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.”

Cavinder twins say they’ll transfer to Miami

Fresno State Basketball Players Haley and Hanna Cavinder Announce Endorsements
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Haley and Hanna Cavinder are about to expose 4 million fans to Miami women’s basketball.

The Cavinder sisters – identical 5-foot-6 twin guards who combined to average 34.2 points per game in their three seasons at Fresno State and built an enormous social media following during the pandemic – announced Thursday night that they are transferring to Miami for their senior seasons.

Their notable stats: 3,040 combined points in 89 games, 400,000 Instagram followers apiece and 4 million more on their shared TikTok account that mostly features them dancing side-by-side.

“WHAT’S UP MIAMI,” Hanna Cavinder wrote on Instagram, under a photo of she and her sister in Miami uniforms.

Haley Cavinder was the Mountain West’s player of the year as a sophomore in 2020-21, plus was an all-conference selection as both a freshman and a junior. Hanna Cavinder also was all-conference as a freshman. Haley Cavinder is one 3-pointer shy of 200 for her career; Hanna Cavinder has had at least 100 assists and 50 steals in each of her college seasons.

The Cavinders instantly became stars of the Name, Image and Likeness phenomenon as soon as it became officially an option for college athletes on July 1, 2021. Boost Mobile signed them immediately, touting that move with a giant advertisement in New York’s Times Square. Many other deals – including ones with Champs Sports, Eastbay and apparel company PSD – soon followed, and they even have an ownership stake in another apparel company.

They can be hired through the site Cameo for personalized video messages ($75) or ones for a business ($750). Some estimates have said that their deals are already worth in excess of $1 million; others within the NIL space said it could be significantly more.

And now they’re coming to Miami, a school that has already seen several football players and others get lucrative NIL deals in recent months. The Cavinders join a Hurricanes program that finished 21-13 this past season, went to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game for reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The additional exposure that the twins will bring won’t hurt. Miami averaged 1,378 fans at home games this past season, only 11th-best out of the 15 teams in the ACC.

The Cavinders are from Arizona, but the move to Miami is a homecoming of sorts for the family. The sisters’ father, Tom Cavinder, played at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida – about 45 minutes north of Coral Gables – from 1992 through 1994.

Kansas races past Miami in 2nd half, reaches 16th Final Four

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Christian Braun powered a dazzling second half for Kansas, and the top-seeded Jayhawks pounded Miami 76-50 on Sunday to advance to the program’s 16th Final Four.

Agbaji scored 18 points, McCormack had 15 and Braun finished with 12, helping Kansas rally after a lackluster start. The Jayhawks trailed by six points at halftime but outscored Miami 47-15 in the final 20 minutes.

Kansas (32-6), the only No. 1 seed left in the NCAA Tournament, won the Midwest for the 13th time with its ninth consecutive victory overall. Next up is the national semifinals and a matchup with Villanova on Saturday in New Orleans.

It’s the fourth Final Four for coach Bill Self in his 19 seasons at Kansas. The last time the Jayhawks made it to the semis, they lost 95-79 to coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats in 2018.

Remy Martin, the most outstanding player in the Midwest Region, finished with nine points and six rebounds for Kansas.

Kameron McGusty scored 18 points and Isaiah Wong had 15 for No. 10 seed Miami in the program’s first appearance in the Elite Eight. The Hurricanes (26-11) were bidding to get coach Jim Larranaga back to the Final Four for the first time since he led 11th-seeded George Mason there in 2006.

McGusty spent two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Miami, averaging 13.5 points in four games against Kansas. And he looked comfortable playing against the Jayhawks again.

The redshirt senior guard scored 14 points to help the Hurricanes to a 35-29 halftime lead. But everything changed after the break.

With McCormack asserting himself inside and Braun and Ogbai picking up their play on the perimeter, Kansas outscored Miami 25-7 over the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Jalen Wilson made two foul shots and Agbaji connected from 3 to lift the Jayhawks to a 54-42 lead with 10:14 left. And the Big 12 champions just kept rolling.

