On3’s top 25 most influential figures in NIL

On3 imageby:Jeremy Crabtree09/01/22


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NIL continues to evolve at breakneck speed. Yet, there are groups and individuals that impacted Name, Image and Likeness more than others during its first 12 months. There are also important people that are shaping this category in real-time. One year into the ever-evolving new world of college sports, here is On3’s list of the top 25 most influential figures in NIL. These people shape what NIL is today and what it will be in the future. 

Jim Cavale

Founder, CEO of INFLCR
The brain behind INFLCR, Jim Cavale’s product has helped shape the everyday interactions athletes have with businesses across the country. INFLCR is in more than 170 Division I athletic departments, providing brand-building technology to assist athletes in maximizing their NIL value. INFLCR’s suite of products offers athletes resources to help them with education around relevant NIL topics; access to the INFLCR Exchange of marketplace partners they can research and engage in transactions with; and reporting technology enabling them to disclose NIL transactions. He also played a major role in organizing the first-ever NIL summit this summer in Atlanta. The INFLCR CEO believes the future of NIL lies with institutions building in-house programs – a reformed collective. Not many have done it yet; some have started to put the pieces together. INFLCR has started to create the technology for institutions to execute. Cavale has been one of the most forward-thinking individuals at the NIL level. Cavale and INFLCR will continue to create and adapt their software to future iterations of NIL. – Pete Nakos

Blake Lawrence

CEO Opendorse
You could make an argument that nobody has molded NIL more than Blake Lawrence – the former four-star recruit and Nebraska Cornhusker linebacker. Lawrence and his partner, Adi Kunalic, launched Opendorse with a focus on helping professional athletes monetize their brands, especially on social media. Opendorse created a way to pair companies with athletes that want to pay for their services. But Lawrence was also a visionary with NIL. He saw – well before others – that NIL was coming and there was a need for student-athletes to expand their brands. One year into the NIL era, Lawrence’s company partners with more than 100 college athletic departments, including more than half of the Power 5 and Group of 5, along with NAIA, NJCAA and other conferences. – Jeremy Crabtree

Hunter Baddour

Founding Partner, President Spyre Sports Group
No collective has pushed the envelope more – or been bolder and more ambitious – than Hunter Baddour’s Tennessee-centric Spyre Sports Group. As one industry source said, “Spyre is not messing around. They are big spenders and are smart about it.” Baddour is not shy about publicizing Spyre’s grand vision, putting figures and promotion behind his ambition. The money would be put into the pockets of student-athletes (or recruits). In an ultra-competitive landscape in the SEC, this could help lure an increasing number of five-star prospects to Knoxville. Baddour didn’t mince words to The Athletic: “We realized being involved in recruiting was going to be a priority. Then we realized how much money we were going to need to be elite. And we’re shooting to be No. 1.” That ambition and his impact on the first year of NIL is exactly why Baddour is on this list. – Jeremy Crabtree

Mick Assaf

Mick Assaf
walked on as a running back at Notre Dame before co-founding YOKE, a platform that Assaf describes as providing athletes business tools to launch paywalled communities. YOKE supports “player-driven” communities of football players at more than 40 schools, where each player who joins a club equally shares 82% of the club’s revenue. The players in each club vote on whether they want a revenue model based on the sale of access passes or donations. The clubs have had varying levels of financial success, ranging from the Norman NIL Club, where Oklahoma fans have contributed more than $26,000 of the monthly goal of $50,000, to the Irish Players Club, which has raised less than $2,000 from Notre Dame fans. The formation of clubs at schools such as BYU and Georgia led to pushback from others in the school’s ecosystem. YOKE’s initial 25% platform fee drew attention for being higher than industry standards but it has decreased as the platform’s scale has increased. Even with the ups and downs, there’s little question that YOKE and Assaf have had a significant impact on NIL. That impact should continue into the future, too. – Andy Wittry

