Starting in 2015, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh created a stir after the implementation of the Wolverines’ satellite camps. Michigan’s staff visited prospects in states that are recruiting hotbeds, such as California, Florida and Texas, before NCAA rule changes placed restrictions on satellite camps. In the NCAA’s NIL era, the creation of NIL opportunities for international athletes could provide a similar motivation for creative scheduling.
International athletes aren’t completely prevented from pursuing NIL opportunities in the U.S., but they are severely limited. Attorneys and athletic department personnel have told On3 that some group licensing opportunities, such as replica jerseys or apparel, could in some cases potentially qualify as passive income.
Passive income is permissible for students who are in the U.S. on an F-1 visa.
Institutions often recommend that international athletes speak to an immigration attorney or the university’s international services office prior to engaging in any NIL deals.
However, a school-sponsored trip abroad could allow international athletes to pursue NIL opportunities that are unavailable in the U.S.
Over the summer, more than 50 men’s basketball programs traveled abroad for exhibition tours in countries including Australia, Canada, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Spain. NCAA rules allow programs to take foreign exhibition tours once every four years.
With the college basketball season now underway, numerous men’s and women’s programs scheduled trips abroad this season for regular-season games. Multi-team events (MTEs) allow programs to play multiple games, often on consecutive days against high-level competition.
This week, through ESPN’s “Feast Week” programming, numerous college basketball programs will compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
In the NIL era, one-off games and MTEs held abroad, such as the Battle 4 Atlantis, could also allow athletic departments to help maximize the NIL opportunities for their international athletes. International athletes have said the earning-power restrictions of an F-1 student visa can make them feel excluded from their American teammates.
There’s already an example of a sports and entertainment marketing firm agreeing to pay an NIL collective as part of a school’s participation in an MTE. December’s top-10 matchup between Baylor and Gonzaga will allow players to promote the event’s sponsors in conjunction with the game, which will exclusively stream on Peacock.
Intentional, international scheduling is just another development in the intersection between NIL opportunities and college basketball scheduling.
Average of two international players per men’s basketball team
The benefits of this NIL-minded approach to international scheduling aren’t limited to college basketball. However, it’s arguably the sport with the greatest synergy for international travel.
Seven-hundred and sixty-four Division I men’s college basketball players last season were born abroad. That’s an average of almost 2.3 international players per school.
The college basketball season, specifically its offseason and non-conference slate, offers numerous opportunities for programs to travel, including internationally.
During the summer and fall, college basketball stakeholders told On3 they saw the potential benefits of foreign tours that could allow international athletes to engage in NIL opportunities that may not be permissible if they’re in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa.
“That makes a lot of sense for international recruits,“ Michigan center Hunter Dickinson told On3 in June, when floated the idea of programs scheduling foreign tours with NIL in mind.
“I don’t see why not,” Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun said of the scheduling concept, “…I think if they can do that, if you do have a kid or a couple of players on your roster that are able to do that on that trip, to me I think it’s a win-win.”
Influxer helps nearly 40 athletes with NIL content in Bahamas
The NIL company Influxer, which connects athletes and brands, has assisted dozens of international basketball players whose teams are competing in the Bahamas this week. The Battle 4 Atlantis Women’s Tournament took place Saturday through Monday. The men’s bracket is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday.
“We really prided ourselves on wanting to be a NIL company that brought opportunities for all student-athletes, not just the Heisman winners or the first-rounders but DIII, NAIA, JuCo – really doesn’t matter – just expand it as much as we can,” Influxer founder Tyler Jaynes, a former Baylor football player, said in a phone interview. “We couldn’t do that unless we tackled the international student-athlete restrictions that they have.”
Influxer’s Twitter account has recently teased collaborations with college basketball players including UCLA‘s Brynn Masikewich, Izzy Anstey and Lina Sontag, Missouri‘s Sara-Rose Smith, San Jose State‘s Álvaro Cárdenas, Tennessee‘s Jessie Rennie and Marta Suarez, and Texas‘ Femme Masudi and Khadjia Faye.
Influxer has also facilitated opportunities for Oklahoma State‘s Moussa Cisse, a former On3 Consensus five-star recruit. Jaynes cited Cisse, who has 84,000 Instagram followers, as an athlete who could reach a larger audience than most of his peers through potential marketing deals.
Jaynes said in each session, there are hundreds of photos and dozens of videos taken of each athlete. Photos can be edited in the future to include a company’s IP if necessary.
“So long as the student-athlete isn’t required to do any additional work back in the United States, the possibilities are pretty limitless,” Jaynes said.
Jaynes said the athletes Influxer is assisting in the Bahamas represent 18 institutions from almost 20 countries across five continents. There are production shoots scheduled for 11 players on Tuesday and roughly a dozen more on Thursday.
In total, Influxer expects to assist roughly 37 athletes in the Bahamas since last weekend.
“The buy-in from the coaches has been great,” Jaynes said. “It’s ultimately up to the student-athlete on whether or not they want to proceed with an opportunity but of course obtaining the schedules so we can plan the production shoot and plan the transportation and work around their schedule so we don’t interrupt with practices, games, film. … Them understanding and seeing that these international student-athletes haven’t been able to participate like the rest of their teammates and that this is the one opportunity that they will have was pretty well-received.”
