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NCAA enters into first NIL licensing deal allowing use of March Madness logo on Topps cards

The NCAA entered into its first NIL licensing deal allowing the use of the March Madness logo to Topps trading cards featuring basketball stars Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Zach Edey and Tristen Newton.

Since NIL was deregulated in 2021, the NCAA has taken a conservative approach in finding deals, turning down a handful of companies.

"There have been cases we’ve had to decline certain NIL opportunities because we weren’t comfortable doing it,” said NCAA managing director of championships, external relations, Chris Termini.

Fanatics, which owns Topps and runs the NCAA.com shop, was sensitive to the organization's interests, specifically gender equity.

“Student athletes are equally represented across men's and women's basketball, which was important to us and they were very understanding of that," Termini said.

The eight-card packs that went on sale Monday have six base cards, one guaranteed autograph and one guaranteed parallel card. A few lucky fans could get a rare dual autograph card that might have Clark and Edey or the Iowa star and Reese. Those are in one of every 10 packs.

“They had a rolodex of student athletes already licensed where they already had rights,” Termini said. “That made it relatively easy.”

There is a chance that the card deal could be expanded to other sports down the road.

“This is a shorter program, the 20 student athletes are licensed through Topps,” NCAA Director of Licensing David Clendenin said. “That made it a quicker process for approvals. We are having long-term conversations about basketball but also other opportunities with Topps. There might be larger program in the future where obviously we have a longer runway and we can go out and get, you know, opt-ins from schools or certain athletes."

The packs, which have an expensive price tag of $140, have been selling well according to the NCAA. This wasn't the NCAA's first foray into trading cards as they had a deal with Upper Deck in 2014-15. Those cards, though, featured former players.

There has definitely been a lot of interest in cards again. In January, a Clark card sold for $78,000, which made it the highest price for a women’s basketball player and the second most expensive ever for a female athlete trailing only Serena Williams. Topps has launched more than 120 Bowman U Now cards this season featuring student-athletes, including 61 cards featuring basketball players. Clark has 13 of her own.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness