NIL collectives ready to assist Big Ten, SEC advisory group

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos02/05/24

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As NIL collectives gathered in Orlando late last week for their first annual summit, the Big Ten and SEC unveiled a partnership that could play a crucial role in reshaping college sports.

The two richest and most powerful conferences in college sports are working together to form a joint advisory group of university presidents, chancellors and athletics directors that will discuss a range of topics, a sign of the power possibly changing hands from the NCAA to conferences.

On the advisory board’s list of issues to tackle includes the multiple antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA, the transfer portal and the state of NIL. Plus, the advisory board specifically plans to focus on pay-for-play impacting recruiting and Charlie Baker’s Project Division I proposal.

Time will only be able to tell if the relationship is fruitful. But for the 32 NIL collectives that make up The Collective Association (TCA), the formation of the advisory board was a signal in the right direction.

“Now [the attention] it’s conferences,” said Russell White, the newly-elected president of TCA who also serves as the president of Oncoor Marketing, which manages multiple collectives. “Some of the things we’ve promoted or ideas we have about how the landscape can look going forward include revenue sharing and media rights being shared with the athletes. Those are all things we have plans and models for and can help establish, along with the conferences and athletes.

“The conferences are where so much of the power is, and they’ve given the NCAA opportunities. It’s clear by the announcement Friday that the SEC and Big Ten are just like, ‘OK, maybe we’ll just have to do it ourselves.’ We’ve seen it moving this way. We’re here to work with people. We know the conferences have a lot of the power and they’re realizing it’s maybe time to step in and do what they do.”

Collective leaders want ‘common sense’ guidelines

Since Tony Petitti took over as the Big Ten’s president last spring, he’s worked closely with his counterpart in the SEC office, Greg Sankey. The previous tension between the two conferences has been erased, now focused on solving problems both are dealing with.

For White and NIL collectives, they’re happy to see leadership spring from elsewhere than Indianapolis. Booster-driven NIL collectives are crucial in retaining and attracting top talent. Collectives make up roughly 90% of all dollars in the space.

They have become the recruiting tool in college football. 

The NCAA has struggled to govern the NIL space since its inception 31 months ago. The body’s interim policy which was installed in 2021 has shifted. Collectives partially feel like they’re on the defensive, with NCAA enforcement levying sanctions on Florida State recently.

The NCAA has also launched an investigation into Tennessee for potential NIL violations. The attorneys general in Tennessee and Virginia have countered by bringing the NCAA to court, arguing the body does not have the right to ban recruits and transfer portal athletes from talking with collectives before enrolling at an institution. Simmered down, arguing an athlete should know their compensation before playing for a school.

“The NCAA has not done themselves any favors over the past couple of years,” White told On3 on Sunday. “And look, Charlie Baker inherited a disaster. Mostly it’s frustration. There are so many gray areas that don’t need to be gray. And there are so many things that the NCAA has had opportunity after opportunity to clarify or to realize, ‘Hey, maybe we don’t need to overreach here or maybe we need to let this area develop a bit more into a free market.’

“We’re not against regulations or guidelines. Collectives aren’t. It’s more about are they common sense guidelines? Do they put the needs and the rights and the opportunities of the college athletes first?”

NIL collectives want to find best way forward

As anticipation builds to see if the Eastern District of Tennessee grants a temporary restraining order to Tennessee and Virginia before Feb. 6, the day before National Signing Day, NIL collective leaders shared frustrations with On3 about the current framework of college sports.

Since the early months of NIL in the summer of 2021, collectives populated the landscape. What started at the top-tier college football programs has now trickled down to the Group of 5 and even Division II. Being able to offer athletes a lucrative financial package has become just as crucial as having an impressive facility and staff that can develop athletes for the next level.

As the NCAA continues to look to Congress for life support, collectives are ready to formalize the infrastructure. The donor-led groups have become the interim stopgaps of what will eventually become revenue share payouts or event employment compensation.

“We just need to stop saying it’s pay-for-play,” one collective leader told On3, wishing to stay anonymous. “It is obviously pay-for-play, it’s obviously – NIL plays a part in recruiting. Is it a huge part? Depends on the school and the athlete. Is it a small part? Depends on the school and the athlete. It definitely plays a role in the recruiting process.

“We just need to throw it all away and stop hiding behind something that it’s not and try to find the best way to make it worthwhile for the athletes and boosters.”

Leaders of The Collective Association met with NCAA and SEC leaders this summer to share thoughts on a potential revenue-sharing model that would include the organizations. Petitti pushed back on the idea of bringing collectives into the fold on rev-share this summer when speaking with On3.

But as the NCAA deals with multiple antitrust lawsuits and a National Labor Relations Board hearing, employment and revenue sharing have never seemed like more of a formality in college sports. That doesn’t mean there won’t be repercussions across the landscape and at all levels.

“It’s hard for me to see a model in the future that doesn’t have rev-share as some part of it,” another NIL collective leader told On3. “I just don’t see any way anything can exist without it. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen tomorrow. If we look back at this five years from now, hard to see how rev-share doesn’t come into play.”

The question remains, however – how does college sports get to that point? With the formation of the Big Ten and SEC joint advisory group, the two most powerful conferences could serve as trailblazers. Or the advisory board could come to the decision Baker’s Project D-I plan is the answer.

For Russell White and the leading NIL collectives, the answer does not need to be the NCAA.

“I feel like what we’ve just seen is the NCAA has lost so much power, influence and money over time that when you start taking those things away from people, it’s crazy to see what they’ll do to get them back,” he said. “It’s a frustration that they’re overreaching to try and pull back some of these things. A lot of people in this space realize we need guidelines and partnerships with other stakeholders, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing.

“Honestly, it doesn’t have to be the NCAA.”