Name, image and likeness (NIL) deals in college sports has been a hot topic in many circles, and one of the arguments is whether turning pro for student-athletes is appealing, considering they can make substantial money in college now. 

LSU Tigers women’s basketball star Flau’Jae Johnson knows all about these new opportunities for college athletes. According to On3, the sophomore guard’s NIL valuation is at $1.1 million, which is third-highest among females in college sports and 16th overall. Only LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne ($3.5 million) and teammate Angel Reese ($1.7 million) are higher on the list. 

Women’s college basketball has many stars, which also include the projected No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, whose valuation is at $910,000. So, when the average salary in the league is around $147,000, there are some who wonder if going pro is beneficial for these types of stars. 

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However, while financials are important for Johnson, she pointed out another aspect that she would like to see improve from the WNBA by the time she is allowed to enter the draft, which would be two years from now. 

“The conditions for the players,” she told Fox News Digital while discussing her excitement for Powerade’s new “March Doesn’t Start in March” campaign heading into tournament season. “You go to college, and you’re treated like a pro. Then, you go to the pros and you’re treated not like a professional. In that way, I say the league can be better. I know everybody will say revenue, but it’s going to take time for the game to get to where it’s supposed to get. 

“I think just the conditions for the players – living arrangements, travel arrangements – that’s very important to the athlete. I was fortunate enough to be in college for the NIL era, so I’ll be more than fine going to the league. But, yeah, that’s very important.”

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Jonquel Jones of the New York Liberty recently spoke to Fox News Digital about the sacrifices WNBA players make every year, which include having to play overseas during the offseason to make up for the financial lapses in WNBA contracts. 

As for the conditions Johnson mentioned, travel has been a major topic of discussion in recent seasons when Liberty owner Joe Tsai, who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, was fined by the WNBA $500,000 for providing his team charter flights in 2022. It went against the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union, as it said there may be a potential unfair competitive advantage over franchises that could not afford charters. 

As such, WNBA teams primarily fly commercial, and sometimes that means entire days traveling across the country. However, heading into the new season, the league expanded its charter flight policy, allowing private flights for all postseason games and select regular-season games. 

Players, though, will say that is not enough, and the likes of Jones, Las Vegas Aces’ Kelsey Plum and many other stars in the league continue to fight for what other leagues provide players each season. 

“I think shedding a light on that is going to hopefully bring more of those conversations to the table and allow the Caitlin Clarks and Angel Reeses to not have to do what we do,” Jones told Fox News Digital

“I think it’s dope that they care about leaving it better than how they found,” Johnson said about current WNBA players wanting to change the league for future stars like herself. “I think that’s the goal with everything.”

In the meantime, Johnson will continue to cash in on deals with brands like Powerade, the official hydration partner of March Madness, who also brought in USC men’s basketball star Isaiah Collier for their new campaign. Johnson pointed out how the campaign’s title is true, as not many see the hard work that goes into the season before March Madness rolls around. 

“March definitely doesn’t start in March,” she said. “It’s all a grind. but it’s just about the best player you can be. You’re working every day. I don’t think people understand how hard we go every single day in order to be the best. Even the work nobody sees.”

“March Doesn’t Start in March” is the first March Madness campaign to feature NIL athletes, and they will have activation across many platforms, including a commercial that will debut on national TV on March 17 during the NCAA Selection Show. More than 40 additional NIL athletes also teamed up with Powerade to provide more digital and social content for the campaign. 

Johnson, who is also heavily focused on her other passion with her rap career, continues to balance what has become everyday life for NIL-era student-athletes. However, the SEC Freshman of the Year last season would not want to change it for anything. 

Because at the end of the day, she is still focused on making her impact on the court. Down the road, it may be in the WNBA, but for now, she wants another championship. 

“When you get that taste, you don’t want nothing else,” she said after LSU won the national title over Iowa last season. “For me, I don’t want to experience nothing else other than another championship. Anything else for me would be failure. That’s all that I’m looking at.”