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NIL Collective Association expands to 40, focused on lobbying in D.C.

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos06/03/24


When The Collective Association (TCA) – a trade association for donor-driven NIL entitieslaunched in July 2023, the main focus was to ensure athletes had a voice on Capitol Hill and to roll out a revenue-sharing plan.

With last month’s settlement agreement in House v. NCAA, revenue sharing is coming to college sports. Institutions will share as much as $22 million annually with athletes as part of the $2.8 billion settlement. A key question from the settlement agreement: What role will booster-funded, third-party NIL collectives have in the next era of college sports?

The top-funded collectives are spending between $13 to $20 million annually on football rosters at the moment. In basketball, the highest spending programs are pushing $5 million. Some collectives plan to go in-house and under the school umbrella. Others are in markets where institutions will never support the model.

For the TCA, the plan is to grow and continue to lobby Capitol Hill. The association has added Purdue’s Boilermaker Alliance, Nebraska’s 1890 Initiative and San Diego State’s MESA Foundation. With the additions, the organization has 40 total members and an annual combined payroll pushing $250 million.

“One year ago, seven NIL collectives banned together to form The Collective Association,” said Hunter Baddour, the co-founder and chairman of TCA. “The purpose of this organization was twofold – to fight for our place in the college sports eco-system, but more importantly, to fight for the rights of college athletes in the NIL world. Our mission has never wavered, we believe in the free market and want to be a true voice for players all across the country.”

NIL collectives key for retaining, attracting talent

NIL collectives have become more professionalized in the last 35 months. The organizations have become imperative for top football and basketball programs to retain and attract talent. A portion of the top-funded collectives have moved away from relying just on donors, instead evolving into marketing agencies. Collectives also scored a major courtroom win this spring, rendering the NCAA’s transfer NIL policy useless and allowing high school and portal athletes to negotiate with collectives before enrolling at a school.

As previously reported by Yahoo, Ole Miss’ Grove Collective is going in-house as a school-financed third-party agency on July 1. According to TCA executive director Russell White, the difference between donor-funded and in-house collectives is not large.

“I think for a while, especially a lot of collectives within TCA, have been functioning more as marketing agencies,” he said. “Yes, they run the membership program. Yes, they have donor dollars to distribute, but they’re all out bringing in corporate partnerships for the agencies. They’re all out soliciting brand deals on behalf of athletes that we’ve run through the collective. They have staff that they have to pay.

“Collectives have already been operating mostly as kind of agencies with a little bit heavier donor influence.”

Plenty of questions ahead for NIL collectives

Questions remain of what in-house perks collectives will be able to offer. Can donors receive booster points for donating to an in-house marketing agency? White said collectives have come up with more creative ways to deliver return on investments to boosters than many athletic departments.

One crucial part of TCA moving forward will be assisting Group of Five collectives. The addition of San Diego State marks one of the first entities to join.

“One thing with the settlement is the role of collectives at the Group of 5 level is now more important than ever,” he said. “That’s why we’re expanding and inviting them in because most of those schools aren’t going to be able to participate in revenue sharing, at least up to the [$22 million] point. And so the way they’re going to attract and retain talent and be competitive is through a strong collective.”

TCA taking active approach on Capitol Hill

TCA retained Tidal Basin Advisors’ Jesse McCollum, a former longtime Democratic lobbyist for Nike, in January. The organization also enlisted Yong Choe, a former Rite Aid lobbyist who served as director of business outreach and member services for the conservative House Republican Study Committee and worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee

The organization has no plans of slowing down its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., as the NCAA looks to Congress to provide an antitrust exemption to properly enforce college sports. The House vs. NCAA settlement relies on lawmakers to deliver for the full scope of enforcement to be implemented.

“They’re not giving us the time because just the overall arrogance of the NCAA is they can do whatever they want, and nobody else really matters,” White said, speaking of how the NCAA views TCA. “In their eyes, it doesn’t matter how many collectives we have. They are singularly focused on trying to get this exemption and protections so that they can continue to run their racket the way they do. They don’t care to discuss things with us.”

Collectives could become the vehicle for institutions to disperse revenue, too. Universities do not want to hire additional out-of-market, third-party entities. Multiple sources previously voiced their concerns to On3 about financial aid departments at institutions tasked with distributing the revenue. Other sources have hypothesized about buyouts in college football help to create a more regulated free agency. The transfer portal windows don’t appear to be changing until collective bargaining enters the picture.

Raising funds key moving forward for NIL collectives

No matter how revenue sharing is dispersed, schools and collectives will need more dollars to stay competitive.

“That cap is a very important piece because as we know the competitive nature of the collegiate athletics landscape, particularly in the Power Four, it’s going to necessitate additional dollars in order to recruit and retain the best athletes,” Andrew Donovan, the President of Altius Sports Partners, which advises double-digit power conference athletic departments, previously told On3.

“If we’ve learned anything over the past three years, it is that schools are incredibly competitive. They’re going to do everything they can and their supporters are going to do everything they can to try to gain an advantage. And so, I think to expect that collectives are going to go away entirely would be a bit of a fool’s errand.”