The NCAA 'waiting game' that's hurting star female athletes

·7 min read

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — To fully understand the breadth of stardom for Boston College women’s lacrosse stalwart Charlotte North, BC coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein makes two comparisons.

In the lacrosse world, Walker-Weinstein mentions former Syracuse men’s star Gary Gait, who helped popularize the sport amid a run of improvisational brilliance in the late 1980s.

Outside of lacrosse, Walker-Weinstein contextualizes North’s rise by comparing it to that of Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors. The combination of flair, creativity and production are unlike anything women’s lacrosse has seen. "She’s just exploding with talent," Walker-Weinstein said. “People have never seen a girl use her stick the way she’s using it."

In the wake of her six-goal performance to lead Boston College to its first-ever lacrosse title by defeating Syracuse last weekend, North is unquestionably the hottest name in lacrosse. She broke the NCAA record for goals in a season with 102 and is the heavy favorite to win lacrosse’s Heisman Trophy — the Tewaaraton Award — on Saturday.

Instead of leveraging her epic season, Charlotte North is instead the poster child for the ambiguity surrounding the NCAA’s new Name, Image and Likeness rules.

"Female athletes, especially in non-revenue sports, are the ones harmed the most by the NCAA not setting the Name, Image and Likeness rules," said Zach Soskin, the co-founder of Voltage Management, who has studied the NIL space extensively. "All the focus has been on big-money sports like football and basketball. But for Charlotte North, this window is her biggest opportunity to make money off her Name, Image and Likeness."

Boston College lacrosse star Charlotte North celebrates with an NCAA trophy after the Eagles' championship. (Credit: BC athletics)
Boston College lacrosse star Charlotte North celebrates with an NCAA trophy after the Eagles' championship. (Credit: BC athletics)

The ability for college stars to profit off their Name, Image and Likeness is expected to begin in the upcoming school year. But what that will look like is clouded by unprecedented bureaucracy. For clarity on when and how North and others will be able to profit off their NIL, there remains a quagmire of NCAA legislation, various laws being passed by individual states, potential movement in Congress and even an upcoming ruling in the Supreme Court.

While a high-profile athlete like Oklahoma star quarterback Spencer Rattler could likely make more money than North in the upcoming year, the NIL uncertainty will surely cost her a higher percentage of her career earnings. (North has one more season of eligibility at BC and is expected to return for a final season next year, although she’s yet to announce that formally.)

In an interview this week, North expressed mild frustration at the lack of clarity. She’d been so focused on leading her team to the NCAA title that she hadn’t put much thought into NIL nuances. North is unfailingly polite and other-centered, consistently steering an interview to her coaches, teammates and even the prowess of BC’s social media content team.

"For all the athletes, some clarity would be great," she told Yahoo Sports. "I think everyone in women’s lacrosse would love to be able to do this. It’s only going to help the sport and help the athletes. I think it’s a win, win."

North’s goal is to use her talent to help grow the sport, especially in her native Texas, and inspire young girls the same way that players and coaches she looked up to in lacrosse motivated her. The upcoming weeks and months would be the ideal timeframe for North to exploit her stardom, with camps, clinics and lessons a common vehicle for lacrosse stars. Instead, uncertainty lingers.

"It’s a bit of a waiting game right now to try and figure out what happens to [the] Supreme Court case, what happens at the national level and what happens with the hodgepodge of state laws and regulations," said Kerry North, Charlotte’s father. He added: "I wish I had something more insightful or definitive to say."

If North returns to Boston College as expected, it could set up one of the most anticipated seasons in the history of the sport. Boston College athletic director Pat Kraft says that traveling with the BC women’s lacrosse teams is like traveling with the Beatles, as there are hotel lobbies jammed with gawkers and little girls who shriek and sometimes cry upon the sight of North and her teammates. Kraft’s 7-year-old daughter, Annie, is taking up lacrosse because she’s been inspired by North and the Eagles.

Walker-Weinstein points out that all the BC players are superstars and role models in their hometowns and beyond. She calls this “an incredible opportunity” for women’s lacrosse and recognizes the power of this championship team in Boston and beyond.

"For Charlotte's moment right now, just coming off this past weekend and having another year ahead of her, this could be one of the biggest years of her life," Walker-Weinstein said. “It would set her entire life on track.

"I'm excited for her to hopefully be beginning a new chapter for women's sports and women's athletes, because I think she'll make an impact, a lasting impact, on millions of little girls."

Boston College lacrosse star Charlotte North attacks during a win over Virginia Tech. (Credit: BC athletics)
Boston College lacrosse star Charlotte North attacks during a win over Virginia Tech. (Credit: BC athletics)

When can she start and how will it work? That’s the magic question around college athletics, which have long been bound by amateurism rules that restrict athletes’ ability to earn money. So far, at least a half-dozen states are expected to have legalized NIL rights on July 1. (Others have passed laws for later dates.) Congress is also considering national legislation. Then there’s the Alston case in the Supreme Court, which addresses the NCAA’s ability to limit compensation to athletes. The NCAA, which could vote on NIL later this month, has also dragged its feet in its trademark style.

In the micro, that leaves administrators like BC’s Kraft with his hands tied. Can North do a camp in July in Florida because an NIL rule passed there? (There’s no rule yet in Massachusetts.) Would the NCAA really target an athlete like North with an enforcement investigation for having a camp or holding clinics?

No one is certain. "I feel helpless as athletic director because I don’t know how to fully guide her through this process," Kraft told Yahoo Sports. "It’s a month away, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like."

BC associate head coach Kayla Treanor and graduate assistant Sam Apuzzo are considered two of the best women’s lacrosse players in the world. Both starred collegiately and play professionally now for the Athletes Unlimited League. But no professional showcase has managed to eclipse college lacrosse, which limited their ability to take advantage of their stardom at its peak.

"Being in that position, at the highest level, playing on that stage, everyone in the country knows who you are," Apuzzo said of college lacrosse. "And I think if I had that opportunity to kind of leverage my popularity at the time… it would've given me more opportunities post-graduation."

For North and other college athletes, the most obvious place for them to immediately make money is social media. North’ Instagram followers nearly doubled from 13,000 to more than 25,000 in just a few days around the title game.

North didn’t mention anything about money, but she understands the power of reach from personal experience.

"I was once that young lacrosse player looking for those opportunities to learn from the best in the game," she said. "My high school and coaches in college, I can’t even put into words how much they changed my life. If I can do that to anyone down the road ..."

North’s reach as a college star will make her one of the most recognized and coveted stars in the sport. Her ability to capitalize on it, however, remains shrouded in mystery.

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