March Madness: Miami's success in hoops could prove to be blueprint for NIL era

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Is Miami providing the basketball blueprint for success in the NCAA’s new era?

Friday afternoon, the Miami women’s basketball team continued its improbable run through the NCAA tournament with an upset win over Villanova to advance to its first Elite Eight in program history. Hours later, the men’s team made NCAA tournament history of its own with an upset win over Houston to ensure the Elite Eight would be without a No. 1 seed for the first time ever.

It’s the 24th time that a school has gotten both of its basketball teams in the Elite Eight during the same season and it's a list that features basketball powers like UConn (numerous times), Michigan State and Duke.

Miami hasn’t traditionally been thought of as a basketball powerhouse. Yet it may be laying the foundation for sustained success thanks to transfers and the power of wealthy donors.

NIL has played a big role for Miami’s key transfers

The Hurricanes are back in the men’s Elite Eight for the second consecutive season thanks to the massive performance from Nijel Pack. The Kansas State transfer led all scorers with 26 points and was an incredible 7-of-10 from 3. Pack made threes from all over the court against the Cougars and had a green light whenever he wanted it.

"He was ridiculous," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "I don't know how far those shots are. People say to me, 'what do you say when he misses one of those long shots?' What I say is, 'keep shooting.' The guy is a great shooter."

After leading a last-place Kansas State team in scoring in 2021-22, Pack put his name in the transfer portal at the end of the season. Once he announced his intention to transfer, Pack was a hotly-pursued player as numerous teams vied for his services.

Purdue was reportedly one of the teams that went after Pack in the portal but he chose Miami in what was one of the biggest transfer stories of the offseason.

As Pack committed to Miami, Hurricanes booster John Ruiz announced that his company LifeWallet had signed Pack to a two-year NIL deal worth $800,000 and also included a car.

It wasn’t Ruiz’s first big NIL splash. Ever since the NCAA loosened its famously outdated rules regarding amateurism, he had been announcing NIL deals with Hurricanes players cumulatively worth millions of dollars. Yet his deal with Pack got the most attention and even drew the ire of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

“These guys from Miami that are going to play basketball there for $400,000,” Saban said not long after Pack’s deal was announced. “That’s in the newspaper. The guy tells you how he’s doing it. But the NCAA can’t enforce their rules because it’s not against the law and that’s an issue, that’s a problem.”

Less than a year after Saban’s comments, the NCAA announced its first NIL-related penalties. And they had to do with Ruiz and Miami.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 24: Nijel Pack #24 of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates after a three-point basket against the Houston Cougars during the second half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at T-Mobile Center on March 24, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Nijel Pack scored 26 against Houston on Friday night. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Miami signed Haley and Hanna Cavinder from Fresno State

When Haley and Hanna Cavinder announced they were transferring from Fresno State, Miami immediately started recruiting the extremely popular twins. The Cavinders established themselves as some of the most marketable athletes in college sports while at Fresno State as their TikTok account has over 4 million followers.

The Cavinders signed with the Hurricanes in the spring as the team looked to get past the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. Haley immediately asserted herself as the team’s leading scorer and plays over 30 minutes a game while Hanna plays 17 minutes a game off the bench.

BLOOMINGTON, UNITED STATES - 2023/03/18: Miami Hurricanes guard Hanna Cavinder (15) and Miami Hurricanes guard Haley Cavinder (14) play against Oklahoma State during an NCAA womens basketball tournament game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Miami beat Oklahoma State 62-61. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Haley (left) and Hanna Cavinder have helped power Miami to the first Elite Eight in program history. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Once they signed with the school, they immediately inked deals with Ruiz. Yet it was their contact with him before they were officially Miami athletes that drew the NCAA’s scorn.

The NCAA announced in February that it had agreed to a negotiated resolution with the school regarding the Cavinders’ recruitment. According to the NCAA, Miami coach Katie Meier committed Level II violations when she introduced the Cavinders to Ruiz while the sisters were on a recruiting trip.

The penalties for the infractions were relatively light — Meier served a self-imposed three-game suspension earlier in the season and the school was fined $5,000 and 1% of the basketball budget.

The NCAA said the penalties weren’t severe because it was a negotiated settlement and tried to leave the door open for bigger penalties in the future for future NIL-related violations. Yet it's easy to see how Miami and others will be willing to risk the NCAA's NIL wrath given the current lack of rules in place.

Are transfers and aggressive NIL spending the new keys to success?

The Cavinders and Pack aren’t the only transfers who have played large roles in Miami’s basketball success this season. Norchad Omier has averaged a double-double in his first season with the Hurricanes after transferring from Arkansas State, while Destiny Harden is in her third year with the Hurricanes after transferring from West Virginia and Lola Pendande played two years at Utah before coming to Miami in 2021.

The Hurricanes are hardly alone in having rosters stocked with key transfers. With players able to move more freely than ever between schools, it’s quickly become common for teams to make quick turnarounds with additions from the transfer portal. Just look at Pack’s old team. Kansas State is also in the Elite Eight after finishing last in the Big 12 a season ago thanks to a new coach and the additions of players like Keyontae Johnson and Desi Sills in the transfer portal.

But it’s easy to see how Miami is now incredibly well-positioned to keep taking advantage of the transfer portal and make more NCAA tournament runs. The ability for players to sign lucrative NIL contracts was always going to be a huge recruiting tool when the NCAA opened the floodgates on sponsorship and endorsement deals after years of procrastination. And thanks to Ruiz and others, the Hurricanes were successful early adopters.

The announced value of many Miami players’ deals across all sports has put pressure on other schools to keep up. And with both basketball teams a win away from the first Final Fours in school history, the combination of both on-court and financial success is going to make the Hurricanes even more tempting for top players going forward.