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NIL Collectives: How Prevalent are they in the AAC?

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You’ve probably heard about NIL Collectives, but what actually are they and do they exist in the AAC?

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NCAA Football: Tulane at Central Florida Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

If you pay attention to college football and, in particular, college football recruiting, you’ve heard parts of the conversation about how NIL is changing recruitment. Some fans and pundits even claimed that NIL is the only reason why Texas A&M pulled off the top class in the 2022 recruitment cycle. Jimbo Fisher, famously, didn’t take kindly to that, saying, “It’s insulting.”

He’s not the only one who has been criticized, though. The Athletic has done a lot of reporting on NIL Collectives. In particular, they’ve talked about the now infamous Tennessee Collective. These collectives are a surprise that nobody expected to come out of NIL. Most people expected a rogue booster to overpay for advertisements, sure. Nobody expected this kind of organization, though.

In essence, NIL Collectives are a way for alumni and fans to pool their money. In these cases, for NIL purposes. Basically, you pay a few dollars into a pot monthly. That money is pooled together and redistributed for the purpose of NIL deals. That money can then go to players, and all they have to do is show up to one event or sign an autograph or two. It’s a way to donate to your school in a more immediate and visible way than giving money for a new trophy case.

This, naturally, has been highly criticized. It, seemingly, can be used to help recruit a player to the school. NIL isn’t supposed to be used as a tool in recruitment. On top of that, some of the numbers coming out of these NILs are incredibly high. That includes a supposed $8 million high school recruit. The rumor is that the recruit is a five-star quarterback heading to Tennessee now. This has upset a healthy amount of fans, who see it as an unfair advantage.

At the same time, any school can have its own NIL Collective. It’s up to the fanbase to set it up and have this desire. The school itself can’t be a part of it. Furthermore, Tennessee isn’t unique in terms of NIL Collectives. They’re just the loudest. NIL Collectives exist at every level of the sport already. That includes the Group of Five and the AAC.

As of early April 2022, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, and UCF all have their own NIL Collectives. Future AAC team, UTSA, has a collective too. You can expect the conference to have new collectives in the near future too, as the NIL arms race continues.


AAC NIL Collectives

Memphis’ NIL Collective is called the “901 Fund.” It was founded by a group of boosters who are called “Tigers on a Mission.” The three-person collective wants to connect the school and the city together. It will, importantly, establish a baseline when it comes to NIL for football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball. Athletes will make social media posts, sign autographs, and attend charitable events.

SMU’s is called, “Pony Up.” PonyUpNIL.com is reported to be the official website of the group, but the site does not look to be completed yet. Now, if there is one team in the AAC that everyone expects to be able to run a good NIL Collective, it’s the program that progressively paid players throughout the 1980s and got themselves a death sentence. This collective is led by former football players, including Paul Lloyd and Eric Dickerson. They’re already committing more than $1 million annually. This is a football-focused collective and is very vague about what players need to do in exchange for NIL resources.

Tulane has the “FTW Collective Group.” It is a purely crowd-sourced NIL Collective that was founded by Kelly Comarda. Their goal is to raise $100, 000 for student-athletes at Tulane. The athletes will partner with FearTheWave blog in exchange for the NIL resources.

UCF has “Mission Control,” which was founded by Dreamfield. It allows all student-athletes at UCF to participate as long as they participate in things like clinics and collectibles like NFTs. Dreamfield was co-founded by McKenzie Milton.

UTSA, for their part, has the “Runners Rising Project.” This was founded by the UTSA alumni tailgating group, “The Birds Gang Tailgate.” The goal of this group is to help UTSA student-athletes be compensated for NIL.

As of this moment, those are the only teams with ties to the AAC who have a known NIL Collective of any sort. That is bound to change. Cincinnati and Houston fans will likely want to establish one before they move to the Big 12. A program like UCF might want another, more football-centric one too. This will help to recruit in the transition. All three programs have large alumni bases and are in cities which should make this relatively easy to do.

Other schools, like USF, ECU, and Tulsa will want to see their alumni establish NIL Collectives soon, to keep up with teams like Memphis and SMU in the AAC for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, there is a good chance that their programs struggle to consistently recruit at the highest level of the conference. It’s also worth pointing out that, as of right now, this sort of thing is not legal for Navy. As a student at the Naval Academy, you’re a part of the United States Military. An NIL deal for a Navy football player, for example, would constitute the U.S. Military promoting something, which is illegal. However, coach Ken Niumatalolo is working with the Navy’s lawyers to come up with an exception.

NIL is a part of the game now. Most people didn’t expect to see this kind of change, which can feel like buying recruits in plain sight. It’s here anyway, and while the schools themselves can’t have anything to do with these collectives, they’re something most programs are going to want to have at their disposal.