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‘The Wild, Wild West’: The Owl Collective and the future of NIL deals

Florida Atlantic University is making history by forming its own collective called “The Owl Collective”. The university joins over 120 colleges and universities in America in having its own collective,...

Florida Atlantic University is making history by forming its own collective called “The Owl Collective”. The university joins over 120 colleges and universities in America in having its own collective, shaping the landscape of NIL–name, image, and likeness–sponsorship and deals.

“The Collective was created quickly in order to have this position in the market to help the college athletes right now,” said Bryan Rammel, founder of the Owl Collective. “Right now, the NCAA just allowed NILs to happen less than 12 to 18 months ago. So, it’s kind of like the wild, wild west.”

A year ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allowed student-athletes and businesses to make deals based on the athletes’ name, image, and likeness. Since then, superstar athletes like Heisman Trophy winner and University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young signed deals with companies and local businesses, earning some of these athletes millions of dollars.  

However, since the allowance of collegiate athletes making profit from their name, image, and likeness, it has been difficult to organize this new shakeup in the collegiate world. Universities have begun forming collectives amidst the confusion to facilitate sponsorships from businesses while protecting students, such as Syracuse University and the University of Georgia.

With FAU joining the American Athletic Conference next year, there will be more televised games on networks such as ESPN.

Rammel has been connecting with local businesses in Boca Raton and getting in touch with coaches on campus. 

“[The Owl Collective wants] to take advantage of NIL here in Boca Raton, a city that is very affluent. Lots of networking, lots of money, lots of opportunities,” said Rammel. “[The Owl Collective] wants to be positioned in this NIL market with all the local businesses because South Florida, at the end of the day, has more businesses than anyone else, I would say.”

Rammel has gained support from former FAU players, boosters, and alumni. Boosters are individuals who have connections to help the university with money and resources.

The Owl Collective helps student-athletes own their assets, earn compensation for challenges, NFT (non-fungible token) creation, and more. Rammel uses his experience in marketing and consulting to help student-athletes make connections with businesses and teach them marketing strategies. 

“We want to make [the student-athletes] aware that someone is out in the community looking for them on their behalf,” Rammel said. 

Other resources have emerged since the NCAA accepted NIL deals for college athletes. One of them is OpenDorse Ready, a tech platform that helps student-athletes know the best day and time to post on social media to grow their brand. Another is the FAU Athletics Compliance Office, which basically helps collegiate athletes follow the NCAA’s strict rules regarding NILs–listing the deal, the job, and the payment for that sponsorship. 

“[OpenDorse] is where brands and student-athletes can both get on, and our compliance office can see everything going on to protect our student-athletes from inadvertently doing something or not documenting something well enough that they inadvertently jeopardize their own eligibility,” said FAU’s Athletic Director Brian White. 

Cara Simpson, women’s track and field athlete, is benefitting through OpenDorse. She has 25 NIL deals, with companies like She-Made Club, a paper-crafting business Simpson helped start, and Ryder, a fitness-clothing brand.  

Senior sprinter and captain of the women’s track team, Cara Simpson. (Courtesy of FAU Athletics)

With all of those NIL deals, one might find it challenging to balance sponsorships, academics, and athletics. That isn’t a problem for Simpson.

“I am very well-organized. So, when it comes to NIL deals, I set aside certain days and times when I’m only focused on that and only working on those things. Outside of that, I’m fully focused on my sport and academics,” said Simpson. “It hasn’t done anything to hinder performance or academics, or grades, or anything.”

Star quarterback N’Kosi Perry has also signed with NIL deals. He was the first collegiate athlete in America to sign with an alcoholic beverage company, Islamorada Beer, a craft beer company based in the Florida Keys. 

Perry also has a deal with First Round Management (FRM), which works with MMA fighters, NCAA football players, and NFL players. FRM’s mission is to “provide a family-oriented service for our clients in order to create an atmosphere of transparency, accessibility, and dependability.” They help athletes with media training, creative services like editing and videography, strategic alliances with different clothing brands, draft preparation, and more.

“I think it is a great start for the future. Like they don’t really teach you how to work with money and do your taxes and stuff like that. So this is the early headstart,” Perry said regarding the benefits of working with a management company.

Resources like Daniel Lust, advisor to NIL Pro Bono Project, focus on the legal aspects of NIL deals. Lust and his team of attorneys educate New York law students about NIL deals so they may get involved in that aspect of the law. 

Recently, FAU began its own marketplace, which offers a “quick, seamless opportunity for businesses, sponsors and supporters to reach out directly to FAU student-athletes regarding NIL opportunities in accordance with state laws and NCAA regulations,” according to a newsletter the university published on Nov. 8. 

“The Owl Collective is a platform to serve FAU student-athletes specifically. OpenDorse signed a contract with FAU but this contract has terms that may be for only a few years where the Owl Collective is here to stay,” replied Bryan Rammel. OpenDorse signed a contract with FAU lasting from Nov. 1, 2023 to Oct. 31, 2024.

Recently, the NCAA Division 1 Board of Directors initiated the do’s and don’ts for universities involvement with NILs, from offering connections between student-athletes and sponsors to forbidding universities giving free services to their student-athletes unless those services are given to the general student body.

While companies are signing student-athletes to be a part of NILs, Lust has some doubts. Originally, student-athletes picked institutions based on location and playing time. 

“[Some] don’t want money to be factored in. But in the last year, that money is certainly influencing a lot of decisions,” Lust said.

With this new chapter for student-athletes, quarterback N’Kosi Perry spoke for the majority.

“We felt like athletes before and we don’t think that we got paid enough for the amount of time that we put in because not only are we students but we’re like athletes as well. So it’s like two full time jobs. So actually being paid something is better than nothing,” said Perry.

Maddox Greenberg is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email maddoxblade04@gmail.com or DM via Facebook @maddox greenberg

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