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Cal's NIL collective sets $1 million fundraising goal, receives $500K match from Ron Rivera

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos09/01/23


Acc Potentially Adding Smu, Cal, Stanford What's The Impact On College Football & The Conference

Cal landed on its feet. The Golden Bears accepted invitations to the ACC on Friday morning. Travel schedules will be worked out, but they now know where their home will be in the 2024 season.

California Legends, the NIL collective focused on Cal athletics, is not wasting time on capitalizing on the move. In the ever-evolving world of college sports, raising NIL donor dollars has emerged as a must to compete in the top echelon.

The NIL entity has launched a 72-hour $1 million fundraising campaign, with former Cal linebacker turned NFL head coach Ron Rivera leading the charge. Along with his wife, Stephanie, a former Golden Bear basketball star, Lance Cooper and Kevin Kennedy the group will match up to the first $500,000 donations.

Stephanie Rivera serves as the co-executive director of the California Legends organization with Kennedy. Donations have already been pouring in since the funding began. Having a highly-equipped NIL collective could make all the difference in the jump to the ACC.

“Cal for a long time has been a so-called sleeping giant,” Kennedy told On3 on Friday. “And we have a huge alumni base, a very wealthy alumni base. So the opportunity to use this as a catalyst to really challenge our fans, to show how committed they are to Cal Athletics, is a great moment for us. We’re excited to take the chance.”

The collective supports all Cal varsity sports. With 30 varsity athletic programs, Stephanie Rivera is excited to be able to watch the Golden Bears on the East Coast now. Launched last August, California Legends is an LLC and has the backing of former running back turned NFL star Marshawn Lynch.

“One other thing is we’ve been on the East Coast for so long,” Stephanie Rivera said. “I think this is awesome because it was always hard to see Cal play. There are a lot of alumni groups all up and down the East Coast. I think for those groups of people, they’re going to be excited to be able to go see Cal in all these ACC locations.”

Cal has to be ‘at least on par’ with ACC competitors

For as much as college football is about pageantry and tailgates, the sport has turned into an arms race in the past 16 months. NIL collectives have surfaced at nearly every Division I school. And the word collective, which has no ulterior meaning, has become synonymous with name, image and likeness. The race is to stockpile the most cash to distribute to current players so recruits know what they can make once they enroll at the college.  

The Riveras and Kennedy realize this. It’s why they are placing so much emphasis on the $1 million campaign.

“I think we want to make sure that we’re still competitive,” Stephanie Rivera said. “With NIL, I think that’s going to ensure that we still get the top athletes because they want the academic experience. But they also know that there’s other opportunities within the NIL space at other colleges. I mean, we have to make sure that we’re at least on par with everybody else. So at a minimum, we know that we need to make sure that we fund our NIL well, so that we can secure some of the talented student-athletes out there.”

The Pac-12, a 108-year-old conference, fell apart this summer when commissioner George Kliavkoff failed to deliver a winning media rights deal. The Big Ten ultimately scooped up Oregon, and Washington, while the four corners fled to the Big 12.

Along with Cal, Stanford and SMU joined the ACC on Friday. Making sure the Golden Bears were not lost in the shuffle was of utmost importance.

Now in the ACC, the focus will shift to making sure all Cal sports stay competitive with the move. And that means boasting a strong NIL collective.

“Cal is the flagship university of the largest state of the union,” Kennedy said. “It would have been a completely unacceptable outcome for Cal to wind up anywhere other than, in a conference that really values, academics, and a conference that really is competing at the highest levels. So we’re thrilled to be joining the ACC. We’re thrilled for the opportunity and just can’t say enough, how grateful we are to be given a chance.”