A Young Star Weighs Cashing In, Against Risk of Compromising Her Eligibility

Philadelphia pitcher Mo'ne Davis.
Philadelphia pitcher Mo'ne Davis delivers in the first inning of a United States semi-final baseball game against Las Vegas at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2014. Las Vegas won 8-1, with Mo'ne giving up three runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) –AP

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Between her star turn at the Little League World Series and the start of eighth grade, Mo’ne Davis has a trip planned for a round of talk show appearances.

“I’ve got to get my answers straight,’’ Davis, 13, said with a smile after her team was eliminated from the Series on Thursday night. “Every question I can think of, I have to know the answer to.’’

One of the questions already being asked is this: After becoming the first girl to throw a shutout at the Series, a ratings bonanza for ESPN, a cover subject for Sports Illustrated and a national figure of inspiration, should Davis try to cash in on her celebrity?

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Sports marketing experts agree that Davis and her family must decide quickly. But few athletes face such significant decisions at such a young age. Estimates on her earning potential vary widely.

It is unclear whether the acceptance of money would compromise Davis’ amateur status and eligibility to play high school sports at the private school she attends in Philadelphia.

NCAA rules are complicated and evolving, and each case is considered individually. But at this point there may be some leeway to accept endorsements.

Mark Williams, Davis’ stepfather, said the family would proceed cautiously, given that the 5-foot-4 Davis aspires to play point guard at the University of Connecticut, the nine-time NCAA women’s basketball champion.

Williams said he had rebuffed an inquiry about a potential book deal.

“At the end of the day, she has a dream to play for UConn, so we’re not taking anything until we’re clear on that, because her dream is her dream,’’ Williams said. “That’s her decision. We’re not taking anything. None of us would like to ruin that dream.’’

If Davis and her family decide to pursue commercial endorsements, “the window of opportunity is absolutely this moment,’’ said Doug Shabelman, president of Burns Entertainment, which matches marketers and celebrities for commercial endorsements.

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“The public’s memory is a lot shorter than it used to be,’’ Shabelman said.

Though Davis played with great composure and had remarkable success as a pitcher in the series, she is expected to move quickly out of the limelight with football season beginning, Shabelman said. And she did not win a championship, which would have broadened her appeal to advertisers.

Davis might be able to earn $5,000 to $25,000 from a sports drink deal, Shabelman said. “It was a great little run, but there’s not going to be vast money from this unless she gets a movie done about her or a TV show, which is very unlikely,’’ he said.

Other experts estimated that Davis’ earning potential could be much higher, perhaps $100,000 a year alone from a shoe and apparel deal, and that, in the right circumstances, she might be able to pay for college without needing an athletic scholarship. A baseball signed by Davis sold Wednesday for $510 on eBay.

Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco and a sports marketing analyst, said he thought Davis could earn up to $500,000 as a teenage role model endorsing products from sports drinks to cellphones, computers, school supplies and fashion.

“If it was my kid, why not?’’ Dorfman said. “She seems awfully poised. She seems like she can handle it.’’

Having pitched in front of crowds of more than 30,000 fans at the Little League World Series, Davis plans to begin playing girls’ varsity soccer and basketball, with far smaller audiences, at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. Its teams play in the Inter-Academic League, a conference of elite private schools, which is not bound by the governing rules of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

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On Friday, officials at Davis’ school were trying to determine whether league bylaws governed her ability to accept endorsements and remain eligible for varsity sports.

“We’re in an unprecedented situation with this kind of extraordinary talent at such a young age,’’ said Kate Noel, the school’s director of external affairs.

For college eligibility in sports other than football and men’s basketball, athletes are not considered prospects until they reach the ninth grade, the NCAA said. Davis has not yet begun eighth grade, so it is unclear exactly how the rules will later apply to her.

Also, athletes can be considered professional in one sport and amateur in another, as when minor league baseball players remain eligible to play college football. So if Davis accepted endorsements related to baseball but planned to play basketball in college, she might not be risking her future eligibility as much.

“Once enrolled in college, the student-athlete would be expected to take the necessary steps to ensure that these ads are no longer being used,’’ said Christopher Radford, an NCAA spokesman.

Given the legal tumult involving the NCAA, the rules could change significantly by the time Davis enters college in five years.

“Ultimately, it’s a family decision, but Mo’ne has a unique, timely and potentially lucrative opportunity to take another step for all female athletes,’’ said Lindsay Kagawa Colas, the vice president of action and Olympic sports at the Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles. “She’s inspiring people of all ages, particularly girls. She’s a hero for them now.’’