It appears Cathy Engelbert is reading the room on topic of NIL

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

Ever since Name, Image and Likeness became a thing, it has completely altered the landscape of how collegiate sports are seen – mostly in a positive way. 

After all, collegiate players are the reason as to why we tune into collegiate sports – but the powers that be at the top of both the television totem pole and the NCAA’s totem pole have been the ones making the money off of these players. 

These NIL deals that have been struck are allowing players to further grow their own brands as college athletes. For once, the ones that deserve the money more than anyone are actually getting it. 

This newfound reality is not lost on the leaders of professional sports leagues – including our beloved WNBA. Cathy Engelbert, commissioner of the W, was recently asked about NIL in an interview with Business Insider’s Margaret Fleming. 

They’ve got Nike and Adidas. They’ve got Powerade and Gatorade. They have Mercedes and State Farm.

–Cathy Engelbert (Margaret Fleming of Business Insider)

We’ll just continue to look for the way we can benefit off the momentum of the women’s game.

–Cathy Engelbert (Margaret Fleming of Business Insider)

Two things stand out from those Engelbert quotes. Firstly – her namedropping Nike given it is also the WNBA’s jersey partner. But also the fact that Engelbert used the word “momentum” when describing where the women’s game is currently. 

It is the perfect word to use. There is unbridled momentum around women’s sports and anyone denying that simply is threatened by the idea that women can play sports just as good – or even better – than men can. 

Women’s basketball is particularly at or near the top of the heap when considering the increased fan interest and attention there is around the women’s game. 

And while NIL has been a huge part of the equation, there is something else as well with women’s college basketball that ties into NIL that is another reason why the game is experiencing a tidal wave of momentum. 

Engelbert mentioned to Business Insider that well-known women’s collegiate hoopers such as Angel Reese, Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark are getting to the next level with massive social media followings. A big reason for that is not only that this generation of women’s basketball players know how to brand themselves as players – and as people – on social media. 

Casual fans actually know who they are. 

Compare this to the men’s side of the ledger. In the 2023 NBA draft, many casual fans probably could not name a single draftee other than Victor Wembanyama who was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs. Wemby up to this point seems to be a runaway for Rookie of the Year even though his Spurs have struggled on the court as of late. 

In the 2023 WNBA draft, we knew who Aliyah Boston was. Why? Because she built a name for herself on the court at South Carolina and she know how to grow her brand on social media. Engelbert mentioned Adidas – Boston is an Adidas athlete. 

And contrary to popular belief, it is not as if these NIL deals conclude the nanosecond they get drafted into the WNBA. They still continue – meaning they still get the NIL money along with a W salary which the WNBPA is working hard to address. 

Wemby (and maybe Brandon Miller) were probably the only athletes casual fans could name as NBA draftees because many men’s college athletes play only their freshman seasons then go to the league. They either play full seasons with their teams or they get inked to two-way contracts.

Because of WNBA eligibility limits, college players who wish to declare for the draft have to play in college until they are either juniors or seniors. We get a chance to follow talents such as Reese, Clark, Bueckers and others into the W. 

The current crop of draftees are paving the way for the stars of the future – such as JuJu Watkins, Hannah Hidalgo, Mikaylah Williams and MiLaysia Fulwiley. When they become juniors and seniors, the women’s game will be even bigger than what it is currently and the Watkins’, Hidalgos, Fulwileys and Williams’ of the college basketball world can thank Reese, Clark, Bueckers and others for knowing how to smartly brand themselves on social media – and pocket some sweet NIL money in the process. 

Engelbert has been at best inconsistent from the field on some WNBA issues. But on this, she seems to be shooting lights out from the open floor.