On July 1st, 2021 the sports world changed for the better in the college ranks. Student-athletes would be allowed to earn money off their "Name, Image, And Likeness" through marking and promotional activities based on their athletic activity and/or social media presence.
The biggest beneficiary to NIL being a reality is the women student-athletes, as they've made the most revenue from partnering with brands. Several high profile college women's basketball players have capitalized on their NIL potential, notably Iowa's Caitlin Clark, LSU's Angel Reese, UCONN's Paige Bueckers, and more. They all have the potential to earn nearly millions of dollars while they attend school and play basketball for their respective schools. All these players have an important decision to make at the end of the season. The WNBA draft will occur after the college season concludes, and many players will have to decide whether to play another year or enter the draft. Many factors could weigh in a players' decision, like wanting to win a college championship or finishing their education. Even though the decision process is different for every student-athlete, there is a false narrative with a possible deciding factor: financial stability.
NIL was created to help the student-athletes get paid while playing their sport, which the NCAA strictly prohibits. The schools in the NCAA pay their student-athletes through scholarships, which pays for all basic college expenses (housing, dining, books and other supplies, etc.) Outside of scholarships, institutions aren't allowed to pay them for their athletic services like autograph signings, or other promotional activities. Student-athletes used to compete in widely viewed events like March Madness without collecting a dime. NIL helps the student-athletes earn money through brand marketing and they are able to partner with national companies and local businesses without any problems with the NCAA. Women's basketball players have benefited signifigantly through NIL, and players like Clark, Reese, Bueckers, and Cameron Brink are earning plenty of money to make a living. However, since it's not the NCAA or the schools paying the players but rather the businesses they partner with, they will still be able to earn "NIL money" while playing in the WNBA. For example, Clark recently signed with Gatorade and State Farm, and she is worth north of $794,000 in annual NIL revenue. That number will only increase when she decides to enter the WNBA. When the student-athletes (with college eligibility remaining) decide to stay or declare for the draft, fans should have confidence that the players' decision isn't based on NIL vs WNBA earnings. However, there is a problem with what current and potentially future WNBA players earn that needs to be altered as the league continues to grow.
One of the issues with the WNBA is how miniscual the players earn. Top 2023 pick Aliyah Boston has an average salary of $77,823 according to Spotrac. While it's still a relatively young league entering year 28, its growth over the last five seasons should implore the players to earn more money. Las Vegas Aces point guard Kelsey Plum said on The Residency podcast that they aren't asking to get paid like NBA players, but rather an equal percentage of the WNBA's league revenue. "In the NBA, they have percentages of revenue shared for the players — so, jersey sales, obviously their TV contracts," Plum said. "But that’s because their CBA negotiates, where the owners are making certain types of money, [the players] get that as well. In the WNBA, that’s not the case." While incoming WNBA players will earn a small salary as they start their professional careers, their NIL revenue will still exist. For the bigger name players like Bueckers, and Clark, this isn't an issue. This is more for the mid to late-round draft picks who make a roster. As of now there are 144 spots across 12 teams in the league. In 2025 the league will expand to 14 teams creating more roster spots. The WNBA needs to fix their salary percentage issue, as well as expand team rosters so the players who don't have as big of an NIL earning (or any at all) can still make a living.
The 2024 WNBA draft is set for April 15th, shortly following the Final Four which runs April 4th-7th in Cleveland, Ohio. With eligible student-athletes having such a short turnaround to make the life-changing decision to stay in school or declare, deciding based on NIL earnings is a false narrative in the world of women's basketball.