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  • Writer's pictureCal Forde

The ‘Players Era’ in NCAA Basketball

By: Cal Forde

March 26, 2024

Photo Credit: Houston Public Media

A groundbreaking men’s college basketball tournament aspires to debut in fall of 2024 at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas. Dubbed the ‘Players Era’ tournament, it promises to distribute $1 million to each of the eight participating teams, and an additional $1 million for the winner. The tournament hopes to expand to 16 teams in 2025, continuing to offer NIL compensation to student athletes on participating teams. 

The event will be funded and operated by EverWonder Studio, a leading content studio and production company (founded by former Time president Ian Orefice and backed by the likes of Jeff Zucker (RedBird Capital Partners Executive) and Seth Berger (AND1 CEO). Currently, EverWonder Studio is in contact with traditional, linear broadcasting networks as well as streaming services to provide coverage of the inaugural event. Although the fund has yet to secure revenue streams, the tournament operator is guaranteeing participating teams $1 million which will be gathered from sponsors, collectives, and other NIL entities. From that point, coaches and school officials will be given the jurisdiction to divide earnings however they see fit – as long as all earnings go directly to current players. 

Currently, the operator has been in contact with over a dozen teams, most notably Alabama, Duke, Houston, and San Diego St. – all of which hope to see continued success in the Big Dance over the coming week. 

The ‘Players Era’ tournament will not be the first tournament offering NIL earnings for players; the College Basketball Invitational offered $40,000 worth of NIL payments beginning in 2023, less than tenth of each participating team's promised earnings in the ‘Players Era’ tournament. As the NCAA only permits Division I basketball teams to participate in one multi-team event per year, what effect will such high NIL payouts mean for the future of multi-team events? What incentives do programs have in playing in multi-team events that offer no NIL offers for players, regardless of how prestigious the event or competition is? Additionally, an interesting trend to follow in the future is how the creation of large NIL pools affects recruiting. In college football, the effects are clear: players want to not only play at prestigious universities but universities that offer lucrative NIL payouts. 

A downside to NIL incentivized tournaments could be similar to the issues college football currently faces with players transferring multiple times throughout their collegiate careers, disrupting the prestige and value of national championships. Will tournaments like ‘Players Era’ take away both fan and player interest in March Madness? If this season's Big Dance is any indicator, it has not so far, but regardless, $1 million in NIL payouts split between 15 roster spots is transformative for players. 


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