New NIL collective 'Crimson and Cream' the latest to pursue opportunities for OU athletes

Nov. 24—Jeremiah Hall is familiar with the NCAA's name, image and likeness policy.

The former Oklahoma football player launched a successful podcast, "Podcast on the Prairie", with current player Brayden Willis in 2021 after the NCAA passed NIL legislation. He declared for the NFL Draft at the end of last season but continued to look for ways to support NIL ventures at OU.

He found what he was looking for by joining the advisory board of Crimson and Cream, a new OU-approved NIL collective.

"People involved with the school are approving of what they're doing, and I just wanted to be a part of something good," Hall said. "They reached out and said, "Hey, what do you think about this?' And I thought this is a great idea. It's not just for football but all athletes. And that's what I find important in terms of the long-term success."

The collective is the latest effort to generate NIL opportunities for University of Oklahoma athletes.

While it's not the first NIL collective to launch in Norman, the foundation of Crimson and Cream is unique. The collective is centered around subscriptions, where fans and businesses pay a monthly fee in exchange for membership perks such as student-athlete meet and greets, exclusive events, memorabilia and apparel.

90 percent of contributions go directly to student-athletes, while the other 10 percent covers the collective's operating costs. Fans and businesses can also specify which sport they want to support with their monthly subscription.

Momentum for the collective began last spring when Student Athlete NIL, which manages the collective, began having conversations with OU officials.

"OU, like a lot of other schools, was trying to figure out what path they were going to go down," said Jason Belzer, Crimson and Cream CEO. "NIL was obviously a very rapidly-evolving industry. We have kind of separated ourselves as an organization that sort of works for the school but has an arms-length relationship because the university can't directly be involved.

"What we did is say, 'We want to put this thing together, but we want it to be done your way. And what we want you to do is introduce us to alumni, both sport and non sport, that you want to involve in this, like Jeremiah and others.'"

Earlier this month, the collective launched a fan-funded campaign with the goal of raising $3 million dollars in 30 days. Any monthly subscription of $25 or more will be matched dollar-for-dollar by an anonymous donor during the campaign. The collective hopes to hit its fundraising mark in time for National Signing Day on Dec. 21.

But the ultimate hope for the collective is to become the largest fan-base driven collective in the country, while building a relationship between athletes and fans.

"The goal is to create a sustainable model," Belzer said. "Most collectives that exist around the country are heavily donor-driven. That is not going to work forever. You can't go back to the same pockets. The ones that will survive are the ones that are going to build a sustainable base of subscribers that are actually getting something in return for putting in their money whether the team is good or bad."

That need for sustainability is increasing as the NIL landscape continues to shape college athletics.

While other sports are finding their footing with NIL, football is leading the way in terms of opportunity. Football players were the recipients of nearly 50 percent of NIL compensation last year, per data from Opendorse.

It's already made a big impact on players, Hall said, and NIL has become something schools have to embrace.

"As someone who was literally just on this team last year, if someone offered me half a million (dollars), I'm going to take it," Hall said. "It is what it is... I'm telling you right now: it's happening. Players are getting paid."

That's part of Crimson and Cream's urgency, particularly with the Sooners' impending move to the Southeastern Conference by 2025. The Sooners' win over Oklahoma State last week pushed their record to 6-5 with two games left on the schedule.

"In order for Oklahoma to be successful, they need to compete in NIL," Belzer said. "This is important because the Sooners are going into the SEC soon, and if LSU and Auburn and Tennessee are putting in $10-20 million a year into NIL, does Oklahoma want to end up being the Rutgers of the SEC? Do they want to be down there with Vanderbilt or do they want to compete every year for championships?"

OU coach Brent Venables addressed his stance on NIL during his press conference on Tuesday.

"Most recently I think it's been all hands on deck," Venables said. "I think our leadership has been strong. We're like everyone else in trying to navigate it. There's a constant feed of information. Some of it is accurate and some of it is not. We're trying to manage all of that and understand how long term is this. Do we want to wait and figure it out? Or do we want to be aggressive and be able to make a hard left or hard right turn when we need to."

"... But we'd be negligent and behind the times, if you will, if we don't provide these young people with an opportunity to take advantage of their name, image and likeness. I think it's a great thing.But keep it in the right perspective."

As the Sooners encourage NIL opportunities, so are other schools. Some university collectives have even looked at joining together. Earlier this month, five NIL collectives at the University of Texas announced a merger under the name "Texas One Fund" to consolidate NIL efforts into one single organization.

Belzer hinted that there's been a similar discussion with the other collectives in Norman, though there isn't a definitive timeline.

"That's going to be solved in the very soon," Belzer said. "I can tell you Crimson and Cream will be the collective that survives, however long it takes."

In the meantime, the collective is focused on their fundraising campaign.

"Crimson and Cream is a collective. It's only as good as the individuals members that are a part of it," We need every Sooner fan to say, 'I want to do this', however that looks within their budget and their ability to be a part of it."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580