Jason Belzer

CEO Student Athlete NIL
You can see Jason Belzer’s impact on NIL throughout the country with his work as the CEO of Athletic Director U and Student Athlete NIL. He is also one of the creators of the NIL Summit. The work on spearheading the NIL Summit alone is groundbreaking in the space. Yet, Belzer’s role at Student Athlete NIL is also what cements his spot on this list. Student Athlete NIL says it is the largest employer of student-athletes in the country through its business relationships with collectives and businesses. Plus, Belzer has a hand in crafting the business focus of top collectives like Success with Honor. The Penn State-focused collective has quickly become one of the most pioneering groups in the country. He’s also working with multiple other universities and groups on ambitious projects that will shape Year 2 of NIL. – Jeremy Crabtree

Ryan Day

Ohio State Football Coach
Whether or not Ryan Day intended for his offseason comment that it’d take $13 million in NIL compensation for Ohio State to keep its roster together to become public, that’s exactly what happened. That statement from that coach drew the attention of coaches across the country. “We got one of the best coaches in the country at one of the best programs in the country saying that,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said when On3 asked about his reactions to Day’s comment. “Not only just ‘Wow. That’s different than we’ve heard before,’ but ‘OK, so how do we go do that?’” How did Day and his staff reach that number? “What you try to do is figure out what’s going on out there,” Day said when asked by On3. “Now when you mix in collectives across the country, when you mix in the one-time transfer rule, you have to do the best you can to project out what you think is right for your team.” Day recently made an appearance at a fundraising event for The Foundation, one of the collectives that support Ohio State. – Andy Wittry

Nick Saban

Alabama Football Coach
Coaches like James Franklin, Lincoln Riley and Kiffin had been talking for months about the impact NIL pay-for-play deals had on the recruiting trail, especially with the 2022 and 2023 classes. But it was Alabama coach Nick Saban that revealed NIL’s warts to the national audience. When Saban alleged Texas A&M “bought every player on their team. Made a deal for Name, Image and Likeness” people paid attention. The spat between Fisher and Saban was college football’s talking point of the summer. Many insiders believe it was Saban’s words that sparked the NCAA to finally start to look into NIL dealmakers. Many also believe it was Saban’s criticism that also sparked former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to begin looking into regulating NIL on a federal level. It’s unclear what, if anything, will come from either one of those pushes. But for the first time, the college football world was talking about some of the bad actors in NIL and pushing for change. – Jeremy Crabtree

Jimbo Fisher

Texas A&M Football Coach
Jimbo Fisher
assembled the greatest recruiting class in the history of the sport, from a recruiting rankings perspective, in 2022. The Aggies enrolled nine On3 Consensus five-star recruits, including three of the top 10 recruits in defensive linemen Walter Nolen and Shemar Stewart and wide receiver Evan Stewart. Now let’s be clear, Fisher’s spot on this list is arguably a precarious one. That’s because Alabama coach Nick Saban alleged that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team. Made a deal for Name, Image and Likeness.” Fisher clapped back by calling a now-infamous press conference in which threw verbal jabs like, “Maybe somebody should have slapped him” and “Some people think they’re God.” Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal.” Texas A&M administrators even tried to get Saban suspended by the SEC. – Andy Wittry

Lane Kiffin

Ole Miss head coach

Commissioner after commissioner has called on Congress to put federal NIL legislation in place. Past that, however, nobody has come up with concrete plans for the future. Lane Kiffin has continued to point out what needs to change for college football to continue to be sustainable. The Ole Miss head coach has been a realist. He’s described NIL as “legalized cheating.” And he’s been honest about the No. 1 force driving recruiting these days — NIL. Kiffin has also outlined what the future of college football could look like if rules aren’t put in place. Donors acting as general managers, with coaches forced to play rosters that they did not put together. Sounds oddly familiar to the professional model. “This was not thought out, at all, and has created a massive set of issues,” the Rebels head coach said at SEC Media Days this summer. No, Lane Kiffin has not come up with the software every student-athlete is using to execute deals. And he’s not a student-athlete. But he continues to be one of the few to sound the alarm about the dangerous road NIL is headed. – Pete Nakos

