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Yes, the Cavinder twins are social media stars – but they’ve also helped Miami get to the Sweet 16

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos03/24/23

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Miami had just knocked off No. 1 seed Indiana in dramatic fashion Monday night in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament. At the center of the win were the Cavinder twins, social media stars. But also the Cavinder twins, basketball players – Haley Cavinder had nine points and eight rebounds in the upset, along with two key free throws. 

The women’s Sweet 16 tips off Friday and there are plenty of stars, such as South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, UConn’s Azzi Fudd, UCLA’s Kiki Rice, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese and Flau’Jae Johnson. This generation has elevated the college game to new heights. The national title game later this month will be televised on network TV (ABC in this instance) for the first time. 

The Cavinders also are part of putting women’s basketball in the spotlight because of name, image and likeness. With a combined social media following of nearly 5 million, they have become two of the most notable college athlete influencers. They’ve signed a handful of lucrative deals, aligning with brands like WWE, Champs Sports and John Ruiz’s LifeWallet. 

And they’ve helped Miami reach its first Sweet 16 since 1992 in their first season with the Hurricanes after transferring from Fresno State. 

“It’s something we dreamt about for such a long time,” Haley Cavinder told reporters after the Indiana win. “I know that sounds kind of corny, but every basketball player wants to play at the highest level, the highest stage.

“We used to watch these games all the time, so being able to actually play in a Sweet 16 game is something I definitely check off my bucket list. … It’s very special.”

The Cavinder twins made the decision last spring to transfer to Miami. They said the move was based on wanting to make the NCAA tournament. But moving to a major media market didn’t hurt.

“With the shift to Miami, their market value increased due to a broadening of audience and domestic reach while their opportunities maintained at a very high and consistent level,” Everett Sports Management partner Jeff Hoffman told On3. 

Twenty-nine days ago, the NCAA released its findings from their transfer recruitment. The NCAA ruled that the twins had an impermissible meal with Ruiz last April. It’s the only NIL-adjacent case college athletics’ governing body has adjudicated. The institution was fined $5,000, and coach Katie Meier sat out three games at the beginning of the season. The twins issued a response on TikTok to their 4.4 million followers.

“Dear NCAA, scared that female athletes have value?” Haley tweeted with the TikTok. “Let’s hoop tho.. .”

The NCAA infractions have not deterred the Cavinder twins or brands looking to do deals. This week alone, the twins announced a partnership with Caktus AI, an artificial intelligence company. Wednesday, they dropped special-edition March Madness trading cards. 

Haley has started all 33 games and leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game. She’s second on the team in rebounds (4.9 per game) and assists (2.5 per game), and is shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the line. Hanna has played in 32 games, averaging 17.9 minutes per game. She is averaging 3.9 points and is fifth on the team with 53 assists.

In men’s basketball, notable names returned this season because of NIL, and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot announced earlier this week he plans to return to Chapel Hill for a fifth season. The ability to further monetize his NIL is obviously a factor. 

The same can be said for the Cavinders. Their attorney, Darren Heitner, indicated to On3 that each is earning significantly more than they would should they make an WNBA roster. The average WNBA salary is $102,751, while the twins’ earnings sit well over $1 million. 

With their COVID-19 year intact, there’s little doubt the Cavinders will be back at Miami for another season. They’ll have to start planning for life after basketball – five million followers are not going to just disappear. But returning for a final season will bring another load of NIL possibilities.  

“They’re up there right at the very top in terms of marketability, next to pre-professional or professional,” Heitner said. “Having dealt with professional athletes for almost 15 years and reviewing deal flow, it’s incredible what they’ve been able to do.

“I think striking when the iron is hot is really important for athletes but also brands. There’s a really big opportunity for them right now.”

They are a package deal, on and off the court. They’ve yet to sign an NIL deal where both aren’t involved. 

NIL has completely changed the trajectory of their careers. It could almost serve as a case study of the first 20 months or so of this new era of college sports. In the big pool of Division I, the athletes cashing in are doing so because of the platform playing at the college level gives them. 

The Cavinders supersede that. They’ve taken the college athletics avenue and morphed it into their brand. Along with keeping up-to-date on social media, they post weekly vlogs on their YouTube page, which has more than 80,000 subscribers. 

If Miami can get past Villanova on Friday, the Cavinders will be a win away from the Final Four. There’s no denying what a Final Four appearance would do for their brand. 

Combined, the twins have an On3 NIL Valuation of $1.7 million. That would put them sixth in the On3 NIL 100, which serves as the de facto NIL ranking system. Strictly as marketing influencers, they are the two biggest names in the sport. 

“We’ve always played the sport together,” Hanna told reporters this week. “That’s why I love basketball – playing with Haley.”