Mo’ne Davis could take endorsements now, but it might cost her later

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

If amateurism and the NCAA were less complicated, Mo’ne Davis would be on a cereal box and in a TV commercial within weeks. The youngest athlete to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated would have an abundance of endorsement possibilities.

Even though Philadelphia’s Little League World Series run is over, Mo’ne’s rise to stardom may not be. The late night talk show circuit is the logical next step.

Meanwhile, opportunities for her to profit have already presented themselves. USA TODAY Sports reported that Steiner Sports is willing to offer Mo’ne up to $100,000 to do an autograph signing.

Having demonstrated great poise on and off camera, she would make a great representative for any number of brands targeting an impressionable pre-teen and adolescent audience. Frosted Flakes and Gatorade, both official sponsors of Little League, come to mind as potential partners. Many other partnerships could follow should Mo’ne have the ability to monetize her personal brand. Her opportunity to cash in on the Little League World Series is fleeting, so the time for her to act is now.

However, Mo’ne’s longer-term goals complicate things.

(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)
Mo’ne Davis exhibits a wry smile worthy of Derek Jeter. (Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

In an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech, she said that her dream is to play point guard for the UConn Huskies before moving on to the WNBA. Yet, even if she does turn out to be the next Diana Taurasi, her value on the endorsement market may never be higher than right now.

Would Mo’ne disqualify herself from suiting up for coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies if her or her family capitalized on financial opportunities stemming from her Little League World Series exploits?

Under the NCAA’s current eligibility rules, yes. The guidelines state, “if a college-bound student-athlete is paid for appearing in a commercial or receives an endorsement before he or she is accepted at an NCAA member school, his or her eligibility could be affected. If the college-bound student-athlete was chosen to participate because of his or her athletic ability, he or she may not be paid.”

(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)
(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Michelle Wie is a recent example of a teen phenom who faced similar obstructions. At 13, Wie rose to stardom by becoming the youngest player to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. She wasted little time capitalizing on her marketability, turning pro and inking several seven-figure endorsements at the age of 16. She eventually attended Stanford while playing professional golf, but wasn’t eligible to play for the Cardinal.

With the winds of change swirling through college athletics, it’s tough to foretell the NCAA’s amateurism guidelines five months from now, let alone in five years. Signs point to student-athletes soon being able to profit off of their likenesses during college and who knows what else. By the time Mo’ne steps on campus, she may be presented with a salary with benefits and a 401k plan. If Mo’ne’s family rolled the dice now with hopes that the eligibility rules change, they would still have to navigate the eligibility rules at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) high school level.

Most would agree that Mo’ne and her family should be able to capitalize off of her new-found fame. After all, Little League, ESPN and everyone else who profits from the Little League World Series already has. But is it worth the price of Mo’ne possibly forfeiting any chance of becoming a college athlete? It’s a shame she has to make that choice today.

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