Jordan Addison

USC receiver
Fair or not, Jordan Addison became a poster child for the speculation around the intersection of the Transfer Portal, the one-time transfer exception and NIL. After a sophomore season at Pitt in which Addison won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver after hauling in 100 receptions for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns, he transferred to USC. In August, Addison addressed the speculation that his decision to transfer was tied to NIL, telling reporters, “It was definitely frustrating, but I wasn’t too concerned with it because the truth always comes to the light.” Addison recently signed a NIL deal with United Airlines with the help of Younger & Associates and BLVD, a modern media agency with which USC has partnered and which CEO Mike Jones described as a “collective-plus.” Addison is a national name and now he has signed his first deal with a national brand. Along with USC coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams, each of whom arrived from Oklahoma, Addison is one of the prominent faces in the modern era of college football for the new-look Trojans. – Andy Wittry

Paige Bueckers

Connecticut women’s basketball player
Much of the focus during the first year of NIL was on the ability of male student-athletes to profit. However, UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers has proven female student-athletes can generate revenue and help boost brands, too. This past November, Bueckers, the 2021 women’s national player of the year who led UConn to the 2022 Women’s Final Four and national championship game, signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Gatorade. She was the company’s first NCAA partner. She’s also agreed to major deals with Crocs, Cash App and StockX. Plus, Bueckers has also filed a trademark for “Paige Buckets” to create her own line of merchandise. Experts say Bueckers may be the most marketable college basketball player in the nation. – Jeremy Crabtree

Cavinder Twins 

Miami women’s basketball players
When NIL launched on July 1, 2021, Haley and Hanna Cavinder were ready to jump into the new world of college athletics. Each has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram. Their combined TikTok has a following of 4.1 million. And the number of deals they’ve been able to reel in together in Year 1 has been something to watch. The first move was signing with Boost Mobile, which was unveiled in New York City’s Time Square. From there, the duo have inked partnerships with Six Star Nutrition, fantasy sports app SleeperChamps Sports, Eastbay and apparel company PSD – they have an ownership stake in another apparel company, too. The former Fresno State women’s basketball players have defined what it means to control the NIL market in just the first year of its existence. And then came the news this spring that the Cavinder’s were taking their talents to sunny Coral Gables. With more exposure in the ACC will come more opportunities for the Cavinder Twins. – Pete Nakos

Bryce Young

Alabama quarterback
The NIL deals just keep on coming and coming for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. The Alabama quarterback recently signed on with Dr Pepper for this year’s edition of “Fansville.” For Young, who holds an On3 NIL Valuation of $3.2 million, he has been one of the real winners of the NIL era. Last week he signed on with Dollar Shave Club and NOBULL. Now he gets to work with a brand that he grew up with. “I feel like they have such a strong love for the game of football, just like I do,” he said. “I have many memories growing up and watching the Dr Pepper halftime shows during big games. To be a part of such a great tradition was really special to me.” It won’t be the last deal he executes either, especially since he’s aligned with Creative Artists Agency – one of the top sports agencies in the country. – Jeremy Crabtree

Grant Frerking

President NIL U
At 15 years old Grant Frerking started his own million-dollar company, Metro Straw. Now he’s using his experience as an entrepreneur to educate student-athletes about the ins and outs of NIL through On3’s NIL U. And what’s even more impressive is that he’s doing all of this while juggling practices and games as a receiver at Tennessee. “I have always had a passion for connecting student-athletes with sports and business,” Frerking said. “The biggest aspect of that is education. With Name, Image and Likeness legislation in place across the country, I saw a massive opportunity to become the leader in high-level education of leadership, brand buildings, financial etiquette and basic business principles for today’s student-athlete. As the President of NIL U at On3, and Founder of GTFENTERPRISES, that is exactly what we are doing.” – Jeremy Crabtree

Chase Griffin

UCLA quarterback
In June, UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin was named Male Athlete of the Year at the inaugural NIL Summit. Griffin’s cash-only approach to NIL compensation is one any athlete should consider. He speaks of trying to build generational wealth by investing his earnings. Griffin represents himself, with the help of his father, because “no one else would be able to sell me like me, and no one would be motivated to sell myself like I am,” he told On3. The former three-star recruit has been a reserve for most of his career – although he did have a four-touchdown game on just 11 attempts against Stanford in 2020 – but he has proven there can be significant opportunities for earning NIL deals and building life skills even for athletes who aren’t household names. – Andy Wittry

