Scoggins: Underground football players taking endorsement deals into their own hands

The early days of the name, image, and likeness era in college sports spawned tales of wealthy boosters offering millions of dollars to entice recruits to sign with their beloved alma mater. Pay-for-play is now in the public domain, no longer a secret underbelly.

It’s like someone turns on a faucet and Niagara Falls rushes out.

These mega NIL deals usually involve either a star athlete who has built a large following on social media, or a high profile player or hotshot recruit (usually quarterback) at Powerhouse U.

Gophers footballers are trying a different approach with a new NIL initiative: all for one, one for all.

Players last week unveiled a plan to launch a NIL platform that will offer fans special access and engagement for a fee of $199.

At least 75 players have signed up to be part of the so-called “Twin Cities NIL Club,” which is expected to make its debut later this month at the start of fall camp.

In their social media rollout, players will offer meet-and-greet opportunities, an annual tailgate, and access to player-created content to fans who join the club.

Here’s the kicker: According to quarterback Tanner Morgan, players will split revenue earned evenly.

“It’s important that everyone benefits,” Morgan said. “It’s not a selfish thing. At the end of the day, we win or lose as a team. That’s going to put some money in everyone’s pockets and it’s a collective thing that really got us excited about it.”

With the help of a company called Yoke Gaming, the Gophers chose a player-run model so everyone can benefit from the support opportunities, not just individual players who may be able to make NIL deals themselves. Players at several Division I programs have started something similar, including Michigan State.

“We really wanted to give this team a team approach because we’re a tight-knit program and culture,” said safety Tyler Nubin. “This gives us the opportunity to do different things to connect with fans in a different way than we weren’t able to before.”

Players say that this company came together recently so they are still in the process of finalizing details on fan engagement opportunities. However, their intention is to generate more interaction through personal appearances and social media platforms.

Splitting wins evenly obviously helps less visible players who might not otherwise get ZERO opportunities, while preventing high-profile players from earning more.

“Some NIL deals can be very individual,” Morgan said. “What’s cool about this is that it’s really just a team platform where we can shape it how we want, and it’s not something that’s going to take us away from our vision and goals.”

In addition, this NIL Agreement does not prohibit other ways of supporting individual players alone or through another collective.

Collectives are third-party companies that facilitate sponsorship and marketing deals for collegiate athletes under NIL guidelines. University of Minnesota officials continue to be in discussions with various groups that have expressed interest in creating a collective that will benefit Gophers athletes in all sports.

The Star Tribune reported last year that Gophers athletes signed 150 NIL contracts between July 1 and November 8, 2021, with soccer players accounting for about a third of them.

Athletes must disclose NIL deals to the university for approval. The footballers got a thumbs up with their fan club idea.

“Here’s an example of student athletes acting as entrepreneurs and taking the opportunity to connect directly with fans,” said Jeremiah Carter, director of compliance for the athletic department.

This is a cool idea from the players, a chance for everyone on the team to earn some cash while also connecting with the fans. This isn’t the kind of NIL deal that gets splashy headlines, but the Gophers had a different agenda in mind.

“Everyone benefits equally,” Morgan said. “It’s not like you get more money and stuff like that if you play better. It’s a team thing and a balance [money] thing that’s really good for us.”

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