Jaynes said one coach, whose program isn’t in the Bahamas this week, expressed a desire to schedule a trip abroad in the future specifically so the team’s international athletes can pursue NIL opportunities.
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe earns $500,000 during Bahamas trip
It’s not unprecedented for a college basketball coach to schedule with his or her current players in mind.
Former North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams used to schedule non-conference games near the hometowns of his seniors. That’s how the eventual national runners-up and then-No. 1 Tar Heels lost on the road to Northern Iowa during the 2016 season. It was an almost unheard-of true road game for a blue blood against a mid-major program early in non-conference play.
Then-North Carolina guard Marcus Paige is from Marion, Iowa, just over an hour away from Northern Iowa’s campus.
While summer exhibition tours overseas are limited to once every four years, regular-season MTEs or one-off games such as the matchup between Kentucky and Michigan in London can provide a similar benefit.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning Naismith Player of the Year, benefited from the Wildcats’ recent foreign tour to the Bahamas in August. Tshiebwe used the trip for NIL opportunities, which allowed him to earn roughly $500,000 in seven days, according to The Athletic.
Jaynes said Influxer had a connection at Kentucky that led to the startup company facilitating Tshiebwe’s content production and brand procurement during Kentucky’s foreign tour.
Kentucky declined an interview request from On3 for Tshiebwe and program personnel.
Influxer used the experience with Tshiebwe so it could scale the production shoots for November.
“We wanted to do it in a way that could be repeated and we knew that these tournaments were coming up and so after we did it in the Bahamas with just Oscar, we knew that there would be about, oh, forty or so different teams coming down to the Bahamas,” Jaynes said. “We knew that that meant there would be likely 60 to 70 international student-athletes and if we could just get them all in one place on-site at the resorts that they’re staying at, take a bunch of content, we can then sell that content to brands in the future since all of the active work was done in a different country and sell those assets as passive income.
“Obviously, we’ve gone over the top about transparency and seeking the right legal advice from immigration attorneys, international offices at each university, compliance every single step of the way and ultimately came to this plan and execution.”
International big men could benefit from NIL opportunities
In the last five seasons, high-profile international players including Tshiebwe (Democratic Republic of Congo), Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (Jamaica), Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev (Serbia) and Rui Hachimura (Japan), Saint Mary’s‘ Jock Landale (Australia) and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton (Bahamas) have each finished in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s national player of the year standings on kenpom.com.
Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, was the only one-and-done college player among the group.
In converging eras where college athletes are allowed to profit through their names, images and likenesses, and where traditional, back-to-the-basket big men are less valuable in the NBA, there’s a newfound incentive for this type of player to spend more time in college.
“I think NIL played a factor with all of us,” Dickinson told On3 in June, regarding the likes of he, Tshiebwe, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Indiana‘s Trayce Jackson-Davis returning to school. “Being able to not have to worry about money but also being able to play college basketball, I think, was the best of both worlds for a lot of us.”
In the On3 NIL 100, which ranks high school and college athletes by the projected annual value of their On3 NIL Valuations, Bacot ranks No. 21, Tshiebwe ranks No. 27 and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme ranks No. 28.
Tshiebwe is the first reigning Naismith Men’s Player of the Year to return to school since Tyler Hansbrough returned to North Carolina for the 2009 season. The timing of Tshiebwe’s return to Kentucky, followed by the program’s foreign tour in the Bahamas, could be instructive for coaches and support staff members in the future.
If a single overseas trip could allow a star player to earn six figures through NIL deals, as Tshiebwe reportedly did, then a program could proactively schedule an exhibition tour or non-conference trip abroad as a carrot, or a reward, for a player who faces a difficult stay-or-go decision.
Influxer has shown that with buy-in from coaches and support staff, content production is scalable and replicable, even amid busy team schedules.
Hansel Enmanuel shows path to O-1 visa for NIL opportunities
Northwestern State men’s basketball player Hansel Enmanuel, who was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, traveled to the Dominican Republic in April to sign an NIL deal with Banreservas, a financial institution in the country, according to Sports Agent Blog.
He has since received approval for an O-1 visa, which potentially made him the first college athlete to receive the visa status specifically for NIL purposes. However, O-1 visas are limited to individuals who possess the extraordinary ability, such as Nobel Prize winners and Academy Award recipients, according to Enmanuel’s immigration attorney Amy Maldonado.
“I mean, it’s not zero, but it’s not a lot,” Maldonado said of the number of college athletes who could potentially receive approval for an O-1 visa.
However, while O-1 visas remain elusive, foreign trips are accessible and attainable. Soon, they might become another common element in an athletic department’s NIL strategy.
“I hope so and I think that would be a phenomenal recruiting tool when you’re pitching to student-athletes, especially when it comes to basketball because they’re always doing tournaments out of the country,” Illinois State Director of Name, Image & Likeness & Community Engagement Maya Bulger told On3 in September. “That all drives back to the mission of your program and what you believe in. If you want to support your student-athletes, you look for opportunities like that.
“Because obviously, you’re not going to be playing basketball or engaging in your sport the entire time that you’re out of town. You’re going to have downtime and if you block off a two-hour period where international student-athletes and even athletes with U.S. citizenship can actually engage in that space, that is awesome.”