On June 30, 2021, the NCAA approved a name, image and likeness (NIL) policy. This policy allows college athletes to be compensated for their NIL. In other words, college athletes can now use their fame for profit, via endorsement opportunities, public and personal appearances, branded merchandise sales, and more.
The rules for universities are complicated, but in essence, colleges cannot set up, create, or administer NIL opportunities for athletes. This must be done by outside organizations that are not part of the university.
Around the country, this has led to the creation of aptly-named “collectives.” The collectives accumulate (collect) a pool of money, typically in the millions of dollars, from (1) businesses seeking to align themselves with athletes in exchange for promotion; (2) big-money donors seeking to provide funds to increase the size of their athletes’ money-making agreements; and (3) smaller donors (crowdsourcing) who have the same goal as larger donors.
The collectives then sign college athletes to contracts that pay the athletes money in exchange for the athletes’ services promoting businesses, creating awareness of causes, selling merchandise, etc.
Virginia Tech has two major collectives in operation (Triumph NIL and Commonwealth NIL), plus an organization that is not technically a collective but is similar in nature (The Hokie Way).
From the TriumphNIL.com web site: “Triumph NIL is a unique and experienced sports marketing agency, specializing in building custom ‘Name, Image, Likeness’ (NIL) partnerships for student-athletes with members of the business community, and fans.”
Triumph bills itself not as a collective but as a holistic agency that seeks not just to connect athletes with NIL opportunities, but to also help them manage their image and branding. Triumph’s management and operational team, which can be seen on their About Page, consists of former Hokie football players Kevin Jones and Brenden Hill, as well as CEO Kelly Woolwine, COO Robyn Jones, and Contracts and Compliance officer James Cowan.
As of this writing in early December 2022, Triumph has an athlete roster of over 60 athletes across a variety of sports. Shop Triumph’s merchandise and athlete engagement services here.
Commonwealth NIL (CNIL)
From the CommonwealthNIL.com web site: “CNIL specializes in diverse, inclusive, and innovative solutions that will reach an entire fan base. We are partnered with Gentry Locke Law Firm to ensure legal compliance with all NIL athlete agreements and investments. As an organized collective, CNIL can be certain the proper steps are taken to maximize the value for the student-athletes. Our goal is to turn our athletes into stars and stars into our athletes while growing and maintaining the success of the athletic programs we serve.”
CNIL’s management team is headed by Nick Rush, a Christiansburg native and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates (including holding the position of House Majority Whip from 2017-19), and includes Nick’s son Forrest Rush.
In addition to aligning with businesses and holding fundraising events, CNIL offers monthly memberships to raise funds for NIL and provide fans the opportunity to engage with athletes. Shop CNIL’s athlete-centric product line here.
The Hokie Way (THW)
From TheHokieWay.org web site: “The Hokie™ Way supports the active engagement of student-athletes in leveraging their Name, Image and Likeness to amplify the mission of charitable organizations as a way to give back to the community and encourage a new generation of VT athletes.”
THW is unique in that it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and contributions made to THW are tax deductible. THW partners with selected charities across the Commonwealth of Virginia that can benefit from VT student-athletes promotion of their charitable work and events. Athletes who receive NIL money raised by THW provide promotion of THW’s partnered charities.
THW is not a collective. THW does not directly sign athletes to contracts or set up NIL opportunities. In their words, “The Hokie Way contracts with one of the VT aligned collectives/sports agencies to develop a campaign and promotional materials for the charity. The contracted collective manages and oversees the campaign and ensures all deliverables are met by the team and/or specific student-athlete(s).”
THW has an impressive board consisting of distinguished Hokie alums, including Jim Petrine, Jim Pearman, Bridget Ryan Berman, Justin Robinson, Tyrod Taylor, and other individuals associated with Virginia Tech NIL collectives and athletics.
Matching gift program: Through December 31, 2022, any donations made to THW will be matched, up to $200,000 total.