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: In the Final Four, more women than men are atop the list of players poised to earn the most in NIL money

When the NCAA changed its policies and began allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) in 2021, some people assumed that male athletes playing football and basketball would be the prime beneficiaries.

That is not the case.

While players on the men’s basketball and football teams are some of the top earners from name, image and likeness deals over the past year, female basketball stars have taken centerstage during the March Madness basketball tournaments.

Basketball ranks second to football in total NIL compensation, and women’s college basketball has a higher total compensation than men’s basketball, according to a study by NIL company Opendorse. Opendorse is a technology company that connects athletes with brands and helps them “understand, build, protect, and monetize their brand value.”

Look no further than this year’s Final Four, where it appears that many of the female athletes are set up to better capitalize on future earnings.

When analyzing teams that qualified for the 2022 Final Four for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, just two male players, Paolo Banchero and Caleb Love, were in the top 10 of NIL value, according to Opendorse’s analytics. The value is calculated through the athlete’s social media following on apps like Twitter TWTR, +27.17%, Instagram and TikTok, and total engagement on their profiles — the metric is an approximation, not an exact value on total earned.

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Prior to 2021, college athletes were not allowed to sign any kind of endorsement deals, sell autographs or memorabilia, or profit off their name, image and likeness.

“I cannot tell you how many times we heard ‘Women will get nothing. Women will be on the back burner,’” Corey Staniscia, director of external affairs at NIL platform Dreamfield, said in a recent interview. “Everything that the naysayers said, none of it has held true.”

NIL has become an emerging market for college athletes, even for those not currently in the NCAA March Madness tournament. Hanna and Haley Cavinder, twin sisters on the Fresno State basketball team, have signed several lucrative partnerships and have nearly 4 million followers on social media — Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunn has also captured some of the bigger NIL deals in the country.

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Some recent examples of creative NIL deals for University of Connecticut basketball star Paige Bueckers are with shoe marketplace giant StockX, and student education company Chegg. Bueckers has signed on as a student-athlete “brand ambassador” for both companies — the Chegg agreement will also focus on issues related to student hunger.

“It means a lot,” the 20-year-old Bueckers said. “To be in a position to give back to a community that gave me so much, especially not knowing for so long if I could be here on the court with my team, it’s really fulfilling. But it’s also only just the start.”

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