Now that many college sports fanbases have established NIL collectives to support college athletes, a basketball event is getting in on the action.
The SoCal Challenge, an eight-team tournament (known as a multi-team event or MTE) held the week before Thanksgiving, is planning its own NIL organization to benefit participating players.
“We want to make sure the SoCal Challenge is positioned to attract top teams for the continued growth of our tournament,” longtime NCAA coach and SoCal Challenge founder Steve Barnes said in a statement. “Our goal is to be the first MTE to bring this opportunity to our teams knowing that NIL will continue to be a driving force in the future of college athletics.”
For now, college athletes are not allowed to receive compensation simply for playing. Instead, the new SoCal Challenge collective (a more official name for the entity is still in the works) intends to offer fundraising events for players both in their home markets and in California. FirstTeam Sports has been brought in to consult on the creation of the endeavor and help operate it.
FirstTeam Sports founder Chris Schoemann, who is helping guide the venture, mentioned golf tournaments and wine tastings as the types of events that fans would pay to attend and athletes would be paid for working. In the future, SoCal Challenge tournament director Jeff Morford said, the tournament will also consider paying players specifically to help market the tournament.
“That’s going to be the norm,” Altius Sports senior account executive Celine Mangan said in an interview. However, she added that getting to that point would be complicated.
For one, it remains unclear to what degree schools can help facilitate the NIL deals and related events, with the answer potentially varying based on jurisdiction and university policy. That could make team-level contractual agreements difficult. If they do get involved, schools would also have to weigh Title IX concerns if they facilitated opportunities for only certain athletes or teams. (For now, the SoCal Challenge group intends to work with participating institutions when possible.)
Still, college sports properties are forging ahead. Mangan said Altius has worked with multiple events interested in paying athletes to participate in marketing efforts as well as the students and institutions involved in such deals. And in football, NIL agreements could theoretically increase postseason participation.
Longtime college basketball tournament organizer Chris Spencer said MTEs have become more difficult to run following NCAA bylaw changes in 2019 that limited how many games teams could play in an event, and in effect eliminated many home-site tournament games. That has led power programs to play more exclusive events against fellow behemoths and made it more expensive for smaller programs to participate in other tournaments.
“These events are hard to run as it is, hard to get income as it is,” Spencer said in an interview. “I just know how hard it is to ask for money to play—and then how you’re going to raise the money to pay NIL money, it’s going to be fascinating.”
Coaches generally pick events based on the potential competition and the host site (either as a recruiting opportunity or an experience for current players), Spencer said. NIL offerings could soon enter the equation though.
By establishing a separate collective, the SoCal Challenge is already taking things one step further. Opendorse will provide the back-end for the collective, from fundraising to post-event disbursement and disclosure.
“The purpose… is to benefit the athlete,” Schoemann said. “I don’t know whether any of this was what was designed with the initial (NIL) concept in terms of where we are now, but it’s where we are now, and let’s take advantage.”