

The only problem? His summer practice schedule interfered with filming dates, leading him to joke that Netflix was “probably mad at me” and might kick him off the show.

If he sticks around long enough, he might even get his own IMDB page.

Not a bad haul to stick around for the No. 1 team in preseason.

“It let me know that I have some security and that I had some money, which is better than no money,” he joked. “That’s great.”


AP basketball writer John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this report.


Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at

This story was originally published November 3, 2022 2:46 p.m.


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