Miami’s Wong shows college sports hurtles toward free market

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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An agent for a prominent college athlete finally said out loud what schools likely hear in private: Pay the player more, or he will transfer to a school that will.

The brazen demand made on behalf of University of Miami basketball star Isaiah Wong last week provided a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the way elite college sports have been transformed by student-athletes’ rights to earn money through endorsements.

Teammates are comparing contracts. Players’ financial backers are swapping barbs. And coaches and administrators are struggling to keep their rosters full – and players happy — without running afoul of the rules.

If Wong’s agent didn’t technically cross the bounds of what’s permissible — players can’t seek payment simply in return for a promise to play at a specific school – then he firmly planted his foot on the line, according to labor experts.

“We are rapidly moving toward professionalization at full market rate for these NCAA players,” said Michael LeRoy, labor law professor at the University of Illinois. “It’s very clear it’s really not about endorsements, it’s about paying guys for their performance.”

Until recently, endorsement deals – or any compensation other than scholarships — were strictly off limits for college athletes. Paying students was seen as a threat to the ideal of amateur sports. But legal challenges by athletes seeking to reap some of the billions of dollars schools were earning off of sports forced change. In 2019, California became the first state to pass a law allowing athletes to earn money on endorsements, autograph signings and other activities, and by July 2021, the NCAA lifted its decades-old ban.

The NCAA left in place only loosely defined guidelines: the deals could not be used to entice recruits or as a form of pay-for-play contracts.

Wong, who has apparently opted to stay at Miami, surely wasn’t the first player to have a representative make a demand based on a player’s perceived market value, and he won’t be the last, experts said.

“He was just the first to be so public about it,” said Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.

Tens of thousands of athletes across many sports have cashed in, according to Opendorse, a firm that works with schools on player-compensation matters ranging from from brand-building to compliance.

Deals can be worth as little as a few hundred dollars; some reportedly top $1 million. Football players earn the most, followed by women’s and men’s basketball players, according to Opendorse. Endorsements can be found far and wide, even in seemingly low-profile sports such as golf, rowing and hockey.

So far, it’s only been individual players like landing big deals, but that could change. LeRoy, the labor law professor, wondered what would happen if players from the same basketball team made a joint demand for more generous endorsement pay, putting a program in a bind.

It’s easier for a football team to bounce back if players seeking better endorsements transfer to other schools because the rosters are larger than in basketball. But keeping everyone happy is a challenge for coaches.

“All 85 players are your roster and free agents every year,” Berry said. “This is a professional model. It’s not a collegiate model anymore.”

TCU football coach Sonny Dykes said recruits routinely ask about endorsement deals.

“Basically, all we can do is pass on a number and say, ‘Hey, you can talk to this guy, and he’ll tell you what we can or can’t do.’ It’s really that simple,” Dykes said. “The concern for me is that somebody makes a promise to a kid and doesn’t follow through. We have no control over that.”

In many cases, the people to call are the ones running so-called collectives, sports marketing agencies that have sprung up to support specific schools and facilitate deals between their athletes and businesses such as apparel companies, energy drink companies, car dealerships and restaurants.

At Texas, one group is dangling $50,000 a year to individual offensive linemen for work supporting community charities, such as in-person appearances, promotions or representation. At the University of Oregon, billionaire Nike founder Phil Knight is part of group helping Ducks athletes line up deals.

Nigel Pack, a men’s basketball player who transferred to Miami from Kansas State, signed with the software company LifeWallet for $800,00, plus the use of a car for two years. UConn basketball player Paige Bueckers last year was the first college athlete to sign a deal to represent Gatorade.

A large majority of athletic directors worry that collectives are improperly using endorsement contracts to recruit players from high schools or other colleges, according to a survey released Wednesday by LEAD1, an association of athletic directors at the 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“This is a transformational period in college sports and the results of our survey illustrate that (athletic directors) are extremely concerned with a number of key issues,” LEAD1 President Tom McMillen said.

The NCAA, the governing body of college sports, has taken a mostly hands-off approach since allowing endorsement deals, and more than two dozen states have laws allowing endorsement deals. Most of the state laws include the ban on pay-for-play.

But as cases like Wong’s illustrate how quickly college sports is changing, there is new pressure to study the issue. On Thursday, the commissioners of the Southeastern Conference and Pac-12, two of the wealthiest leagues in college sports, were scheduled to meet with lawmakers in Washington to lobby for some federal regulations, which could include possible bans on using endorsement contracts as recruiting inducements and pay-for-play deals.

Leagues, schools and some coaches worry the new free-for-all upends competitive balance, disrupts rosters and pushes more control over athletic programs to outside forces.

What caught many by surprise is how quickly deep-pocketed collectives and wealthy individuals aligned with major colleges poured in to raise and dangle millions of dollars in front of athletes.

“Nobody anticipated these collectives forming a year ago,” LeRoy said. “It shows us how out of control the whole system is. It has become a way for schools to find a third-party payer for their athletic talent.”

Even financial backers can get caught off guard when an athlete decides the money isn’t big enough, or when a teammate perhaps becomes a financial rival.

Mit Winter, a sports law and business attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, said some deals are pushing the boundaries, and making it seem as if players are simply getting paid to play, as opposed to being compensated at market rates for endorsements.

“Arguably these deals are violating NCAA rules and sometimes even state laws,” Winter said. “That’s kind of the big question: Is the NCAA ever going to start investigating some of these deals?”

Some point to a future of collective bargaining between athletes and schools. That would mean schools treating athletes more like employees, which they have resisted.

Last September, the top lawyer for National Labor Relations Board said in a memo that college athletes should be treated as employees of their schools. That established a potential path for athletes to unionize or bargain over working conditions.

Collective bargaining would require some flexibility and creative thinking by schools and conferences. It could also let them bring their institutional power into negotiations with athletes, who may have competing interests, such as gender equity and different health and safety needs across multiple sports.

“It would be a nervous moment for teams and leagues. They don’t have experience with it and their TV contracts would be unsettled,” LeRoy said. “But at the end of the day, they would be able to get a stable kind of resolution to their labor problems.”

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.