As NIL landscape shifts around college athletics, BYU evaluating options with official collective


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PROVO — As name, image and likeness payments shift around college athletics with the proposed settlement of a $2.8 billion antitrust lawsuit, changes could be coming to BYU's official NIL collective.

The Royal Blue Collective, the officially licensed collective of BYU athletics, has been in the process of what the organization calls "high-level, collaborative conversations" with the university as recently as last week exploring several options regarding the future of collectives at BYU amid a backdrop of NIL in college sports, Royal Blue board co-chairs Lon Henderson and Mark Comer told KSL.com.

The conversations have included "a review of which services and functions currently operated by the collective could potentially move in-house," Henderson said, adding that the conversations have been primarily "strategic" and still would require "further analysis and discussion" before any move is enacted.

But multiple sources confirmed that discussions between BYU and the Royal Blue have been going on for some time, spurred by the ongoing changes likely coming in the space between NIL and college athletes — perhaps sooner rather than later.

No move is imminent, Comer stressed, but with schools across the country agreeing to a settlement of the House v. NCAA case that could share more than $20 million in revenue with athletes each year, the Cougars are working through their options.

"There have been some discussions about this big change, but nothing specific has been determined," Comer said. "Nobody knows where it is all headed yet."

Other collectives around BYU, including those that partially fall under Royal Blue's directives and independent collectives outside their domain, have not had such conversations, sources that declined to be named told KSL.com. But the university said that it continues to "adapt and evolve" in how to best manage NIL under current NCAA bylaws.

"As the college athletics landscape continues to shift, we are committed to adapting and evolving in ways that best help our student-athletes," the school said in a statement.

However current and forthcoming conversations shake out, Comer said Royal Blue will remain committed to BYU athletics.

"We started and we are still here to help support BYU athletes and give them opportunities for their post-athletic lives, as well," he said. "If there is a role that we can continue to help do that, then nothing changes from our mission of impacting the whole BYU athlete.

"We're here to help and to support the program and the athletes, and if we still have the opportunity to do that, of course we want to."

Each conversation also centers around the two organizations — BYU and Royal Blue — maintaining the standards of the school's sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Henderson added.

"We're trying to build character in our athletes," he said. "If you want to have an incredible athlete, we think this is a great place to come (at BYU), where you can capture the values that are embedded in the DNA of BYU."

The proposed settlement to House v. NCAA would allow for schools to share up to 22% of the average power conference school's annual revenue directly with athletes. That settlement has not yet been approved by a federal judge.

"Everybody's talking about this," Comer said. "I think every school is talking about it, and nobody knows what all of the options are at this point."

Plenty of questions remain about moving a collective, which has been run as a third party under current rules from the NCAA, under the umbrella of BYU Athletics, including accountability of a fundraising arm that has already raised millions of dollars that has been distributed to BYU athletes in several sports and the role of Title IX — the landmark federal legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in school or education-related programs — in NIL fundraising.

Sometimes outside entities can better achieve certain means than the university or athletic department itself, Henderson said — as long as the two are aligned with the same vision and the mission of the church.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe welcomes the new men’s head basketball coach Kevin Young onto the stage at an announcement event in the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe welcomes the new men’s head basketball coach Kevin Young onto the stage at an announcement event in the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

No matter how the direction, Henderson believes the Royal Blue Collective should continue to adhere to its pre-established vision, to "make BYU a consistent national leader in collegiate athletic performance and see all its student-athletes promote light and goodness in life beyond sports."

"We have a passion to win on and off the field," he said of the pro-bono board that governs the collective. "Central to our continued success is the long term future of our student-athletes. To be successful with our student-athletes, it takes first helping them learn correct principles, plus getting the best coaching, helping them make meaningful connections, and finally finding the needed capital to compete. Our board is serving out of love for the student-athletes, the university, and its unique mission.

"We want our commitment to be perpetuated throughout our entire athletic teams, beyond the lead sports like football and basketball."

How much of the $22 million revenues that many refer to as a "cap" would go towards athletes is up for debate. But many assume that power conferences schools will be competitive to the maximum dollar.

TCU became the first Power conference university to acknowledge that it will provide the maximum amount of revenue to its athletes, which is currently projected at $22 million per year.

Horned Frogs athletic director Jeremiah Donati pointed out in a monthly newsletter posted by the private Big 12 school that a new revenue-sharing model with current and future athletes would also likely lead to the removal of certain scholarship limitations and implementation of roster caps, according to the Associated Press.

"All this will combine to provide a new collegiate athletics model and industry reset that comes with a significant permissive expense projected to be over $20 million annually," Donati wrote, adding that TCU is prepared to "fully participate at the maximum level allowed," though the plan wouldn't be implemented any earlier than the fall of 2025.

Donati pointed out that the House settlement would also include payment of damages to former athletes who did not have name, image and likeness opportunities during their collegiate careers, as well. He called it an "industry reset" with significant permissive expenses — but one TCU is willing to undertake.

One of three private schools in the Big 12 (BYU and Baylor are the others), TCU counted 12,785 students last fall, which was the lowest in the soon-to-be 16-team conference that will add Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah this summer as Texas and Oklahoma depart for the SEC.

"We sense that every university is asking, should a collective fold under their banner or would it be more effective operating as a separate entity?" Henderson said. "I hope for BYU, it is about focusing on the mission of the church, while recruiting great talent that are being draw to our incredible institution, the people, and the culture that will bless the world. In meeting these objectives I believe the collective provides value. In all of this, we still want to win games — and hopefully lots of them."

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