July 15, 2024

NIL-driven Las Vegas college basketball event nearly finalized with Alabama vs. Houston among matchups

A one-of-a-kind revolutionary regular-season men’s basketball event to be staged later this year in Las Vegas will be announced Wednesday, sources told CBS Sports. Its selling point is based on the major factor that has drastically altered college sports over the past three years: name, image and likeness compensation for players.

Games will be played at the MGM Las Vegas during the week of Thanksgiving under the umbrella of an event dubbed the “Players Era Festival,” which will also include live music and other attractions for fans amid the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip. In a college sports first, the event will also include $1 million NIL payouts for eight participating schools. What’s more, players involved will have future earnings opportunities through long-term NIL contracts, sources told CBS Sports.

Alabama, Creighton, Houston, Notre Dame, Oregon, Rutgers, San Diego State and Texas A&M have all committed to play in the event, sources said. 

The event will be played as two four-team formats. Sources said the brackets are planned as such: Alabama (SEC), Houston (Big 12), Notre Dame (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) would be one 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.

The opening matchups will be:

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

Houston vs. Alabama could potentially be a battle between top-five teams. Rutgers brings in its highest-rated freshman class in history, while Creighton playing Oregon means Ducks coach Dana Altman will face the school he coached for 16 years. Altman ran Creighton’s program from 1994-2010.

Creighton was the final school to join; it formally committed in early May, sources told CBS Sports. The Bluejays have signed a three-year commitment with the event. Creighton was previously scheduled to play in a loaded 2024 Battle 4 Atlantis field. One source told CBS Sports that Creighton pursued the opportunity after the initial publishing of this story on May 7, when one spot remained unclaimed. As a result, the Bluejays will have to pay a buyout to leave the Battle 4 Atlantis MTE.

Creighton was subsequently replaced in the Battle 4 Atlantis by another Big East team: Providence. A power-conference team getting plucked from one of the most prestigious college basketball MTEs speaks to power and appeal of the Players Era Festival. 

After the inaugural event in 2024, the expectation is to double the size of the field (minimally), sources told CBS Sports, 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, have yet to formally commit.

If they opt in, they’d be joined by most (if not eventually all) of the schools playing in 2024, many of which have already signed up for a three-year agreement, according to sources.

Event 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 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.