The landscape of college athletics is vastly different now than it was just three years ago. Before, it was against NCAA regulations to offer high school athletes money to persuade them to commit to a certain school. Now, it’s the new normal. The age of the “bagman” is long gone, and all focus has shifted onto three words: name, image and likeness.
The shift into this new age is still in the early stages with the majority of collegiate football programs still testing the waters. However, The Grove Collective, a privately run repository for NIL donations, has made a rather big splash. They recently surpassed the $10-million mark, extinguishing all claims that the fundraising wouldn’t be adequate to keep up with some of the so-called “blue-bloods” in the SEC.
This is big for multiple reasons. It gives Ole Miss the capital to keep star players like Quinshon Judkins. It is expected that many big programs will offer the outstanding running back obscene amounts of money to buy him away from Ole Miss.
It also gives head coach Lane Kiffin a chance to compete with bigger schools that may have more to offer players NIL-wise. All of Kiffin’s players in 2021 inked an NIL deal with local company “Blue Delta Jeans,” where the players received customized jeans as well as financial compensation for promotion.
Earlier this year, amid a feud with Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, Kiffin noted that college football is a “professional sport and these are professional players.” In that same press conference, he noted that he always has believed that players should be paid beyond scholarship money due to the work they put in, and he’s right.
NIL dollars also allow recipients who may not come from financially stable households the ability to take care of their families and give themselves a cushion should any unfortunate circumstances arise.
The Grove Collective itself has exploded onto the scene in just the last month and a half.
Earlier in the month, Executive Director Walker Jones noted that the website crashed due to a high amount of traffic. The initial goal was to get to 2,000 members by December of this year, a goal that was reached in early November. A few days later, membership surpassed 3,000 and is currently at 4,422 members, with aspirations to have 5,000 members by the end of the year.
Organized into a tier system, the Grove Collective offers more benefits the more you donate. It ranges from a $21 monthly donation (“HYDR”) to an annual $50,000 donation (“The Grove”) with options to do a one-time payment or monthly billing.
The Grove Collective is open to corporate sponsors, too. One already signed is Realtree, run by Ole Miss alum Tyler Jordan, who has recently collaborated with Ole Miss athletics to design helmets for Ole Miss football.
As for the athletes that it supports, a plethora of Rebels across football, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball are beneficiaries. Stars like Jaxson Dart, Quinshon Judkins, Jacob Gonzalez and many more are supported by donations through The Grove Collective.
There’s no telling on just how big The Grove Collective will grow with more corporations rumored to sign on as sponsors. It allows supporters and boosters to pitch in more than just as cheerleaders on Saturday’s and will be a crucial aspect in recruiting and retaining their stars. It may leave a sour taste in mouths, but NIL is here to stay at the University of Mississippi.