A new era of BYU athletics is here, ladies and gentlemen. BYU has a new collective that is officially endorsed by Tom Holmoe and the BYU Athletic Department. That's wonderful news for BYU and for BYU student-athletes!
But also what in the name of LaVell is a collective and why does this news matter? Grab a seat on the couch, my friends, and let's have a little discussion about ( The Royal Blue (cue the clip from 'The Social Network' where Justin Timberlake says, "Drop the 'the.' It's... cleaner." Drop the 'collective.' It's... cleaner).
IMPORTANT QUESTION #1: Does BYU officially have a war chest of money and will BYU football player be cashing $30,000 checks today?
No. That's not how this works. THAT'S NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS!
The Royal Blue will have money, there is no doubt about that. BYU has enough fans, alumni and corporate interest that there will be no shortage of people willing to pledge funds in the name of helping BYU athletes. But TRB (if there are two things I love, it's parenthetical commentary and acronymn-ing things) isn't just going to pool money together and walk into the BYU locker room throwing out Benjamins to anyone who happens to be there.
TRB has partnered with Oncoor Sports. Oncoor is a marketing company who helps student-athletes capitalize off of their own brands. Think of them as the marketing consultant that your company has hired to help revitalize your company's mission statement and brand. Oncoor does that, but they do it for student-athletes who have a brand but might not know they have a brand.
Oncoor and TRB will help find and facilitate opportunities for student-athletes to use their brand. For example, if I own a Utah County tech company and I want to bring BYU athletes into my next marketing campaign, I can reach out to TRB and say something like, "Hey, I've got $500k for this new marketing initiative and I want to incorporate BYU athletes into it. I think they'd help my brand and I would love to help those who represent my school. However, I don't really have the time to individually organize contracts and payment and all of this stuff with the 50 football players that I want to bring on board. So, can you do it for me?"
TRB and Oncoor will accept the donation, work with the appropriate players and with the Utah County tech company to ensure that the company's wishes are fulfilled, and then ensure that the appropriate players are compensated for their efforts.
The key in all of this is that players have to 'engage in an NIL activity' in order to be compensated. Let's refer to the TRB website for the specific definition of what that is:
An NIL activity involves the use of a student-athlete’s name, image, or likeness for promotional purposes by a third-party not associated with the NCAA or an NCAA institution such as:
- Social media influencing and other promotions
- Personal appearances at businesses, conferences, camps, parties TV ads, radio ads, print ads
- Endorsements of a third-party
- Student-athlete-run camps and private lessons
- Sale of student-athlete owned apparel and personal items
- Student-athlete run businesses
If someone is putting together a fundraiser and wants to raffle off a bunch of autographed memorabilia, they can reach out to TRB and say "I have $10,000, how many autographs can I get for my silent auction?"
TRB and Oncoor will work with players, get the autographed stuff, pay the players, and provide the autographed memorabilia.
We could come up with specific examples for each bullet point, but ain't nobody got time for that. We have additional important questions to address.
IMPORTANT QUESTION #2: So this replaces the Cougar Club, yeah?
No. Not at all, actually. In fact, the donations and money raised by TRB doesn't go to BYU at all. The Cougar Club still exists. They will ask you for money. And things like ticket priority and whatever else comes by way of the Cougar Club will still exist.
So where should your money go? Well, that's ultimately up to you. But here is the difference between the two.
TRB raises funds to give to athletes, of which 87-95% of the funds raised will go to athletes, per their website. (The part that doesn't go to athletes is operating costs - legal, IT, marketing, etc.)
Cougar Club donations will go to BYU for BYU things, e.g. stadium upgrades, locker rooms, gear, stuff like that. BYU can't pay the student-athletes directly, but they need funds to create the student-athlete experience and that's what the Cougar Club will do.
Which matters more is up to the donor. There is a caveat, though. BYU is about to enter the Big 12 Conference and will start cashin' them fat TV money checks boiiiii. The collective? No fat checks. No TV money.
I'm not telling you what to spend your money on (except at GEHB, spend all of your money at GEHB please), but the influx of new money into BYU the program is something to consider when you are making that decision.
IMPORTANT QUESTION #3: What benefit is there for me as a donor?
Short answer: Nothing. You're donating to a 501(c)(3). You don't get anything in return but the feel-good feeling of donating to a cause you support. And that's not an abnormal practice, either.
If you've ever watched late-night television, you have probably gotten a little misty-eyed as you were listening to Sarah McLachlan sing sad songs while a bunch of hurt, sick, or otherwise neglected dogs flashed on your screen and heard the phrase, "For just $18 a month, $0.60 per day, you can help rescue abused animals."
If Sarah's touching words pricked your heart enough that you called the number on the screen and joined the BCSPCA, they didn't ship you an injured dog in the mail. Instead, they collected and used your money to 'help rescue animals who are victims of animal cruelty.'
You didn't buy a dog. You didn't get to go on some sort of raid into Michael Vick's old house (whoa, Jeff, he did his time lay off of Vick). You got to feel good about helping an animal.
Now, the BCSPCA might have sent you a shirt or a pin or put you on some mailing list, but that's not why you donated. You donated to help the dogs. If you happened to get a shirt, well bully for you.
TRB is the same principle. You are donating to help BYU's student-athletes. That's it. There is not a tangible gift you will receive in return.
Having said that, TRB is working on incentives and future membership perks. They could include fan-events or maybe there is an insider newsletter one or maybe you can fly to an away game or something. There is nothing that will prevent TRB from organizing things like that, and they will do things in the future, but those don't exist today.
