The last decade of North Texas has been about getting to a competitive level with the program’s peers. Neil Smastresk and Wren Baker have invested time and money in building facilities, paying coaches, and reorganizing the athletic department. To compete in the next decade, they will have to figure out the NIL future.
Every coach with a reporter’s number is willing to talk about the challenges in recruiting and roster-building. The NCAA, slow to react as always, is considering a change in the 25-per-year scholarship limit and simply enforcing the 85-total scholarship rule, to better deal with the transfer portal. Everyone is still figuring out how to regulate — if that is at all possible — the wide open NIL space. There have been reports of very one-sided deals that look like music industry “360” deals that are heavily slanted toward the collective with language including “pay back clauses” and other conditions.
Originally, the NIL push was about allowing athletes to capitalize — literally that word — on their names, images, and likenesses. Some athletes were popular and were forbidden from making a modest sum in areas outside of their sport because of rules. Everyone freaked out about the possibility of free-agency “ruining” college football. The truth has always been that there have been cash exchanges for ages. NIL is truly “now it’s legal” 1.
This, in our opinion, is a good thing. I like a lot of socialist policies but your fourth favorite Mean Green Blogger is a capitalist, gents. It is true. I see nothing wrong with earning a dollar for your labor. You make a little name for yourself scoring touchdowns? I see no problem with earning a little cash for the fame.
NIL and North Texas
The rules in the great state of Texas are that no one from the program (that means coaches etc) can be a part of the NIL deal, lest it smack of some paying for play. That’s all well and good but it creates a problem. NIL collectives are happy to collect money for funneling to players but without some coordination there is little in the way of finding the right player to whom to funnel. There are reports of coaches thinking “the NIL collective is after that guy … but I don’t want him”. In professional sports this is a common thing. The owner wants a guy, the GM/Coach don’t. Depending on the arrangement of the organization it either means they find a way to work it out or the owner says out of it. Here, in college athletics there is no way to know for sure, if you are helping or hurting when you are dangling some cash at a player.
Full disclosure: MGN has done an NIL deal with former NT running back DeAndre Torrey. As with all the stuff we try to do here, we try to stay on everyone’s good side. We read the rules, the regulations, and worded the contract accordingly. We got Torrey’s image, his name, and even created a stylized form of his signature to put on a shirt and then we sold it. I estimated the number of shirts that would sell, and used that to estimate his cut. I structured it like a book deal and he got an advance, so to speak. Mindful of the nature of a contract, his duty to MGN was simply to advertise the site on a social media post. He did, and I paid. While in spirit it was about shirt sales, in contract language I paid him for doing a tweet. In exchange he got cash, and a free t-shirt. I did study at the UNT school of business, y’all. I know what I am doing 2.
From what I can tell, the NIL deals across the universe are similar to influencer contract language. The consideration on the part of the athlete is simply a post, or an appearance, usually clearly defined. “The party will make one(1) appearance on behalf of the collective (“COLLECTIVE”) subject to …” There is a lot of pretending going on as there is not really a big market for “appearances” — certainly not in the range of $8 million. Then again, I don’t know. I can tell you that having Torrey’s name on the shirts help get some social media hype but not a whole lot of sales beyond my initial estimate. For MGN, it is fine. We aren’t in the t-shirt business, and it was really about funding the commemoration of a cool moment in a blowout win over a rival.
That is a good part of what all this is about. I mean, occasionally people will tell me stories of how they hung out with players. There is no point to these stories (I don’t think it is evident to the story tellers) other than to say “I had a brush with a [relatively] famous person.” It all feeds on itself. People like being around winners and success and greatness. A program wins, people want to be near it, and so they either pay to be near it (tickets, tv, gear, donations, etc) or join (athletes, students, coaches, staff) and if enough talented people and resources are amassed you can continue to win, which brings in more of the resources and people, etc. So I do believe you can start at throwing money at the cause. That can help bring in talent, and talent usually brings success. But it takes more than simply tossing some NIL money at a quarterback or something. The program is a part of a larger ecosystem that includes the school, the city, the region, the state, and the nation. North Texas is not competing just with UTSA, Rice and UTEP in CUSA [right now] but also Texas, and A&M, and Oklahoma, and Tulsa, and Denton is competing with those other places and DFW is competing with Los Angeles and so on.
On Twitter Joel Anderson, former TCU backup running back and current journalist and podcaster, noted that HBCUs are good places for athletes because of the community and fun, and he’s right. 3 I do not know that enough is done to make the larger alumni base feel like a community of like-minded and supportive individuals. (MGN tries to foster that kind of attitude where I can, but your fourth favorite podcaster is also very acerbic and kind of mean on twitter.)