A dunk by Agbaji capped a 10-0 run and made it 67-46 with 4:35 left, delighting the pro-Kansas crowd at the United Center. A 3 by Agbaji extended the lead to 23 points with 1:58 remaining.

The second-half numbers told the story of Kansas’ dominance. Miami shot 21.4% (6 for 28) after the break, compared to 59.3% (16 for 27) for Kansas. The Jayhawks also outrebounded the Hurricanes 25-11 in the second half. Wilson finished with 11 rebounds to make up for a tough shooting day.

SWEET HOME CHICAGO

Kansas improved to 6-0 in NCAA Tournament games played in the Windy City.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: One of the Hurricanes’ biggest strengths in the tourney was their ability to generate turnovers, but they were unable to rattle the experienced Jayhawks. Miami finished with 14 turnovers, compared to 11 for Kansas.

Kansas: The Jayhawks improved to 44-16 in the NCAA Tournament under Self, but they are focused on winning the national title for the first time since 2008.

McGusty, Miami beat Iowa State 70-56 in Sweet 16

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Kameron McGusty and Miami jumped into passing lanes, challenged Iowa State’s shots and generally made life quite difficult for the Cyclones.

Turns out the Hurricanes play defense, too – at an Elite level.

McGusty scored 27 points and Miami advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time, pulling away for a 70-56 win over Iowa State 70-56 in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.

Jordan Miller added 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting as No. 10 seed Miami more than held its own in a matchup of two of the tourney’s most stingy teams. The 11th-seeded Cyclones shot 32% from the field in the second half and finished with 18 turnovers.

“I can’t stop smiling. It’s just crazy,” a grinning Miller said. “I love these guys.”

With Charlie Moore directing the attack in his hometown, the Hurricanes (26-10) got their first win in the school’s fourth appearance in the Sweet 16. Next up is No. 1 seed Kansas – a 66-61 winner over Providence – on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.

“The guys did a great job from start to finish. I’m very, very excited for them,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. “They’re an amazing group. They earned that today because they beat a very fine opponent.”

Much was made of Iowa State’s hard-nosed defense after the Cyclones (22-13) shut down LSU and Wisconsin in the first two rounds, advancing to the Midwest Region semifinals after the school had just two wins last season. But Iowa State had trouble staying in front of McGusty and company at times, and the Hurricanes’ athleticism also bothered the Cyclones when they had the ball.

Iowa State forced 14 turnovers after Miami turned it over just seven times combined in its previous two games, but the Hurricanes shot 46% from the field. The Cyclones allowed 33.3% shooting over their first two tourney games.

“They did a better job than we did in terms of disruption and creating live-ball turnovers,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “They made some timely shots when we made our runs as well.”

Gabe Kalscheur scored 13 points for Iowa State, and freshman Tyrese Hunter had 13 points and seven assists. Izaiah Brockington finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

“It was a special run,” senior forward George Conditt IV said.

The Cyclones pulled within one on Kalscheur’s jumper with 16:28 left. But the Hurricanes responded with a 10-2 run. Isaiah Wong’s 3-pointer – one of nine on the night for Miami – made it 46-37 with 12:23 to go.

Iowa State made a couple charges down the stretch, but McGusty made a 3 and converted a layup to help Miami answer each time. When Sam Waardenburg connected from deep and Miller made two foul shots to make it 60-46 with 2:47 to go, the celebration was on for the Hurricanes.

Waardenburg had 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Moore scored each of his seven points in the second half and finished with nine assists.

“This means a lot,” McGusty said. “I look at it as a new foundation for our basketball program.”

Moore was back in Chicago after starring for Morgan Park in high school and playing for DePaul during a college career that also included stops at California and Kansas. Conditt also got to play in his hometown in his senior season.

Moore set up Miller for a pair of layups while helping Miami to a 32-29 halftime lead. Conditt had eight points at halftime, including a big jam over Waardenburg and a rebound dunk.

