Holdover Pac-12 collectives using departures as “big rallying cries’ for NIL support

Published: Aug. 16, 2023

By Andy Wittry | On3

Leaders that run collectives at the remaining Pac-12 Conference schools – Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State – describe an increased interest in NIL support since eight of their peers agreed to join the Big 12 Conference or Big Ten Conference next summer.

They cited increased memberships, website traffic, social media engagement and the frequency of virtual and in-person meetings with donors.

“There have been big rallying cries,” said Allen Thorpe, a co-founder of Lifetime Cardinal, which supports Stanford athletes. “Lots of interest, lots of support.”

Kyle Bjornstad, a co-founder of Dam Nation Collective that supports Oregon State, said, “Without getting specific numbers, I would say there’s a major uptick in conversations or even resuming conversations, outreach through our website, through our contact form.”

Across the country, collectives can play an integral role in schools’ recruiting and retention of athletes in the NIL landscape. And with such an uncertain future, collective leaders say now is a crucial time to help the NIL efforts at Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State.

“On this side of things, we’re going to be doing everything in our control and power to make sure that we’re there to support the student-athletes,” Bjornstad said.

WSU’s Cougar Collective has added 50 new members

Tim Brandle, a founding board member for Cougar Collective that supports Washington State, said Tuesday the collective has added 50 new subscribers since Aug. 4, when the Big Ten announced the additions of Oregon and Washington.

Cougar Collective development director Zach Thornton said the collective’s membership has increased roughly 700% since last fall. Plus, Brandle said the collective secured a large commitment to the women’s basketball team last week.

“We’re happy with the way the Cougs are responding as opposed to sitting back and just reading their Twitter and hating themselves,” Brandle said, laughing. “They’re doing something about it. It’s really having a positive effect on WSU student-athletes.”

Cougar Collective has only had one subscriber who has canceled a membership due to conference realignment, according to Brandle and Thornton.

“We don’t have people canceling in mass,” Brandle said. “We were all concerned, in our whole organization, that there was going to be people who were like, ‘Oh, we’re done,’ and just cancel.

“I think we’ve had three total. And two of them said, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got a new baby coming, so I’m going to cancel.’ There was one person who was like, ‘I’m canceling until we don’t play the Huskies anymore.’ Cancel.”

Sherman Neal II previously served as Washington State’s strategic initiatives coordinator and he has worked as a consultant CryptoCougs for two years, which supports Washington State’s men’s basketball players.

“We’ve been able to stay away and above that just working directly with other, more traditional sponsorship, advertising opportunities,” Neal said.

What is NIL support like at remaining Pac-12 schools?

On3 asked several individuals connected to the Pac-12, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to rank the perceived financial support of the four schools’ athletes through NIL deals. The individuals include a Pac-12 administrator with knowledge of the NIL landscape, a Pac-12 football staffer and a leader of a collective that supports a Pac-12 school.

The administrator and football staffer each ranked Stanford’s support first and Oregon State second, while the collective leader ranked Cal first and Stanford second.

“I know Cal has some money to work with,” the collective leader said. “They’ve been competitive with some offers.”

The leader later added, “I think it says a lot that Jaydn Ott is still there.”

California Legends Collective, which has the backing of former Cal and NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, announced a series of signings in July after the collective’s X account was fairly quiet during the spring.

Based on reporting, Lifetime Cardinal plans to have an annual budget in the mid-seven figures – starting around $4 million – and rising.

“I would assume Oregon State’s up there,” the administrator said. “I don’t know if you pull a guy like DJU (DJ Uiagalelei) without collective money.”

The football staffer cited Stanford’s financial potential.

“I would assume of any of those four, Stanford has probably got the best NIL situation just because of the amount of money that they have in general,” said the staffer. “But I haven’t heard anything about Stanford offering anyone crazy money… Oregon State probably is the best set up of them. Stanford probably has got the best capacity.”

Thorpe is confident in Lifetime Cardinal’s positioning relative to its peers nationally.

“Based on what we’ve done and what we’re planning to do,” Thorpe said, “I think we stack up very well and are among the better programs in the Power 5, relative to what I hear from my peers around the country.”

Finances of the remaining Pac-12 schools

The remaining Pac-12 schools have some of the smallest athletic department budgets in the current Power 5.

Cal’s athletic department ranked 38th out of 52 public Power 5 schools with its reported spending of $114.5 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Oregon State ranked 50th ($87.7 million) and Washington State ranked 51st ($83.7 million). As a private university, Stanford is exempt from public records requests.

“Our directive and our focus has been to help the golden goose,” Brandle said. “The football team has to be successful for all the other programs to thrive and have the financial resources.”

Brandle said for most Cougars fans, their rank order of favorite teams is Washington State, whichever team is playing Washington that day and then Oregon State. The latter two are kindred spirits that arguably have more similarities than their Bay Area brethren.

“If we don’t switch the paradigm in how we support, meaning finding more avenues to provide direct support to athletes via NIL or otherwise, then you’re not going to have anybody playing in your new basketball stadium or your new practice facility,” Neal said. “And the coaches that are on your roster today certainly won’t be where they’re at. And the players, the athletes that matter, are going to be in a perpetual state of confusion as they’re being promised something that they may or may not benefit from while they’re witnessing their peers getting direct support.”

Collectives hopeful support continues no matter the league

The four schools’ conference affiliation or composition, individually or collectively, could change. Administrators in the ACC have reportedly vetted the Bay Area schools. The American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference are also open to adding any or all of the four.

Yet, no matter what conference they are in, the collectives at the four remaining Pac-12 schools know they need NIL buy-in from fans.

“Even if it was the Mountain West, there’s still a requirement to do more at Washington State from an NIL standpoint to compete in a top-third level, even within that conference,” Neal said.

Thornton said the “chip-on-the-shoulder, little brother attitude” is not going to go away, which is why he’s hopeful about WSU’s NIL future.

“If it’s an upgrade, downgrade, whatever it is, our chip is still going to be there and I think that chip follows Coug fans,” he said. “It follows our organization.”

Thorpe, of Lifetime Cardinal, is also optimistic Stanford has what it takes to support its athletes no matter which conference the Cardinal land.

“My view is that Stanford is one of the best football programs in the country and is a dominant athletic program more broadly,” Thorpe said. “And that we, in all respects, are a top-tier, Power 5, Power 2, Power 3 program. Our role as a collective is to be there supporting that effort and I believe we can support a high-quality, consistently competitive and winning Power 2 or 3 program with our NIL program.”