Earlier this week, Haley and Hanna Cavinder announced they would be forgoing their fifth year of NCAA eligibility and walking away from college basketball.
The decision comes on the heels of Miami’s surprising Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament. One could argue as women’s college basketball saw an unprecedented level of success thanks to budding rivalries and star power — including both Haley and Hanna — the Cavinders returning to the Hurricanes for one more season would only add to their growing NIL (name, image and likeness) empire.
Speculation as to what would be next for the ultra-popular pair ramped up on Thursday morning as the Cavinders appeared on the “TODAY Show,” fielding questions about their move to leave college, their experience with NIL at Miami and what the future holds for them.
“I think after playing all four years together and deciding not to take our fifth year, we just decided that there were more opportunities besides basketball,” Haley Cavinder said. “Obviously, it’s such a difficult position to be in because we wanted to take our fifth year and play and continue but I think it came down to optimizing all of the opportunities we have ahead of us.”
NCAA women’s basketball stars @CavinderHaley and @CavinderHanna opened up to @LlamasNBC about their retirement from the sport and what’s next in their new chapter, including their deal with WWE: "I think it came down to just optimizing all the opportunities we have ahead of us." pic.twitter.com/QSmXozylkC
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 13, 2023
One of those opportunities may be in WWE, as the Cavinders were part of WWE’s inaugural NIL (dubbed Next in Line) class in 2021 while playing for Fresno State. While the potential for Haley and Hanna to make the jump into professional wrestling was always a quiet murmur, rumors began to pick up after the 22-year-olds’ appearance on Thursday.
“We love the WWE,” Haley said when asked about the specific partnership. “Their fan base, their sport, the fitness side of it. That fits to Hanna and I’s brain and aligns great with us. They're great partners. So yeah, we’re very excited about the future with them.”
Yahoo Sports reached out to WWE for comment but has not heard back as of publishing.
What would the timeline be for a WWE debut?
Although the Cavinders speak highly of WWE and the company would undoubtedly love to be able to leverage the twins' substantial social media following, it’s unlikely that fans will see them mixing it up with the likes of Charlotte Flair or Bianca Belair any time soon.
Since December 2021, WWE has partnered with 45 college athletes, and just one, former Northwestern football player Joe Spivak, has turned the NIL dream into a professional wrestling reality. In fact, Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson — the first athlete to sign with WWE on an NIL deal back in September 2021 — has only made several promotional appearances with the company and is reportedly returning to amateur wrestling later this month.
None of this is to say that Steveson or any other WWE NIL athlete won’t make it as a professional wrestler, but the more likely scenario for the Cavinders, should they choose to pursue the opportunity, is a rigorous and extensive training program at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
In an interview with ESPN earlier this week, the Cavinders said they will remain in Florida.
Of the four “success stories” WWE touts on its recruiting website — Alexa Bliss, Aliyah, Angel Garza and Angelo Dawkins — the average time from training start date to WWE debut was four years. Bliss, who entered WWE with no prior experience, took three years to make her debut, while Garza took around a year but came in with deep family history and seven years of lucha libre experience.
Between having to learn how to work in the ring and on the microphone, the reality is that the timeline is more likely to be several years — plural — than weeks or months before the Cavinders make waves in WWE.
The WWE’s recruiting website suggests that the company looks for “world-class” athletes who possess “size, flexibility, strength, agility, personality, charisma, global appeal, diversity, coachability, work ethic and professionalism.”
The Cavinders — or almost any Division I college athlete — check the majority of these boxes and of course there is the added advantage of coming with a built-in social media following.
There are several recent examples of athletes and entertainment/social media personalities crossing over to WWE and experiencing near-instant success, including Ronda Rousey, Bad Bunny and, most recently, Logan Paul. Paul, who signed a new contract with WWE this week, has earned industry praise for his dedication and commitment to professional wrestling despite not having a traditional background in the business.
In addition to boasting 4.5 million followers on TikTok, the Cavinders would have a leg up entering WWE training simply because they are twins and have a built-in “gimmick.” Traditionally, sibling and/or twin pairings have experienced success in WWE as tag teams and, inevitably, splitting up and feuding.
Arguably WWE’s top tag team over the past decade, Jimmy and Jey Uso (Joshua and Jonathan Fatu), are biological twins, and the recently retired Bella Twins (Brianna and Nicole Garcia) remain among the most popular and decorated female superstars in WWE history.
Despite the “TODAY Show” tease and internet-fueled frenzy, Haley and Hanna’s next chapter remains undecided. Hanna announced they have recently signed long-term deals with Caktus AI and an unnamed media company that fits who they are as a “brand,” with an emphasis on “sports, business, health and fitness.”
Regardless of if they answer the WWE bell or not, there’s no denying the Cavinders have become a prime example of the success student-athletes can have in the era of NIL.
“I think just positioning ourselves to be successful beyond the years of college sports,” Haley said. “I think being able to show the younger generation that if you prioritize NIL in college you can set yourself up for success beyond basketball or your sport.”