Bronny James

Class of 2023 basketball recruit
Bronny James has been a viral sensation for most of his life as the oldest son of NBA star LeBron James. And while Bronny has built a reputation as a top high school player in the 2023 class, he has amassed an even bigger following on social media – including racking up more than a million Instagram followers in less than 24 hours. He’s also become one of the youngest athlete entrepreneurs in the world with endorsement deals with companies like PSD Underwear. His name recognition and connections have made the four-star combo guard from Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon basketball royalty before he even steps foot on a college campus. And as such, he is the most valuable high school athlete in the NIL era with an On3 NIL Valuation of a whopping $7.2 million. It’s a number that’s unrivaled by any other student-athlete in any sport. – Jeremy Crabtree

Mikey Williams

Class of 2023 basketball recruit
Mention the name Mikey Williams to most casual sports fans, and they will have no idea who you’re talking about. Now say it to just about anyone who a) follows basketball and b) has an Instagram account. Williams, a five-star guard from San Diego San Ysidro High, has been a social media phenomenon since the eighth grade. He’s become high school basketball’s first true celebrity and advertisers are definitely paying attention. His highlight-reel dunks and scoring performances have made him a household name among young basketball fans. He’s parlayed that into a massive social media following. Between Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, he has 5.9 million followers. And YouTube videos of him regularly amass more than a million views. He is also one of high school basketball’s elite prospects and has been for some time. He has built himself into a NIL powerhouse with an On3 NIL Valuation of $4 million with deals from top brands like PUMA already inked. – Jeremy Crabtree

Sedona Prince

Oregon women’s basketball player
Sedona Prince
’s impact transcends the NIL world and the basketball court. Yes, she’s a quality basketball player for the Oregon Ducks with an average of 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 2021-22. Yes, she’s also built a large following with her vital Tik Toks and millions of followers. But she’s used her platform to also become a social advocate. She’s exposed the inequalities in treatment between male and female student-athletes – particularly with the difference in workout equipment and meals between the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments. Back in the NIL world, Prince helped student-athletes, especially female athletes, to earn a profit through the NIL rule change. She was involved in the class action lawsuit in the summer of 2020 against the NCAA that helped reshape the NIL landscape. For her efforts, she was honored as the Female Athlete of the Year at the NIL Summit. – Jeremy Crabtree

Gordon McKernan

Attorney with Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys
While other schools are buoyed by successful collectives, individually Gordon McKernan has become one of the biggest NIL deal makers in the country. Yes, he hasn’t generated as much national attention as John Ruiz and LifeWallet at Miami. But McKernan and his firm, Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys, have struck major NIL deals with LSU stars like Kayshon Boutte, Jaquelin Roy, Malik Nabers and other impact Tiger players. Heck, he even did a deal recently with five-star linebacker signee Harold Perkins. And earlier this week he announced a new agreement with four-star offensive lineman Emery Jones. McKernan’s firm is not just focused on football. He’s executed deals with LSU women’s basketball star Alexis Morris, top Tiger baseball players Cade Doughty and Tre Morgan, and NCAA track national champion Sean “Squirrel” Burrell. Furthermore, he’s also done deals with Louisiana Ragin Cajun players Dontae Fleming and Andre Jones. McKernan told Sports Illustrated the price tag for elite players is often at least $100,000 in NIL salary. McKernan said he will pay $500,000 in NIL deals this year. – Jeremy Crabtree

Gavin Newsom

California Governor
If you want to understand how we got to this point with NIL, you have to go back to the beginning. Three years ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined LeBron James on his HBO show “The Shop,” to sign California’s historic “Fair Pay to Play Act” into law. “The jig’s up,” Newsom said on Sept. 30, 2019. “Billions and billions of dollars, 14-plus billion dollars go to these universities, a billion-plus revenue to the NCAA themselves, and the folks who are putting their lives on the line, putting everything on the line, are getting nothing.” Newsom predicted the California bill – the first in the country – would forever change college athletics. The law induced a flood of similar legislation across the country, forcing the NCAA’s hand and forever altering the college sports landscape. James tweeted that the bill will “change the lives of countless athletes who deserve it!” – Jeremy Crabtree

