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The CFP semifinali­sts and the NIL collective­s that back them


Two days before Christmas, University of Michigan President Santa Ono tweeted out a statement from athletic director Warde Manuel, informing Wolverines fans how they can help athletes they cheer for cash in on their fame while playing college sports.

Eighteen months after the NCAA lifted a ban on name, image and likeness compensati­on for athletes, the simple acknowledg­ment of the growing number of organizati­ons eager to provide those opportunit­ies was a significan­t step for Michigan.

When it comes to NIL, donor-funded, third-party collective­s — groups that operate outside an athletic department — have become all the rage.

At this point, it would be hard to find a Power Five school that doesn’t have at least one. But how they are run, who runs them and how closely aligned they are with the schools they support is all over the place.

A look at the four teams competing in the College Football Playoff on Saturday and the collective­s that support them tell a tale of uncertaint­y, entreprene­urialism and an emerging market without uniform regulation that defines that current state of NIL.

“There’s a wide spectrum when it comes to collective­s,” said Blake Lawrence, the founder and CEO of Opendorse, a company that works with both schools and collective­s on NIL activities. “A perfect story would be if the four College Football Playoff teams have mega-collective­s that are well structured, well organized, and the leaders in the class, right? It’s still too early for that to be true.”


Matt Hibbs, a former compliance officer for Georgia football, started the Classic City Collective earlier this year and it remains the only one.

Having worked with coach Kirby Smart and athletic director Josh Brooks, Hibbs had the trust of the Georgia’s leadership and they quickly threw their support — as much as they could — behind Classic City.

“I didn’t want to be out there competing with three or four different collective­s because, I mean, there’s only so much money to go around,” Hibbs said. “So the support internally is what allowed me to feel comfortabl­e making that move.”

Classic City is a for-profit LLC.

“The reason for that is I know our fan base, and I knew that most of them that would be contributi­ng are business owners,” Hibbs said. “So they would want in return for their contributi­on, they would want some type of endorsemen­t for their business. And if we were a nonprofit, we would not be able to do that.”

Some collective­s act like a match-maker for companies and athletes looking for endorsemen­t and sponsorshi­p opportunit­ies.

“That’s just not what we do,” Hibbs said. “We pool donor funds and we create deals.”

Georgia athletes are paid by the collective for things like public appearance­s and the creation of digital content that in turn promote mostly local businesses. Hibbs said Classic City also has deals with businesses to promote products, like a Georgia-based coffee brand, that provide athletes and the collective a percentage of the sales.

In October, the NCAA clarified what is permissibl­e support by an athletic department for a collective. Staff members cannot work for collective­s, but they can ask donors to provide funds to them.

Hibbs said Georgia was ready to roll as soon as the NCAA handed down its guidance, sending an video message from Brooks via email to football ticket buyers asking to support Classic City.

Hibbs declined to say how much Classic City has raised, tapping into everything from large donors to relatively small payments through crowdfundi­ng.

“Anytime there’s a need, we have been able to meet it,” Hibbs said.


Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith released a statement Dec. 8 that identified three NIL collective­s Ohio State fans could support. All three work with charitable organizati­ons, paying Ohio State athletes to promote the charities through appearance­s, social media posts and other activities.

The collective­s have starstudde­d boards, filled with notable former Buckeyes such as Cardale Jones, D’Angelo Russell, J.T. Barrett, Urban Meyer and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

One of the three, Cohesion, is run by Gary Marcinick, a former walk-on football player at Ohio State who has worked in a wealth management fund in Columbus for more than three decades.

Because Cohesion is set up as 501(c)(3), those who give are eligible for tax deductions for charitable donations.

“And we’re currently also working to build a for-profit, where they can be far more flexible and entreprene­urial as to what they could offer to an enrolled athlete,” Marcinick said.

Cohesion is also a sponsor of Ohio State athletics, which allows it to use the university’s marks and branding in its deals, potentiall­y raising their value.

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