Scoggins: U football players taking endorsement deals into own hands

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS
·4 min read

The infancy stage of the name, image and likeness era in college sports has produced stories of wealthy boosters offering millions of dollars to entice recruits to sign with the beloved alma mater. Pay-for-play is out in public view now, no longer a hush-hush underbelly.

It's as if somebody turned on a faucet and Niagara Falls came rushing out.

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

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

The players unveiled a plan last week to launch an NIL platform that will provide fans with special access and engagement for a fee of $199.

At least 75 players have signed on to be part of what they're calling the "Twin Cities NIL Club," which expects to debut later this month around the start of fall camp.

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

Here's the kicker: Players will split the revenue generated evenly, according to quarterback Tanner Morgan.

"It's important for everybody to profit off of it," Morgan said. "It's not a selfish thing. At the end of the day, we win or lose as a team. This will put a little bit of money in everybody's pockets and it's a collective thing, which is what really drew us to it."

With the help of a company called Yoke Gaming, the Gophers chose a player-led model so that everyone can benefit from endorsement opportunities, not just individual players who might be able to secure NIL deals on their own. Players at several Division I programs have started something similar, including Michigan State.

"We really wanted to give this a team approach because we are a tight-knit program, tight-knit culture," safety Tyler Nubin said. "This gives us an opportunity to do different things to connect with fans in a different way that we weren't able to do before."

Players say this venture came together recently, so they are still finalizing details on fan engagement opportunities. But their intention is to provide more interaction through personal appearances and social media platforms.

Splitting profits evenly obviously helps less visible players who might not otherwise get NIL opportunities while limiting high-profile players from earning more.

"Some NIL deals can be very individually based," Morgan said. "What's cool about this is that it's really just a team platform where we can make it what we want it to be, and it's not something that's going to distract us from our vision and goals."

Besides, this NIL arrangement doesn't prohibit other endorsement opportunities for individual players on their own or through a different collective.

Collectives are third-party entities that facilitate sponsorship and marketing deals for college athletes under NIL guidelines. University of Minnesota officials continue to have conversations with different groups that have expressed interest in starting a collective to benefit Gophers athletes in all sports.

The Star Tribune reported last year that Gophers athletes signed 150 NIL deals between July 1 and Nov. 8 in 2021, with football players accounting for roughly one-third of those.

Athletes must disclose NIL deals to the university for approval. The football players received a thumbs-up with their fan club idea.

"Here is an instance of student-athletes operating as entrepreneurs and taking the opportunity to engage directly with fans," said Jeremiah Carter, director of compliance for the athletic department.

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

"Everybody is profiting the same," Morgan said. "It's not like if you're playing better, you're going to get more money and things like that. It's a team thing and an even [money] thing, which is really good for us."