The cracks in the existing name, image and likeness foundation at ASU is a major reason for the men's basketball's struggle to keep rising stars in Tempe.
Guards freshman Austin Nunez and junior DJ Horne, as well as sophomore center Enoch Boakye, have entered the transfer portal, but were expected to see expanded roles next season had they stayed with the Sun Devils. The loss of Horne and Nunez particularly hurts, as they contributed strongly to the team's success this year.
"NIL plays a big role, believe me, we've lost guys to NIL, now the places that have had a serious, you know, commitment to that, things that we couldn't compete with," said basketball head coach Bobby Hurley at a press conference following his contract extension. "But that doesn't mean we're not trying, Arizona State is trying, the Sun Angel Collective and stuff."
The transfer situation could have been worse, but sophomore forward Jamiya Neal withdrew from the transfer portal Monday afternoon to return to ASU, which is a key retention for Hurley's 2023-24 squad.
A few years ago, it would be surprising to have young players leave a Power Five college basketball team the season after winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. But now, in the age of NIL deals, players are getting compensated for their talents.
If a school and its community can't step up and compensate its players, those players have the incentive and ability to leave.
At ASU, NIL benefits have seemed to be less than adequate. Even though two NIL collectives meant to support ASU athletes already existed, in February men's basketball players started their own NIL club.
READ MORE: ASU men's basketball players debut new 'NIL Club' ahead of critical end-of-season stretch
Horne and Nunez were part of the club, which is self-described as an "athlete-operated fan community that financially benefits Arizona State Men's Basketball Team athletes."
At the time, Horne said the NIL club was "to try to bring more attention to us as we're starting to near the end of the season."
ASU athletes shouldn't have to start their own NIL collectives to compensate themselves, especially when already-established ASU NIL collectives exist.
One of the established collectives, the Sun Angel Collective, accepts money from boosters and claimed to have raised $1 million when it launched in August 2022.
A local bicycle dealership reportedly had trouble getting through to the collective, and men's basketball players also had trouble making initial contact with them.
Brittani Willett, executive director of the Sun Angel Collective, said it had already made contact with the men's basketball team before she was hired in November.
"I haven't had specific conversations regarding why athletes are choosing to leave, but, you know, I'd have to think NIL falls into that, but it's probably just one of other reasons," Willett said.
ASU's NIL issues not only need to be solved, but reversed with strong NIL programs based on players' wants that keep them in Tempe. The Sun Angel Collective is working to achieve that goal.
"Maybe where we're not able to be quite as competitive today, we're hoping that, we're building out something that's longer standing," Willett said.
This isn't an impossible task. Schools like Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Boise State were each awarded for in-house NIL programs, with Boise State winning an award for the best institutional program in 2022.
Mike Walsh, associate athletic director for strategic communications and business development at Boise State, said NIL is a factor for where athletes decide to play.
"It's another element (NIL) to the decision-making process, just like location, major, facilities, coaches, teammates, conference … this is definitely another one that gets added to the list," Walsh said.
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He said Boise State took an "aggressive, hands-on approach" to NIL. It seemed that ASU took a similar approach when it launched its Spark NIL program, but clearly some dots aren't being connected for the men's basketball team, and it's costing the team talent and a chance to build off of a good season.
Edited by Piper Hansen, Reagan Priest and Caera Learmonth.
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Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.