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For a voice in reform, The Collective Association turns to lobbyists for an assist

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell01/10/24

EricPrisbell

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As college sports steadily moves toward consequential change, The Collective Association is turning to lobbyists to help sharpen its messaging and amplify its voice in ongoing reform discussions on Capitol Hill.

“When there is a meaningful discussion on NIL, we should be a part of it,” a source close to the TCA told On3. “No. 1 is getting a seat at the table.”

While the industry hurtles toward a new model, much focus remains on Capitol Hill. As legal threats mount, the NCAA continues to aggressively pursue a federal reform bill that would afford the association some antitrust protections and a formal designation that student-athletes are not university employees.

Having the ear of federal lawmakers remains a point of emphasis for the TCA, the trade association that now includes 33 collectives nationwide. To assist those efforts, the TCA in November hired lobbyists to help navigate the complex array of Congressional committees and a wide swath of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The 10th Congressional hearing on NIL issues in October included Walker Jones, executive director of the Ole Miss-focused Grove Collective and a leader in the TCA. On the heels of that hearing, the TCA retained Tidal Basin Advisors’ Jesse McCollum, a former longtime Democratic lobbyist for Nike. The TCA has also enlisted Yong Choe, a former Rite Aid lobbyist who also 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

TCA turns to lobbyists to navigate Capitol Hill

The lobbyist news, first reported by Politico, reflects the TCA’s desire to “provide a counterbalance to the narrative about NIL/collectives being pushed in Congress by the NCAA and others … and be part of the conversation on a federal college athletics bill,” said Mit Winter, a college sports attorney with Kennyhertz Perry.

The source told On3 the TCA needed a full-time presence in the conversation moving forward, adding, “Somebody that understood how to navigate both sides of the aisle and how to get in front of the right people. Playing the traffic cop in terms of managing how time is best spent. Who is best to talk to?”

The TCA needed someone to target the appropriate staffers to relay on-point messaging to their respective representatives. Plus, they needed someone to help consolidate messaging because, with so many voices among collectives, there is a risk messaging could get watered down or scattered.

McCollum made perfect sense considering the familiarity Oregon-focused Division Street collective CEO Rosemary St. Clair had with McCollum because of her long tenure at Nike.

Of note: the TCA hired the lobbyists before the NCAA revealed its potentially groundbreaking reform proposal on Dec. 5.

The TCA’s goal is to be an advocate for the student-athlete and to help create a more sustainable model for NIL. It has pinpointed February as the time it wants to re-engage with Congress and assess the state of the industry following this week’s NCAA convention. Moving forward, the TCA also hopes to generate discussions with the NCAA.

Some collectives could be redefined

NIL collectives are not a monolith, and in light of the NCAA’s bold proposal that could bring NIL activity under the umbrella of schools, collectives face an uncertain future.

The more than 200 that operate nationwide run the gamut in ambition, sophistication, resources, mission, community involvement, staffing, business savvy and – if the NCAA’s reform proposal is adopted – survival prospects.

Their fate likely depends on the specific collective, the individuals who operate them, and the goals of the athletic department. But make no mistake, if the proposal, or a version of it, is adopted, the collective model would change dramatically.

Even if NIL activity moves in-house, in theory, there could still be a role for some third-party collectives to then give players in revenue-generating sports their fair market value in NIL dollars. A collective could continue to operate and perhaps exclusively distribute dollars to football and men’s basketball players, as appropriate.

Through interviews with a wide array of legal experts and collective operators, if the NCAA proposal is adopted in its current form – and that remains a large question – many believe some collectives will indeed be rendered obsolete, and that that outcome was part of the NCAA’s calculus with the proposal. 

Some collectives likely would fold into the athletic department’s NIL arm. Some may continue as third-party entities, but perhaps with different value propositions. And, in some cases, new third-party entities could blossom to also assist schools when NIL activity moves in-house.

Some collective operators are influential stakeholders highly valued by athletic department officials, but most are not. Some would move to assist in the athletic department’s NIL operation, sources said, but most may not. 

The TCA is staging its annual meeting in Orlando on Jan. 27. While there may be some incremental changes to the collegiate model over the next year, sources close to the association don’t expect concrete “transformational changes” for at least another 18 months.