John Ruiz

Miami booster

When On3 released its top 20 most ambitious collectives earlier this month, social media did not appreciate that John Ruiz was categorized as a collective. But what the Miami booster has been able to accomplish in Year 1 of NIL has truly shaped what the space could look like for years to come. Ruiz has allocated $10 million to spend on compensating student-athletes because he wants the Hurricanes to win. He has worked to sign more than 110 active Miami athletes to marketing deals to promote two of his companies, LifeWallet and Cigarette Racing. Nijel Pack, who recently transferred from Kansas State, agreed to a LifeWallet deal that will give him $800,000 total over two years. He’s as bold and deep-pocketed as it gets in college sports. And while the NCAA has continued to poke around South Beach trying to find a way to shut down his operation, they have had no luck. – Pete Nakos

Darren Heitner

Attorney with Heitner Legal
Darren Heitner
of Heitner Legal has had his hand in nearly every sector of the NCAA’s new era. The intellectual property attorney has crafted deal after deal for the Cavinder Twins. He’s worked closely with collectives, helping form organizations and serving as a resource when interpreting NCAA law. Heitner has served as a consultant for countless brands, too. The attorney has been an advocate for high school student-athletes cashing in on their NIL, and he helped the state of Florida craft its NIL legislation. He’s also been a realist. Heitner is well aware of the other side of NIL – the deals that are sealing the future of top-rated prospects. He refuses to help broker those contracts. But he’s been adamant about the need for educating student-athletes in the space. With over 400,000 student-athletes across the NCAA’s three divisions, time should be spent focusing on them. – Pete Nakos

Mike Caspino

No other person has been more of a lightning rod in NIL in Year 1. But Mike Caspino has also been one of the biggest players in NIL, reshaping the recruiting landscape. The attorney brokered the largest known deal to date – a potential $8 million contract for a five-star prospect. It is widely speculated that Tennessee quarterback commitment Nico Iamaleava is the prospect. But Caspino has not revealed the name. Either way, the contract calls for the recruit to pocket $350,000 immediately and a monthly payment that increases to more than $2 million per year once the recruit begins his college career. Caspino has worked on deals for more than 100 four- and five-star recruits in football and basketball. He’s caused a handful of controversy, too, being one of the only lawyers to admit to working against the NCAA guidelines, as he’s worked hand-in-hand with NIL collectives delivering contracts to athletes. But as NIL continues its up-and-down trajectory, his profile is only starting to rise. – Pete Nakos

Mike Walsh

Boise State Associate Athletic Director for Business Development and Revenue Innovation
Boise State took home the award for the Best Institutional NIL Program at the inaugural NIL Summit in June. And Mike Walsh is a big reason why the Broncos received the recognition. Walsh helped Boise State take an aggressive approach to NIL. With Walsh’s leadership, the Broncos set out to build the most student-athlete-friendly NIL program in the country. The “What’s Next” program is the A.C.E. up the sleeve of Bronco student-athletes, providing Advocacy, Content and Education that will allow them to maximize their NIL opportunities. Another element that sets Boise State apart in the industry is the Boise State NIL Agreement – a voluntary, non-exclusive agreement available to all Bronco student-athletes. Signing up allows Boise State’s in-house agency to represent them, seek opportunities and include them in group licensing deals. It also gives student-athletes access to the Boise State Athletics logo – including photos of themselves in uniform or team-issued gear – to use in approved NIL opportunities. It’s a program that’s admired across the country and attempts to replicate it are well underway. – Jeremy Crabtree

Mit Winter

Attorney at Kennyhertz Perry LLC
In Year 1 of NIL, Mit Winter established himself as one of the most authoritative voices in the space. Winter provides collectives, businesses, and student-athletes and their families legal representation through his work at Kennyhertz Perry LLC. But he’s also developed one of the strongest social media presences in the NIL space. Winter is always quick and thoughtful to provide important commentary on the biggest trends and news impacting NIL. He’s essentially become NIL’s moral compass with his observations. Winter has an especially powerful point of view because of his work as an attorney. However, he’s also been in the shoes of student-athletes as a former basketball player at William & Mary. – Jeremy Crabtree