Happy Wednesday, SporticoU readers. I hope everyone enjoyed March Madness—even with brackets as busted as mine were by the end.
The women’s NCAA tournament was undeniably the talk of the town. From Angel Reese to Caitlin Clark to Aliyah Boston’s Final Four farewell, the spotlight burned bright. Viewership soared, records fell, and a few of the aforementioned stars saw some serious gains in social media followers. It seems like only a matter of time before we get a Reese or Clark shoe deal.
While NIL is certainly an interesting point of conversation around the tournaments—the women’s players tended to have much bigger social media followings than the men’s, making them, at least in theory, more valuable from an NIL perspective—I also think the way it likely played into this year’s WNBA Draft is fascinating.
I know, I know. The WNBA Draft isn’t technically college sports, but it’s close enough. South Carolina had five Gamecocks selected on Monday night, headlined by Boston, who went to Indiana as the No. 1 pick. That’s college news! But another takeaway from the night was the players who weren’t in the draft.
Some of college basketball’s biggest stars and projected top picks, like Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley and Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, didn’t declare this year. Instead, they’ll return to college for a fifth year, thanks to their extra COVID eligibility.
There are several factors they had to consider when weighing whether to turn pro, but NIL was undeniably one of them, especially given the amount of attention on women’s college basketball right now. That doesn’t necessarily translate to the WNBA, where several of the league’s teams struggle to draw crowds and regular-season viewership has remained relatively stagnant (though the postseason has picked up steam).
Boston’s situation is the perfect case study. Her alma mater led Division I women’s basketball in attendance this season, welcoming nearly 13,000 fans per game. Indiana, on the other hand, reported the lowest average attendance in the WNBA, with just 1,776 fans per game, according to Statista. She might be more valuable from an endorsement perspective in South Carolina than Indiana simply because of the attention that was on her in college and the Gamecocks’ die-hard fanbase—something the Fever lacks.
The potential NIL dollars are especially important when considered in the context of rookie salaries in the WNBA. Boston, the top player in her class, will make $74,305 during the first year of her rookie deal, which maxes out at $83,371. Sure, she’ll add money through off-court deals, but when players like Reese and Clark are already hauling in six figures as undergrads, there’s more reason for the Kitleys and Jacksons of the women’s basketball world to think twice about leaving.
It’s worth noting that the extra COVID eligibility so many seniors had won’t apply forever, but if the WNBA ever changed its eligibility requirements (right now players have to be 22 or have completed four years of school), it’d be interesting to see if more women’s basketball stars chose another NIL-financed college campaign over the chance to go pro early.
Those are my musings for today—catch you all on the flip side.