NIL-driven Las Vegas college basketball event set with Alabama vs. Houston among marquee matchups (2024)

The Players Era Festival, aone-of-a-kind revolutionary regular-season men's basketball eventto be held in Las Vegas this November, was formally announced Wednesday. Its primary marketing/selling point is based on the one facet of the college sports landscape that has changed the NCAA environment over the past three years: name, image and likeness compensation for players.

Alabama, Creighton,Houston, Notre Dame, Oregon, Rutgers, San Diego State and have all committed to play in the event, with seven of those eight schools signed on for the next three seasons, sources told CBS Sports. (Oregon previously committed to the 2025 Maui Invitational.) In a college sports first, the Players Era Festival will also include $1 million NIL payouts for all participating schools. Players will have future earnings opportunities through long-term NIL contracts, sources said. CBS Sports extensively reported on the details of the eventin early May.

The Players Era Festival will be played as two four-team formats during the week of Thanksgiving. According to sources, brackets are planned as such: Alabama (SEC), Houston (Big 12), Notre Dame (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) is one multi-team event; Creighton (Big East), Oregon (Big Ten), San Diego State (Mountain West) and Texas A&M (SEC) the other. Teams from the same conference cannot play each other in MTEs, per current NCAA rules.

All teams will be guaranteed to play three games. After two games in four-team bracket play, there will be standalone neutral-site games, including one championship game between the teams that went 2-0 in their respective brackets.

The opening matchups will be:

Houston vs. Alabama
Rutgers vs. Notre Dame
Creighton vs. Oregon
Texas A&M vs. SDSU

The Houston vs. Alabama tilt could potentially be a battle between top-five teams.

"This is an opportunity for us to play against some of the best teams in the country early in the season," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said in a statement. "The Players Era Festival has great teams, great coaches and great players, and we appreciate the chance to compete in its first year. It will be a great way for our program to test itself."

Said Alabama's Nate Oats: "We are always going to support our student-athletes at the highest levels and do everything we can to help them succeed. The Players Era Festival aligns with those objectives. In addition to playing quality opponents in an NCAA tournament-like atmosphere, the trip should provide our players with access to NIL opportunities. We're looking forward to being part of the inaugural class of participants."

As for others in the 2024 field, Rutgers brings in its highest-rated freshman class in history, while Creighton playing Oregon means Ducks coach Dana Altman will again face the school he coached for 16 years. Altman ran Creighton's program from 1994-2010. The two teams faced off in March in an epic double-OT, second-round affair.

A broadcast partner is expected to be finalized in the coming month, with the likely destination to be on a streaming service, sources said.

"The broader initiative will expand to add future events with the goal of continuing to grow the game of college basketball and create a year-round focus on the sport," according to the event's press release." This will include additional content opportunities, including women's basketball events, offseason events, nonfiction content and merchandising opportunities."

After the inaugural tournament in 2024, the expectation is to more-than-double the size of the field (minimally), with at least 18 teams now the target for 2025 and beyond. In addition to the eight teams on board for this year, others that have agreed to play in Las Vegas for 2025 are: Gonzaga, Michigan, St. John's, Syracuse and Saint Joe's. Duke, Kansas and Virginia, all of which have previously been involved in talks, are yet to formally commit.

Organizers have committed to a five-year plan in Las Vegas in an attempt to make the Players Era Festival the premier November college basketball multi-team event.

"College athletics is experiencing a monumental shift, and the Players Era Festival is planting a flag on this new frontier with a first-of-its-kind event that will be a game-changer for creating a more equitable model for college basketball," EverWonder Studio CEO Ian Orefice said. Orefice is one of the central figures who assembled the event. "Everything about the Festival is entirely groundbreaking, from the format to the NIL opportunities for players, and the competition that will make this a must-see event for college basketball fans. With an impressive lineup for this inaugural event, and an even more incredible field lined up for next season, the Players Era Festival will help usher in a new era for college sports."

Organizers have been in negotiations with MGM Resorts International to hold future games at any or all of its three major venues: T-Mobile Arena, MGM Grand Garden Arena and Michelob ULTRA Arena. The 2024 version will either be split at MGM Grand Garden Arena and T-Mobile Arena, or all at MGM Grand. The tentative schedule for 2024 is to play games on Nov. 26, 27 and 29, with Thanksgiving an off-day, but that is still subject to tweaking. Beginning in 2025, the expectation is to create "international-style group play with championship matchups."

That would mean group-stage play (as seen in FIBA and World Cup competition) before moving on to single-elimination bracket play.

The suggested format is an unprecedented arrangement for a college sports event, as is the very nature of the Players Era Festival. Questions loom about its long-term viability due to the amount of money involved it will take to pull it off, but if the Players Era Festival proves to be successful and financially solvent, the event will change the fundamental nature of college basketball scheduling in the early weeks of the regular season.

NIL-driven Las Vegas college basketball event set with Alabama vs. Houston among marquee matchups (2024)


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