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Penn men's basketball huddles up before their game against La Salle on Dec. 2, 2023.

Credit: Weining Ding

On July 1, 2021, the ground on which the NCAA stood shifted seismically. After losing an appeal case in the Supreme Court, the name, image, and likeness laws — also known as NIL — went into effect, allowing student-athletes to sign endorsement deals. In the years since, chaos has ensued.

“You have students that are constantly school-hopping,” Penn athletic director Alanna Shanahan said. “... For so long, college coaches have spent so much of their time building and sustaining culture, and you have people constantly ping-ponging in and out of a team and starting lineup."

Now, Shanhan says, there is concern about what the experience is like for students who elect to stay in a program: "There’s clearly some benefit, and there’s significant drawback."

And while players across college basketball have since chased money during their recruiting process and in the transfer portal, the Ivy League is resisting the new wave of check-chasing. For years, a basketball player leaving an Ivy League school was an unthinkable scenario. In the words of Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue: “Everyone stays for four years." 

This had been mostly true for decades, until the transfer of former Penn guard Jordan Dingle to St. John's. Dingle’s move was earthshaking, as the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, Big 5 Player of the Year, ECAC player of the year, and NCAA second-leading scorer left after one of the most successful seasons in school history. While a move to play in the Big East under Rick Pitino is a tough opportunity to turn down, it isn’t something that necessarily would have happened in past seasons, at least not prior to the inception of NIL.

Donahue described losing Dingle as “losing a really good player, more to the NIL.” Despite the increased exposure and potential NBA scouting that comes from a move like Dingle’s, the money-making potential seems to have been the driving force in more ways than one. 

On the court, Dingle is averaging fewer minutes per game at St. John's than in any season of his Quaker career. His scoring, assisting, and rebounding numbers are all at career lows, as are his shooting stats. While this drop-off isn’t shocking with the change in talent level between the Ivy League and the Big East, Dingle’s opportunities and production as a basketball player have declined significantly since leaving Penn.

Off the court, Dingle’s opportunities have skyrocketed. Deals with on-campus restaurants, chains like Applebee's and Panera, clothing deals, and more have allowed Dingle to earn infinitely more money as a college athlete than he did during his time at Penn.

Donahue said the Quakers were not exactly blindsided by Dingle’s decision, but it was not something that was expected at the time. Even knowing that there were new NIL opportunities that could be better pursued elsewhere, players transferring away from Penn was not an expected consequence of the new laws.

“I didn’t want to see Jordan go, but, you know, the world’s changed pretty dramatically in college basketball,” Donahue said. “So I wasn’t crazy surprised that he did. I know it’s out there, but I think if you told me before the year that he would leave at the end of the year, I would’ve said, ‘I don’t see that happening.’”

Once the University was informed of this, it still made its best efforts to change the star guard’s mind. Shanahan, Donahue, and others were involved in strategizing how they could try and retain Dingle, but were unsuccessful in doing so.

“Not surprisingly, there was a lot of conversation around a men’s basketball player last year — strategy around how we could communicate that,” Shanahan said.

For Penn and other Ivy League schools, part of the "strategy" surrounding the NIL landscape has been developing their own NIL programs for current players. In addition, while Dingle's departure may have been partially motivated by NIL, he remains a unique case.

“Even though we lost someone to an opportunity, I think it’s a bit of an outlier,” Donahue said after Penn's loss to Harvard on Jan. 20. “[Dingle] is the only undergraduate transfer since the [new rules on] undergraduate transfers in the last two years in the whole league.”

Although Penn has been the only Ivy school to experience such a major loss in the transfer portal, the potential is present in the Ivy League. Harvard guard Malik Mack and Princeton guard Xaivian Lee have garnered national attention and even generated NBA draft buzz. Both Harvard and Princeton declined to comment for this story.

Another high profile player from the Ancient Eight is Yale forward Danny Wolf, who has averaged 14.6 points per game while leading the Bulldogs to a 9-2 conference record. And yet, in the face of all of the potential change, Bulldogs head coach James Jones feels no fear of losing his stars.

“I deal with the here and now; I don’t anticipate my pain of what might happen,” Jones said. “Yale is a tremendous place to go to school and I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave to go to another institution. They’re just not at the same level.”

Jones' confidence in the strength of an Ivy League degree to draw recruits is a popular sentiment — in the face of the changing NIL landscape, the league's coaches have continually emphasized the long-term benefits of attending an elite university compared to the short-term earning opportunities presented by NIL.

“[NIL] has not done anything to Yale basketball,” Jones said. “I mean, there’s some guys who have some subtle opportunities, but there’s nothing life-changing in those opportunities, and more power to the guys who have those opportunities, but it’s not something that’s broken what we do here. I haven’t talked to one kid about NIL that I recruited since it’s been indoctrinated into college basketball.”

It is the draw of attending a school that Penn and Yale that has given Jones and Donahue confidence that they will be able to retain their talent even as the world of college sports changes around them.

“[Penn] might be the best situation for all these kids,” he added. “And this is where they had the best chance to do what they want basketball-wise, and then just an incredible education that would benefit them exponentially going forward. Those families made that decision kind of on the front end. I don't think that's going to change for 99% of kids. I don't think it will.”