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Caring is Creepy: Fan Involvement in the Evolving World of NIL Collectives

The changes to name, image and likeness rules in the NCAA has created the wild, wild west among boosters looking to help their favorite team.

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We’ve hit the point where not getting a little creepy could cost your school top prospects.

Around these parts, a mantra was born years ago of a leadership now gone: caring is creepy. It’s both hilarious and true. Truly, if you say some of these things out loud, it sounds ridiculous to an outsider.

Example A: I follow 3,803 people on Twitter. I don’t know the exact number, but I would venture to guess than close to 1,000 of them are prep prospects in football, basketball and in some instances baseball. As my wife likes to derogatively say, I follow a thousand high school boys on Twitter. Creepy.

But that’s not where it ends. We (and I feel confident saying it’s a we because I know Rivals, 247 Sports, ESPN, Hawk Central and any of the dozens of other media outlets that follow Iowa recruiting aren’t all getting by on my subscription alone) not only follow these literal kids on social media, we spend time reading what they write, watching their videos, viewing their photos, liking their posts, sometimes engaging with them (this is a bad idea. Then we let our emotions be tied to their decisions on which school to attend for college.

Once they’re on campus and are no longer boys but young men, we pour over any and all information we can get about how they are progressing. Did they cut a hundredth off their 40 time? How many times can they bench 225? Did he add any weight through the offseason training program?

“Whoa, so and so looks bigger this fall.”


Of course it doesn’t end there. We invest several hours each week watching them perform on TV or in person. Our mood can be driven by how an 18-22 year old executes a game, whether the 18-22 year old from another team did it better.

Then we focus in on the adults in charge of those young men and want to know what they’re doing to entice other boys and young men to come to the school we root for. Why are they not spending more time in Florida or Texas?!? All these other schools are getting involved with kids already enrolled at other schools, why can’t our coach do that? Why didn’t that player choose to come here?!?!

Caring is creepy, plain and simple.

But not caring is costly. Literally. In the new era of name, image and likeness rules in the NCAA, schools across the country are attracting the best players from the high school ranks and perhaps even more so from other schools by flashing very real dollar signs. Those aren’t dollars coming from the university - they’re coming from the fans.

For generations, bag men have handed out cash under the table in unmarked bags in exchange for the services of the nation’s top athletes. While that may still be taking place, there’s now a much more tax-advantageous way for wealthy boosters to entice players to their school: collectives.

What is a collective? In short, it’s a group of donors who have pooled their money together to distribute to athletes at their school of choice. They cannot be used to induce a prospect to attend a school in a literal sense (i.e. you cannot offer money to a prospect to come to your school), but the simple fact that a collective exists provides an enticement for prep prospects and transfers alike. Similarly, they cannot be incentive-based pay for play arrangements. Meaning, you collective cannot make payments contingent upon athletic performance. But outside of that, it’s the wild, wild west and if you don’t care enough to get a little creepy you’re going to left behind in this gold rush.

It’s why collective have popped up all over the country. Whether it be at bluebloods like Kansas basketball or Texas football, Big Ten foes such as Michigan, Ohio State, and Illinois or at middle of the road programs just trying to be competitive such as South Carolina, collectives are now everywhere and offering everything from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars to college athletes.

These collectives often are structured to offer the contributors added benefits in exchange for their dollars being sent on to players (sometimes with a fee to the collective, sometime without). In most cases, that means a small monthly fee (say $5.99) for some premium access to athletes via exclusive interviews, articles or videos or perhaps just one-time cash in exchange for merchandise or NFTs. But there are typically tiers that can include personal visits, one-on-one conversations or full on advertisement for business ventures.

The deals for some of these are magnitudes greater than the small promotional offerings we’ve seen so far from Iowa City businesses (looking at you, Patrick McCaffery in a Falbo’s commercial). For instance, every walk-on athlete at BYU had their tuition covered by a collective last year while Texas has a collective paying each offensive lineman $50,000 and Miami (FL) has a group paying more than $30,000 to 17 different players and $145,000 to quarterback Jake Garcia.

And the ante keeps being upped with seemingly new deals announced every day. Just today, Adidas announced they’ll be offering a deal to more than 50,000 athletes at the 109 schools the company already sponsors. There are no details at this time on the exact dollar amounts involved, but recall Adidas was implicated in the FBI investigation into six-figure payments to college basketball players before they were permitted to accept such payments. Now that they are an operating expense for the corporation and perfectly legitimate for the athletes, it’s unlikely the amounts involved will be small or that competitors will sit idly by on the sidelines.

These are just the most publicly available deals. There are reports of collectives soliciting “market value estimates” for players entering the transfer portal. This toes the line of pay for play, but to-date has been fair game as collectives estimate how much they could raise for a player in their team’s market - often hundreds of thousands of dollars for big name players moving to big name programs.

Again, all this must be done outside of the universities and athletic departments themselves. But it opens the door for more back-channeling in a completely legal and within the rules way for the NCAA.

And it’s the way of the future for any program that wants to remain competitive. Caring is creepy, but not caring means getting left in the dust.

It’s with that notion that we ask a preposterous question. Before I blurt it into my keyboard, let me just say this is purely a barometer of interest and in any event would have no bearing on the structure of things as they already stand, our coverage of anything or content that we have always created.

But... The Pants has been approached about a potential partnership opportunity which could look something like a minor league version of the above outlined collectives. So we’d like to know if there is any interest at all from the current community. Would you, dear reader, be at all interested in paying for premium content that would fund payments to Iowa student athletes? If so, what sorts of things would you like to receive for your hard-earned money? How much of that money would you want to fork over?


Would you be interested in a premium product from BHGP beyond the current publication?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Get out of here with that nonsense
    (109 votes)
  • 3%
    Yes, but only minimally (say $1 a month for a monthly player interview)
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    Yes, if it’s truly premium (extra content, multiple player interviews, etc for ~$5/month)
    (23 votes)
  • 11%
    Yes, I just want to get better players (who cares about the content, give me a way to get better athletes)
    (20 votes)
  • 12%
    Where do I redirect my kids’ college money to finally make a Sweet 16?
    (22 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now

This is intended to be super open-ended so please provide any thoughts and opinions in the comments. Would you like to hear a weekly guest on our existing podcasts? Would you rather read more in-depth stories with exclusive quotes from players? Do you want a newsletter delivered to your inbox? Do you want video calls with players? Maybe more importantly, what don’t you want?

Any and all feedback is appreciated, as well as all conversation around the general direction of college athletics, NIL and the role of collectives.