Marquette to Benefit From One of the First Non-Football Collectives

If you’ve followed any college sports outlet the past month or so, you probably have seen and read more about NIL and portals and collectives than your eyes and brain know what to do with. It’s been absolutely everywhere despite the men’s basketball season ending a month ago. You can’t escape it.

But for the most part, most of that content was passive for Marquette fans, as in it did not involve them outside of being general NCAA members and competing against the schools that were being mentioned.

All of that changed on May 3rd, 2022, when a group of Marquette alumni launched “Be The Difference NIL” a non-profit collective that aims to create opportunities for Marquette men’s and women’s basketball players to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) while giving back to the local community.

That sounds like a whole bunch of corporate speak, so I talked to Travis Diener, the Executive Director behind this project, to get a better sense of what this all meant both in a literal sense and figuratively going forward.  

What is a collective?

I think this is the most important place to start. While there are multiple current working definitions, a collective has now come to mean an organization that “collects” or bundles donations from an assortment of places (individuals, organizations, funders) and then distributes those funds to athletes as a form of compensation.

While there are still NCAA regulations about inducements, or paying players specifically for playing for a certain team, these collectives have grown in both number and scope the past year, as NCAA athletes were finally able to benefit financially while still maintaining NCAA eligibility. Yes, it’s a very thin needle to thread, but with 60+ collectives and 0 NCAA penalties or inquiries, even recent mentions about stricter scrutiny has been met with a “collective” shrug.

To recap all of this another way, in general, collectives are ways to crowdfund benefits to players and rely less on mega donors for individual contributions. Sure, having a billionaire be a fanatic of your school has its perks, but we’ve already seen the drawbacks at Miami where mega-donor John Ruiz gave Nigel Pack, an incoming transfer, a bigger contract than current star Isaiah Wong, resulting in Wong threatening to transfer

Why is “Be The Difference NIL” different?

If all this sounds like a massive pay-for-play scheme, you wouldn’t be alone. But this is where Diener will note that although the financial incentive is an important piece of this collective, the crux will be using this organization to have a positive impact on both the players and the community in a way that aligns with Marquette’s values.

 “We are a non-profit fund that puts together donors and intends to have a positive impact on the players and greater MU community on and off campus,” Diener noted. “We’re putting together events and appearances to use their platform to benefit the community.”

And looking around the collective market, Be The Difference NIL does indeed fall in a fairly exclusive category as a licensed non-profit, meaning they have a 501(c)(3) state charter as a charitable organization.

According to Business Of College Sports, of the 60+ public collectives, only 5 currently have a 501(c)(3) charter, with 8 others noted as in the works. That doesn’t make it better on its own, but with these non-profit designations, there are benefits to more than just the players receiving a cash infusion.

Diener did note that this organization was in its infancy stages, but hoped to leverage a combination of large-sum contributors as well as smaller donations from “some of the most passionate fans in the country.”

Donors are advised to speak to a tax professional to ensure donations are tax-deductible, but the idea is that those donations serve local charities through player appearances and events. 

Who is involved?

And unlike a whole host of fan-driven collectives nationwide, the leadership behind this project is one of the most enticing aspects. Former men’s basketball players Diener, Steve Novak, Rob Jackson and women’s basketball player Kiesha Oliver-Hayes are directors, with Cam Marotta serving as program support as well.

This isn’t a mom-and-pop shop. These are names that resonate with fans and still carry cache inside the halls of the Al McGuire center. Although this initiative has no direct affiliation with Marquette, Diener and Novak are still mainstays with the program in different capacities. It’s a huge draw.

“There’s trust,” Diener added about what he could provide by being a part of the program. “There’s safety. We’re trying to mentor these kids and make sure they are not signing bad NIL deals.”

As for what charities will be involved, currently there are four already committed, with more possibilities on the way. They are: Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, Sharp Literacy, All-In Milwaukee and Cristo Rey High School.

If some of those sound familiar it’s no coincidence. According to Diener, they wanted to make sure the charities aligned with Marquette’s values, so have partnered with organizations that Marquette has worked with in the past.

What does this mean for MU?

Using the public database, “Be The Difference NIL” is only the 3rd collective launched at a non-football school, behind only Gonzaga in March and Wichita State in April, neither of which is a non-profit. Even though there are (at least) 49 schools with collectives currently, most are serving large public schools with football driving the bus.

This is where the timing and first mover advantage come to play. Although no revenue figures or contract details were available at the time of publication, this effort, along with Marquette’s proprietary existing NIL program puts them at the forefront for basketball-led schools. This isn’t to say it will all of a sudden make MU players six figures overnight, but rather, this is setting up the runway for MU to stay at the head of the pack as to the opportunities it can provide at a baseline level. 

Diener added that “It keeps MU competitive in an everchanging landscape. NIL is happening, but this how we can do it our way, and learn the best we can.”

Having the firepower of the directors, the alignment of the charities and the professionalism of a licensed organization all tells us this isn’t a blip. It wasn’t a half-assed project that was put together over the weekend in an attempt to keep up with the Jones’.

How it ends up faring only time (and fan’s money) will tell, but this is a well thought out project that will most likely serve as a model for community-minded collectives going forward. 

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Categories: General News, Offseason

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