Every dollar spent on donor incentives, though, is a dollar donated that doesn't go to a BYU student-athlete. So, tit for tat, or something, I don't really know how to use that phrase.
IMPORTANT QUESTION #4: So this is all just about getting BYU players cash money? That's the objective?
Wrong. Well, sort of wrong.
Yes, ensuring that players get paid is the primary objective of TRB and everything that they are doing. However, that's not the only objective and that's not really the north-star that the company's strategic direction is following.
The vision statement on TRB's website says this, "To make BYU a consistent national leader in collegiate athletic performance and see all its student-athletes promote light and goodness in life beyond sports."
That last line is the real key - "promote light and goodness in life beyond sports."
In my conversations with folks who are running TRB, there has been one very clear and very over-arching theme: Brigham Young University provides far more than just an education, and therefore, the official collective of Brigham Young University Athletics should provide far more than just money for players on the field.
Remember, today is Day 1 of The Royal Blue, so there are initiatives and things that are still in the pipeline. Among those is an all-encompassing financial literacy course to help players learn how to manage their newfound fortune.
Well, that sounds great, but anybody can call a dork from Fidelity to come an talk about a 401(k), so what is the difference?
TRB recognizes that so much of the value in being part of the BYU family IS the BYU family. So, TRB is looking to tap into that resource as much as possible. Is there a basketball player who is a budding entrepreneur? Awesome, TRB can find that basketball player a mentor who has started, operated, and sold companies. Is there a football player who is dying to learn how to run a construction company? Believe it or not, there are BYU alumni who run very successful construction companies that are more than willing to help BYU athletes take the next step in their non-football careers. TRB can help with that too.
The ideas and the potential that the BYU network can bring for student-athletes is immense, and TRB will be implementing a variety of ways to tap into that.
Let's think through a scenario: I'm a BYU football player and I work with TRB throughout my college career. After BYU, I try the NFL and it doesn't work out for me, so now it's time to start my real life. I have a really cool idea about a new way to utilize technology and data to enhance the very specific training that football players have to do for each specific position. I know exactly what a defensive end needs to do and not do, and I know what an offensive guard should do or not do in order to maximize their potential. I want to make more than this an idea.
The problem? I don't have a ton of money and I'm not a developer to build this out. I just have a vision and a plan.
WAIT A MINUTE! I have been working closely with TRB and the expansive BYU network for literally years, maybe they can help me out!
With just a phone call or two, TRB could put that former BYU football player in touch with any number of owners of Silicon Slopes companies who would be able to help build things out.
Or even one better, what if I want to partner with some of those business owners and see if they would invest in my idea and my future company? Well, within a few calls, TRB would have the ability to reach out to multiple affiliates of the collective who might be an interested investor.
Now, back to real life. I, Jeff Hansen, would love to start a company. How do I have to do it? Well, I don't have access to billionaire-mentors or venture capitalists who know me by name and have been cheering for me for several years.
BYU athletes have always kind of had this access, but TRB will help them understand what it really means so they can utilize that access.
That's not a cash payment, but boy, that's more valuable than $30,000 over 12 months is ever going to be.
It's not just financial/business stuff either. The collective plans to roll out a number of mental health resources that will help student-athletes as they go through their athletic careers. Technology, people, a friend to rely on - a.k.a. the BYU family - is at the fingertips of athletes.
These aren't tangible, financial gains that an athlete will have to pay taxes on at the end of the year. But these are things that add value to the BYU experience. The folks at TRB understand that value and they have a strong desire to help BYU student-athletes grasp that value as well.
IMPORTANT QUESTION #5: So let's start recruiting! How can TRB get recruits in the door?
Well, they can't. Not directly, anyways. Pay-for-play is not allowed and "NIL activities" can't happen for recruits. So, how does this become a recruiting tool for BYU?
By being successful with current student-athletes and changing their lives. Then, when a BYU coach gets asked a question about NIL money or what BYU will do in that regard, they can point to a player on the roster and say, "This is how our collective has changed the life of so and so. This is what they are doing for such and such, a former player of ours. That's the kind of impact our collective can and will have for you. You might get a bigger one-time deal from that school somewhere else, but BYU's collective will provide you lifetime value that is worth more than a little cash to buy a new car today. And I know that the collective can deliver on that because they ARE delivering on that."
That becomes the recruiting pitch about the collective. That's how recruits see the value.
Speaking of recruiting, though, there is one thing that the collective cannot help with or do: The actual sport.
TRB isn't developing game plans or producing NBA talent. TRB can't win games on Saturdays or help someone make a tackle. Coaches have to do that. And, at the end of the day, recruits who are looking at BYU for football want to be football players first.
Coaches still have to recruit hard. They still have to show recruits how they will fit into the offensive scheme or how they will develop as a defensive end. They still have to lay out the diet plan and the strength and conditioning plan that will allow an athlete to become an elite defensive tackle or point guard. They still have to find the right guys for BYU who fit the school and the unique characteristics that come with it.
Coaches still have to do all of that. And no matter how much value or additive substance the collective brings to the table, if the coaches and athletic programs don't live up to their end of the bargain, TRB's efforts will struggle.
But with the help of TRB, BYU is positioned incredibly well to ensure that the non-sport aspects of being a student-athlete are taken care of. And that, my friends, is an enormous win for the future of BYU.