The point is that there is more to competing in college football (and basketball) than simply starting an NIL collective. It will help, and it certainly can’t hurt to show that there is an opportunity to make a little cash if you sign on in Denton. Really, though, it is simply a lot of the same stuff. If you can draft up a marketing agreement, you can draft an NIL deal. Local businesses have already done a little of this and that. In the case of the basketball program, winning and building a good program based on trust and good relationships with coaches is what is drawing the talent, not a big NIL deal.
Sure But What Does A Good NIL Collective Look Like for NT?
There are *so many* collectives and they all are really work like a non-profit/hedge funds and talk like booster clubs. That is, the are seeking active investment, and tout their impact (planned or hoped for) and have varying rules for managing the money made from this. They usually have tiers and dangle opportunities to either meet a player, or steer (slightly) the direction of the investment. There is also a lot of language talking up leadership and impacting the next generation. Others are not public, played much closer to the vest, and work more like the classic booster system: funding cash to players and that’s that.
The latter, in my mind, is much more effective. While casting a wide net and soliciting donations from the regular Joseph Alumnus is a good way to raise up money, there is a lot of overhead involved in doing so. You have to convince, support, report, and manage all these individual members and that becomes nearly a full-time gig if you are doing it right. Whereas with big-money donors, it is a lot more simple. They usually know how this all works — everything from contracts, to glad-handing — and there are fewer decision makers. There are more egos, however.
Okay But I want to Do A Collective (for clout, but I will pretend really hard that it is for the good of the community)
- You pay the $350 or so to register your LLC (or whatever you want, I would go with an LLC).
- You start the process to apply for 501(3c) non-profit status — oh you didn’t know this was how it works? Ha.
- You spring for a nice website — $3K if you are doing it right and completely outsourcing it. Anything less and you might have some issues but you can shop for these costs — this will tell your story, and is very important because …
- You need to solicit donations. The lifeblood of the collective is CASH and you need to get it. Start by kicking in your own cash — $10K ought to be a good start. Your money should be in a business bank account and if you didn’t already know this you probably should press pause and just wait for someone else to do this and become and individual contributor. Or just write a check to the Mean Green Club.
- Before soliciting donations — this is really important but I know you wanted to know the above stuff first — you need to figure out how this organization will run. How will funds be distributed? I know you are thinking “to athletes” sure, but what percentage? What will be the bylaws governing your allocation of funds toward the Endeavors and how much will be required to be allocated per year? I am talking like, “at least 50% of Funds will be allocated toward NIL (or whatever you call it in your high minded language)”. For any funds that are not immediately allocated, what is the investment strategy beyond “stick it in the savings account, I suppose”. Some kind of long-term strategy for investment would be smart to self-fund the organization. This *could* come later, or your brand could be something like “all the cash goes directly to them” but that means a larger portion of your organization’s life will be spent on making sure solicitations are made. You are making a big choice here.
- Build Relationships — I mentioned the above syncing with coaches and how that is not allowed, but getting to know the coaches and the kinds of players and people they *would* target is maybe helpful in making sure this isn’t a hindrance to everyone. If the business plan isn’t “just give cash to players and have them do a social media post” there is a lot of coordinating involved here. Working with businesses to help them draft NIL deals, matching up athletes and businesses, maybe doing the “building leaders” portion or whatever you said you were going to do on the website. Unless, you, dear reader, are an expert in NIL language and will be guiding everyone yourself, you probably need to find the people that can do this. This isn’t just sending out a DM or taking someone’s word at it, but like, really vetting them. You probably should know something about it to be able to vet them, but of course you knew that already, I’m sure.
That’s a rough guide. It is at the very least, the kinds of things we would consider before grabbing some cash out the stocks/bonds/mutual funds/war chest and Venmo-ing that over to you. I would also expect some kind of tax-statement or some explanation about the tax implications of all this money-giving to you. Hopefully you have a guy.
MGN Might Actually Do This
I might do a collective and have it be just me and like one lucky other person. I will write language into the contract that the athlete (“ATHLETE”) in consideration to the above Compensation, will deliver in the form of a social media post — of their choosing but preferably on Twitter, or Instagram, but not restricted to these forms — a post with the text — in the form of a caption on instagram, or a “tweet” on twitter, or equivalent form in other social media — “I don’t really know what MGN is but they paid me to do this”
See Bruce Feldman in the Athletic↩
Some might argue this point but they aren’t the boss of me↩
He was responding to Deion Sanders’ complaint about high school coaches steering p5 talent to well, p5 schools and not treating HBCU programs as equal in opportunity. Anderson made the note that for an athlete going to Southern might be more beneficial for the above reasons than like, UAB. I am paraphrasing. ↩