International players can’t fully monetize NIL during March Madness

Women’s Division I basketball boasts 800 international players on 2024 rosters, with 16% of competitors in this year’s NCAA Tournament hailing from outside the United States. Of the 68 teams in March Madness, 42 countries, excluding the U.S., will be represented.

Australia has the most players in the tournament this year, comprising 15% of the talent. However, overall, in DI women’s basketball, Spain holds the top spot for most players on rosters, followed by Canada, Australia, Sweden and France. There are also a handful of Latinas participating in March Madness this year, from Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo to South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso.

While representation of international players is strong this year, these players will not be able to fully monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL) due to current immigration laws.

This issue was brought to light when UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, a Canadian, signed an NIL deal with adidas Canada. Edwards was asked about the deal in a press conference in the U.S. but declined to comment for fear that promoting the deal could run her afoul of her student visa. As it stands, international students are only able to monetize their NIL in a passive way or risk losing their F-1 student visas.

For example, if a student was receiving passive income from jersey sales and not promoting the deal, then most likely, the athlete would not run afoul of the law. A recent example is the EA Sports NCAA Football video game deal, where football players are paid a $600 stipend for appearing in the video game but do not have labor obligations to EA. However, the area is a bit gray, and international students would be wise to seek competent legal counsel who have a grasp on the ever-evolving landscape of NIL in college athletics.

“In the absence of legislation, as we have previously argued, the Department of Homeland Security can and should publish clarifying policies on permissible NIL activities for F-1 student-athletes,” immigration attorneys Gabriel Castro and Tiffany Derentz from BAL Sports & Entertainment and Government Strategies teams shared on their website. “The Student and Exchange Visitor Program and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have both indicated they will provide guidance, but so far, nothing has materialized.”

BAL teams set up a series of virtual roundtables with NCAA Division I schools to learn more about their experiences and solicit their insights. The roundtable found five common themes:

  • Schools want guidance

    Across the board, schools said they want clear, precise guidance defining what NIL activities are permissible for F-1 foreign student-athletes.

  • Students are vulnerable

    Absent guidance, athletic departments are under tremendous pressure to find workarounds or loopholes to attract and retain foreign student-athletes. This exposes students to potential visa violations, which could permanently affect their ability to travel to the U.S. to work, study, or live.

  • The playing field is uneven

    The lack of immigration policy has led many schools to take a conservative approach, excluding foreign student-athletes from NIL activities, including team-wide NIL deals.

  • NIL deals benefit the economy

    Permitting foreign student-athletes to engage in NIL activities supports economic growth in the U.S.

  • Foreign athletes are being denied the full student-athlete experience

    Participating in NIL activities plays an important part in the student-athlete experience and the overall development of the student in their educational and cultural experience in the U.S.

As March Madness progresses with each round, be on the lookout for international athletes and which NIL deals they participate in and must opt out of due to immigration law.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire