Duke, North Carolina enter March Madness as co-favorites on tournament odds

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Tested talent wins, meaning it is not surprising to see college basketball’s bitterest rivals sharing top spot on the odds to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are each listed at +600 on that board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Blue Devils are in the East Region, considered the thinnest in the field for March Madness although they could potentially face the top overall seed and defending champion Villanova Wildcats (+750) in the Elite Eight if both win three games in a row.

North Carolina, which has brawn under the rim to buttress the offensive leadership of PG Joel Berry and SF Justin Jackson, could have some favorable matchups in the South Region.

While pretty much anyone who has ever printed out a bracket obsesses over picking early-round upsets, the chalk usually prevails when it comes to the tournament champion.

The rest of the board has great hoops lineage, with aforementioned Villanova, the Kansas Jayhawks (+800) and Kentucky Wildcats (+850). Of those three, Kansas with PG Frank Mason III’s steady handle is likely the best pick, since March Madness is a guard’s tournament. Villanova still has the guard combo of Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, but could run into Duke.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (+1000) have the longest odds of any No. 1 seed, since bowing out before the Final Four is their trademark. The Arizona Wildcats (+1200) are lurking as the No. 2 in that West Region.

In South Region futures, North Carolina (+135) is the biggest favorite of any team to win its region and go to the Final Four. Potential Sweet 16 opponents, Kentucky (+275) and UCLA Bruins (+450), are both freshmen-reliant – Malik Monk on the ‘Cats, Lonzo Ball on UCLA – and that rarely proves to be a winning formula in March.

The No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs (+1000), with floor leader Kelan Martin and two wins against Villanova on its resume, are the best pick if one wants to go against the chalk in the South.

Kansas (+220) tops the Midwest Region odds in spite of an early exit from the Big 12 tournament. The Louisville Cardinals (+350) have faded, but the No. 3 seed Oregon Ducks (+400) and PF Dillon Brooks might do some damage. The No. 5 seed Iowa State Cyclones (+1000) and PG Monte Morris are the Midwest’s definitive darkhorse.

On the left side of the bracket, Gonzaga (+160) and Arizona (+200) are tightly bunched on the West Region board. History doesn’t play the games and it’s possible the Zags and PG Nigel Williams-Goss are underrated, especially for their defensive tenacity. But coach Sean Miller’s Wildcats are tough-minded.

The West Virginia Mountaineers (+550) are also a premier defensive squad, but it’s hard to keep that up as the opponents get better.

Villanova (+160) tops the East Region board, with Duke (+250) second on the list. While the past two national champions might seem to be on a collision course, the No. 6 seed SMU Mustangs (+800) are an underdog to ponder. The Mustangs won the AAC Tournament decisively and run a five-guard attack – PG Shake Milton is 6-6 – that is almost unseen in Division I.

The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (+10000), who score 85 points per game, are also a trendy darkhorse.

NIL and NCAA: What to know about the new policy and how NBC Sports can help

NCAA College World Series
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As of July 1, 2021, a new NCAA policy has been in effect allowing student-athletes from all three divisions to monetize their name, image, and likeness (often referred to as NIL). As long as the activities are “consistent with the law of the state where the school is located,” athletes now have the opportunity to accept endorsements from brands, monetize their social media presences, and work with professional firms to coordinate deals.

Click here for additional information and guidelines regarding NCAA NIL policies and keep reading to find answers to questions such as how NIL works as well as how NBC Sports can help.

What is NIL and NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct is coming to a school near you. The program enables college student-athletes to earn money from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) through a unique marketplace that connects athletes with advertisers. NBC Sports Athlete Direct will work to provide equal opportunities to all student-athletes, regardless of which team you play on or any statistical performance.

How will the NIL Marketplace work?

Advertisers will use NBC Sports Athlete Direct to make NIL offers available to college student-athletes. College student-athletes will then have the option to participate in the NIL offer. Those who decide to participate and complete the advertiser’s campaign requirements will be compensated based on a predetermined rate.

How much money can athletes make participating in NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Compensation will vary by advertiser campaign.

When will NBC Sports Athlete Direct launch and how can I sign up?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct will officially launch in the Fall of 2022 but prior to that, we will be launching a pilot program soon, exclusively for Temple and Vanderbilt student-athletes.

In the meantime, click here to fill out a student-athlete interest form and once it is available at your school, we will notify you and provide you with additional information on how to sign up.

If I participate in NIL offers from NBC Sports Athlete Direct, do I still have the freedom to do other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Yes, this program is non-exclusive so our student-athletes will have the freedom to participate in other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct.

What are the rules or restrictions for participating in this program?

Unfortunately, international students and students under the age of 18 are not eligible to participate in the pilot program at this time.

Kentucky to allow college athletes to earn off likeness

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday allowing the state’s college athletes – including players on the nationally renowned Kentucky and Louisville men’s basketball teams – to make money through the use of their name, image or likeness.

The Democratic governor said he took the action as a matter of fairness for college athletes. It will spare Kentucky’s colleges from being at a competitive disadvantage with rivals in other states that will have laws enabling athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness, he said.

“This is important to our student-athletes, who for decades, others – whether it’s companies or institutions – have profited on,” Beshear told reporters. “These athletes deserve to be a part of that.”

Beshear said his executive order takes effect July 1, when similar legislation passed in several other states will become law. His office said he was the first governor to make the change by executive order.

The governor’s action won praise from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. UK plays in the Southeastern Conference and UofL competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Bringing the state of Kentucky into competitive balance with other states across the country and, more specifically, the Atlantic Coast Conference is critical,” Vince Tyra, U of L’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said in a release issued by the governor’s office.

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the governor’s action “provides us the flexibility we need at this time to further develop policies around name, image and likeness.”

“We are appreciative of that support, as it is a bridge until such time as state and/or federal laws are enacted,” Barnhart said in the same release from Beshear’s office. “The landscape of college sports is now in the midst of dramatic and historic change – perhaps the biggest set of shifts and changes since scholarships were first awarded decades ago.”

In Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, laws go into effect July 1 that make it impermissible for the NCAA and members schools to prevent athletes from being paid by third parties for things like sponsorship deals, online endorsements and personal appearances.

The NCAA had hoped for a national law from Congress that has not come, and its own rule-making has been bogged down for months. College sports leaders are instead moving toward the type of patchwork regulation they have been warning against for months.