NOT BAD AT ALL

McGusty, a sixth-year redshirt senior, was 10 for 18 from the field. He also had six rebounds and four of Miami’s 11 steals.

BIG PICTURE

Iowa State: It was the Cyclones’ first loss in 16 nonconference games. They didn’t have enough playmakers to keep up with Miami, especially in the second half.

Miami: No stranger to March success, Larranaga has his Hurricanes playing with poise and confidence. Their seeding is only one better than George Mason’s during its extraordinary 2006 run.

Miami dominates No. 2 seed Auburn 79-61 to reach Sweet 16

Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) Miami showed there’s still a place for old-school basketball played by experienced players – and for the Hurricanes, that’s in the Sweet 16.

The 10th-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) used a second-half surge and neutralized No. 2 seeded Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in a 79-61 victory for its first Sweet 16 in six years.

Auburn leaned heavily on the 6-foot-10 Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, and 7-1 Kessler, the nation’s blocked shots leader, on the way to an SEC title and what figured to be a deep run in the Midwest Region.

Instead, it was Miami’s smaller, older, savvier lineup that dominated.

“Being small,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said, “has its advantages.”

Especially when the group included sixth-year “super seniors” in Charlie Moore and Kameron McGusty, and fearless sophomore Isaiah Wong, who are all 6-5 or shorter.

Wong had a game-high 21 points, McGusty 20 and Moore had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“We just had a great night tonight,” said Sam Waardenburg, at 6-10, the tallest player in Miami’s regular rotation. “It’s what we can do every night.”

Miami advanced to the round of 16 for the fourth time overall and third time in Larranaga’s 10 seasons. The Hurricanes will head to Chicago in the Midwest Region to take on No. 11 seed Iowa State in a matchup surely no one saw coming.

“This is a dream come true for every kid growing up, you watch these college games in March all day,” McGusty said. “You just dream of making a run in the tournament and this is the start to our run.”

Auburn’s run ended in unbelievable fashion as its frontcourt of future NBA big men – both Smith and Kessler are projected first-rounders – were largely ineffective against Miami’s relentless pressure.

Smith struggled to make shots, finishing 3 of 16 for 10 points – and got dunked on by the 6-3 Wong two days after Smith’s one-handed jam in the opening round win over Jacksonville State was the talk of the tournament.

Kessler picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening half on the bench. He, too, couldn’t find his touch and missed all six of his attempts and tied his season low of two points after finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against Jacksonville State.

“They just sent somebody anytime I tried to attack or make a move,” Smith said. “They just kept bodies on me.”

The Tigers never held the lead, yet were only down 33-32 at the half.

But the Hurricanes opened the second half with a 15-7 burst off four points apiece by Wong and McGusty. By the time Moore hit a 3-pointer, the score was 48-39 and the raucous Auburn crowd at the start was quiet.

“In the second half, we were everywhere,” Larranaga said with pride.

The Tigers had no answers down the stretch, losing in the NCAA’s second round for the second time in their three tournament appearances under coach Bruce Pearl.

Jaylin Williams and K.D. Johnson led Auburn with 12 points each. Smith had a game-high 15 rebounds.

“It’s the first time that we got it handed us,” Pearl said. “We didn’t know how to respond.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Miami: Larranaga would love to recapture the magic of his 2006 George Mason team’s run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. His Hurricanes are sharp right now. They’ve committed a total of just seven turnovers in two tournament games with Moore, at his fourth school in six years, in charge of the offense.

Auburn: The Tigers looked like a national championship contender much of the season. But their shooting touch went cold down the stretch. They shot just 30.4% (21 of 69) against Miami, the third time in the past six games they were under 40 percent.

SMITH’S FUTURE

Auburn’s Smith said he has not decided on his future, although projections are for him to be a high NBA lottery pick, perhaps even going No. 1 overall. Smith had tears in his eyes as he discussed his first season in college and talked about what he’ll take away from this year, whatever happens. “The bad games, the good games, just taking it with me and taking Auburn, just thanking them for everything,” he said.

