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How Much Do Women’s College Basketball Players Make?

Publish Date: 03.07.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

It’s no secret that, while women’s sports are on the uptick, female players don’t necessarily earn as much money as their male counterparts. There’s a big pay gap between leagues, and that’s especially true for basketball.

However, due to recent policy changes, both men and women in collegiate sports now have the opportunity to make money off their likeness thanks to what is known as the NIL policy.  In that, they can go for endorsements or sign external contracts outside of the NCAA.

That shift gives players full control over their name, image, and likeness, which in turn provides them a way to bring in extra income or strike huge deals while they play for their university. That, combined with the free tuition, can really stack up over a few years time.

While that shift raises up all athletes, it’s especially useful for women basketball players. That’s because it gives them much more agency over their career progression and enables them to shape their public image as they see fit.

The NIL Landscape in Women’s College Basketball

In the past, college players didn’t get paid. They earned a scholarship, which meant their tuition was free, but they didn’t see any personal paychecks beyond those savings. Due to recent pushes for athletes to be better compensated, however, things have changed.

In 2021, the NCAA finally lifted its general ban against athletes making money from external sponsorships and endorsements. That enabled players to make money from their name, image, or likeness (NIL) and gave college basketball players a way to bring in some extra cash if they could make it work.

That was a pretty big shift for male collegiate athletes, but it was massive for women. That’s because men have always had a chance to hit it big in several different ways beyond college, where women make much less when they reach the professional or semi-professional level.

Now, thanks to the new rules, female collegiate athletes can bring in huge paychecks. Most famously, Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark managed to take home $3.1 million in NIL earnings through brands like Gatorade, State Farm, Nike, and Xfinity.

Former LSU player Angel Reese, who blew up on social media, also brought in $1.8 million through NIL deals with plenty of top brands including Goldman Sachs, Tampax, Airbnb, Amazon, and Playstation.

Those show the power of NIL contracts and cover how much top players can make over time. While most female college athletes aren’t pulling in that much, it still sets a standard for the biggest stars and shows that everyone has a chance to earn if they become popular.

Case Studies of Top NIL Earners

As mentioned, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese completely blew the roof off of expectations for women college basketball players. Their deals reset the market and showed everyone that players can create some serious star power before entering the big leagues.

Clark and Reese both brought in millions through their branding, which is a blueprint that many other women basketball players hope to follow in the coming years. It’s not just being good, it’s about being good, personal, and knowing how to build a proper brand.

Two other big names following that blueprint are Paige Bueckers and Flau’jae Johson. Bueckers has the fourth highest NIL valuation ever for the last season at $643,000, which she continues to leverage through a series of smart moves and endorsements.

She gets the bulk of her money through many big time companies, signing contracts with Nerf, Nike, Dunkin’, Bose, Crocs and more. That diversification of revenue streams enables her to be more than just an athlete. She’s now a businesswoman as well.

Johnson follows in similar footsteps. She currently has deals with Puma, Powerade, Meta, Amazon, as well as the sneaker brand The Athlete’s Foot. The more that a player can bring in, the better off they will be as they move up the ladder and expand their outreach.

There’s no telling how much other players might bring in as time goes on, but players like Johson and Clark show that the NIL shift is quite lucrative for those who know how to properly utilize it. Even a few thousand can go a long way for a college athlete.

Comparison with Men’s Basketball and Professional Leagues

The above athletes have all taken their game, and their income, to the next level. So much so that the money they’ve brought in isn’t just impressive for women basketball players, it’s impressive for any college athlete in any sport.

Currently, when looking at how much women basketball players make, Caitlin Clark’s NIL is the fourth highest among all college athletes. It’s also the second highest of any college basketball player, only eclipsed by Bronny James ($4.5 million).

From there, Angel Reese is the next-highest paid college basketball player for both men and women. Bringing in over $1 million from deals and sponsorships puts anyone truly into a league of their own, and it’s something that a few female basketball players have tapped into.

While men do take up most of the other top earning spots for college basketball players, the presence of Clark, Reese, Bueckers, and Johnson, show that in the NCAA female athletes have the ability to score huge endorsements too.

The gap between the professional levels remains gigantic, with the average WNBA player earning $130,000 annually compared to the NBA’s $10 million a year, but the playing field is much more even in college.

That’s mainly due to the fact that NIL deals are so new. Where the NBA had a several decade headstart on the WNBA, all collegiate athletes started off on the same foot. That allowed female players to get in on the ground floor and start growing their brand right away.

Impact of Social Media and Branding

There are more eyes on college sports, and college athletes, than ever before. The world of NCAA basketball only grows each year, allowing many female players to go out and become celebrities or big name stars in their own right.

A lot of that is the result of social media. Where in the past players could only get known through conventional coverage, they can now go out and interact with the fans or directly post their own highlights. That’s a big change, and a main reason why NIL deals have taken off.

The above four women all created a name for themselves by being skilled, but they also did it by knowing how to properly navigate the social media landscape. They didn’t just excel on the court, they built up a following that greatly increased their fanbase.

The more fans someone has, the more likely they are to land a big endorsement contract. Brands want athletes who are popular, and players like Bueckers and Johnson have that popularity by gaining big online followings.

In that way, it’s almost impossible to answer “how much do women’s college basketball players make” without looking at social media. The internet has shifted many aspects of being a high-level athlete, and it’s never been more impactful than it is right now.

In fact, some women college players have turned an online presence into strong contracts or endorsements despite not being as big or as impactful as stars like Clark. That shows everyone can get a piece of the pie if they know how to properly use sites like Instagram or TikTok.

Conclusion

In the past, college players bringing in six or seven figures from their likeness would have been unprecedented. Today, with changes to general policy, there are plenty of women basketball athletes turning their college careers into big paydays.

Clark and Johnson are two of the biggest earners to date, but with the influx of new talent there’s no telling where the ceiling might be. Though bringing in millions will likely never be the standard, it is now more than attainable for those who can leverage their persona in the right way.

College athletes can now properly brand themselves. Even if they aren’t going to take the next step beyond the university level, being able to get money as they play properly compensates them for the time, energy, and hard work they need to put in. That helps everyone.

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