The Intersection of March Madness and Name, Image, and Likeness in NCAA Basketball

Written by Dr. Maribeth Kuzmeski an associate professor at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University and founder of The Brand Squad.

As March Madness approaches, the excitement surrounding college basketball intensifies. However, amidst the buzzer-beaters and likely Cinderella stories, another narrative is underlying the excitement—the impact of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) on NCAA athletes. 

To date, NIL has been looked at by the NCAA, athletic departments, student-athletes, donors, and businesses as both positive and negative. Let’s explore the evolving landscape where the thrill of the tournament collides with the newfound rights and opportunities of student-athletes.

The Emergence of NIL

A little background: In July 2021, the NCAA underwent a transformative shift with the implementation of NIL policies, allowing student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. No longer bound by restrictions that prevented them from monetizing their personal brands, athletes now have the freedom to pursue endorsement deals, sponsorships, and other entrepreneurial ventures. 

March Madness: A Platform for Athletes

March Madness serves as a colossal stage for NCAA basketball, captivating audiences worldwide with its drama and intensity. For student-athletes, the tournament represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their talents on a national scale.

With the eyes of millions fixed upon them, players can and certainly will leverage their performances to elevate their personal brands and capitalize on NIL opportunities. It makes the emergence of new stars amidst twists and turns of the tournament even more anticipated!

The Business of College Basketball

NIL has introduced a new dynamic to the business of college basketball. While the NCAA generates significant revenue from March Madness through broadcasting rights, ticket sales, and sponsorships, student-athletes have historically been excluded from profiting off their own success. With NIL, athletes can now claim a stake in the financial windfall generated by their performances during the tournament.

Challenges and Considerations

Despite the promise of NIL, challenges persist for NCAA athletes navigating the complexities of endorsement deals and sponsorships. The decision Caitlin Clark from Iowa needed to make regarding staying in school or going pro became much more complex with the income she generates with NIL. But today, a star player can generate income anywhere, and she will certainly continue making NIL-related money once she goes pro.

Other challenges for student-athletes include understanding contractual agreements, managing finances, and tax implications which all require a level of sophistication and guidance that many student-athletes have not needed prior to now. Moreover, significant challenges and pressure face the NCAA to establish clear guidelines and regulations ensuring fairness and integrity within college sports.

The Future of NCAA Basketball

As we embark on another exhilarating journey through March Madness, the convergence of athletic prowess and entrepreneurial spirit takes center stage. While NIL offers unprecedented opportunities for student-athletes to monetize their talents, it also raises questions about the broader implications for amateurism and collegiate athletics.

As the tournament unfolds, the impact of NIL will reverberate far beyond the hardwood, shaping the future of college sports for generations to come.

Ideas for Incorporating March Madness In Your Class

For educators teaching about Name, Image, and Likeness, this evolving landscape offers a rich tapestry of topics for classroom discussion, projects, and more. Here are some ideas for exploring this topic in your course:

Educational Implications: Educators can use the backdrop of March Madness to explore various facets of NIL, including its legal, ethical, and economic dimensions. Students can be encouraged to analyze case studies of athletes who have successfully navigated NIL opportunities, as well as those who have faced challenges. This can provide valuable insights into the complexities of personal branding, contract negotiations, and financial management in collegiate athletics.

Classroom Discussions: Discussion topics could include the impact of NIL on the balance between athletics and academics, the role of social media in building an athlete’s brand, and the potential long-term effects on the recruitment and retention of student-athletes. By examining these issues, students can gain a deeper understanding of the interplay between sports, business, and law.

Practical Applications: Educators can also encourage students to develop practical solutions to address the challenges associated with NIL. This could involve creating mock endorsement deals, developing personal branding strategies, or proposing policy changes to ensure fair and equitable student-athlete treatment. Students can apply theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios through these exercises, enhancing their learning experience.

As educators, it’s essential to provide students with the tools and knowledge to evaluate the impact of NIL on college sports critically. By incorporating the excitement of March Madness into your curriculum, you can engage students in meaningful discussions beyond the classroom and prepare them for the complexities of the modern sports landscape.

Dr. Maribeth Kuzmeski is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University. Maribeth also founded The Brand Squad at Oklahoma State, a select group of business students trained and certified to assist student-athletes with their NIL efforts. Maribeth has a bachelor’s degree from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, an MBA from The George Washington University, and a PhD in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University.

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