MOVIE BUFF

Up just 33-32 at the half, Larranaga, a movie buff, called on his best William Wallace speech from “Braveheart” to pump up his players. Citing the film, Larranaga explained how he told his team, “Look, it’s a one-point game. Auburn is an outstanding team. We need to know what we’re made of,” he said. “Can we go out and battle them for the next 20 minutes and keep our dream alive?”

Moore’s foul shots lift Miami to 68-66 NCAA win over Trojans

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Charlie Moore used all the focus he’d learned at California, at Kansas, at DePaul and now Miami to produce the biggest moment of his career in the NCAA Tournament.

Moore’s free throws with three seconds left lifted the 10th-seeded Hurricanes to a 68-66 win over No. 7 seeded Southern California in the Midwest Region on Friday.

Moore, at his fourth school in his sixth college season, calmly swished through the winning shots to send Miami (24-10) to its first NCAA win in six years.

“I just wanted to focus and take my time,” Moore said of the final moments. “I felt like, if I make them, we had a great chance of winning the game, and I knocked them down.”

USC (26-8) had a final chance, but Drew Peterson’s half-court attempt hit off the backboard and the front rim before bounding away.

“Unfortunately,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said, “we were a possession short.”

Not before a couple of dramatic comebacks. USC trailed by 13 points three minutes before halftime before rallying to a 37-32 lead. Then, down 65-58 with 44 seconds to go, Peterson made two 3-pointers and a layup to tie things at 66-all and set up Moore’s winning foul shots.

Moore drove the lane in the final moments and appeared to have his layup blocked by Chevez Goodwin. But a foul was called on Ethan Anderson and Moore made the free throws.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason to the 2006 Final Four, will take his Hurricanes to the second round Sunday for a game against Auburn.

Isaiah Wong led Miami with 22 points before fouling out with 2:07 to play with his team ahead 59-58.

Peterson led Southern Cal with 17 points.

Miami won its first NCAA game since defeating Wichita State in the second round in 2016.

Miami led 29-16 late in the first half, but the Trojans (26-8) opened the second half on 17-2 run to go ahead.

Wong scored the next five points to regain the lead and set up a tight, back-and-forth battle to the final seconds.

There were eight lead changes over the final 11 minutes.

“This is a good win for the university because it’s been a minute since we’ve been here,” Wong said. “With the team we have right now, we’ve been playing good.”

Especially Wong, who who hit seven of his 12 shots and eight of his nine free throws.

Wong scored Miami’s first 13 points to lead his team to an early lead, but USC went ahead 14-13 on Goodwin’s putback. That’s when the Hurricanes went on an 18-6 run to lead 31-20.

THE BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes leaned heavily on Wong the first 37 minutes, then got contributions from Moore and Kameron McGusty to advance. They’ll need everyone from the start if they hope to keep playing after Auburn showed its power and versatility in an 80-61 first-round victory over Jacksonville State.

Southern California: The Trojans’ slow start put them in an early hole, and it didn’t help that they had trouble taking care of the ball with 18 turnovers, 12 off steals. USC made just 8 of 27 shots the first 20 minutes as Miami moved out to a double-digit lead.

CONTRACT EXTENSION

USC’s Enfield got a six-year contract extension on the eve of the postseason. The new deal, announced March 9, will keep Enfield at the school through the 2027-28 season. Before this loss, Enfield and the Trojans had won five of their last seven NCAA Tournament games including a run to the Elite Eight a season ago.

TAKING CARE OF THE BALL

Miami finished with a season-low three turnovers. “Ridiculous,” Larranaga said.

“Back in September at practice, we turned the ball over like it was a good thing,” he recalled. “Everybody’s turning the ball over, turning it over, bad passes everywhere.”

Larranaga talked with his players and the message worked as the team’s offensive flow and efficiency improved. The team has had 16 games with single-digit turnover performances.