Understanding NIL: Extended sit-down interview with Bobcat Collective President Brandon Vancleeve

Understanding NIL: Extended sit-down interview with Bobcat Collective President Brandon Vancleeve

BOZEMAN- NIL or Name, Image and Likeness is the world we live in when it comes to sports. Prior to the year 2021, college student athletes could not benefit in any way, shape or form off of their personal brand. June 2021 changed the sports world forever. 

A Supreme Court ruling said that the NCAA could lot limit education-related payments to college athletes. This fast forwarded the NCAA to defer to state laws regarding NIL, and for states that had not passed any laws, the school's law themselves. Essentially, collectives were born, and athletes can now benefit off of their own name, image and likeness. 

In Spring of 2021, Brandon Vancleeve had a vision and an idea of how he could bring NIL to Montana State. The Bobcat Collective was born. What is it? How does it work? How can you get involved? Those are the questions we had as well and wanted answers. So, why not sit down with the Founder of the Bobcat Collective and find out. 

How does it work and how do fans get involved? Vancleeve spoke about how the collective came about and that Montana State was one of the first FCS programs to implement an NIL Collective. Vancleeve stated, "I really felt NIL was something that we could leverage to just up what we're doing here for our student athletes on the program and take us to the next level." This is fan and alumni driven collective, so how do the fans themselves get involved? Vancleeve said, "So there's really three different ways you can get involved. A traditional donation to our 501c." He continued, "We've been seeing a big uptick in memberships and then the last one would be corporate sponsors. So, if you're a business and you want to align yourself to a particular athlete or a number of athletes, we will help broker that relationship with the player." 

Donations that are given to the collective go into a big pool and the Bobcat Collective disperses the money to the student athletes where they see fit. These guarantees athletes coming to Montana State that they will receive some sort of NIL. There are three different level of memberships, which get you exclusive access to certain events, merchandise, newsletters, swag giveaways and digital access to student-athlete content. 

Now, if you were to sign up for a specific membership, where exactly does that money go? Vancleeve said, "We get a general fund. So, a big myth that we have that I don't think people understood at first, was if someone becomes a member or has a donation and they want to align to a particular player, they want to kind of earmark where they want that money to go, they certainly can do that." Players are not allowed to receive donations directly. This is where the collective comes in. Student Athletes must do work, whether that's with the Bobcat Collective or a different non-profit. 

The Bobcat Collective has done over 500 NIL deals in the first two years. That is something that is unique to the collective. It's a part of their mission to get everyone something. It creates a sense of connection in the locker room and gives players the confidence that NIL will be a part of their journey at Montana State. 

When it comes to the work that these players are required to perform, that could be anything from players doing a meet and greet, to participating in a kids camp. Vancleeve said, "Last year, we had all 110 football players engage with the YMCA and they surprised kids all over the community at their practices." Something that was very well received, considering it was not planned and having college football players show up at practices is every kids dream. 

Another big question I had for Brandon is, how do they guarantee where the money is going? Donators or businesses that want to donate, want to ensure they know exactly where their money is going. Vancleeve noted, "What I tell the players and our business partners is think of us as like a non-exclusive agent for the player. We'll help dial in the contract so the business will say we have this this much of a budget." He continued, "We want the player to do X, Y, and Z, one, we can make sure that's a fair value to make sure you know the player's getting what they deserve." Vancleeve also said that the contract they help build shows the player what work they need to complete and then has the proof of said work. This also goes into compliance with the NCAA rules and regulations regarding NIL. 

Brandon also spoke on another unique value of the Bobcat Collective, "I think we are of value to not only the player but also the university. Although we're not connected, we make sure we give them the right data that they can get to make sure the last thing I want to do is jeopardize someone's eligibility and do this the wrong way." He continued, "That's kind of the middle ground that we fill and make sure we're providing value not only to the player, but also these businesses that are investing in these players."

The Bobcat Collective has also paired with Montana State Men's and Women's basketball teams, to further growing the NIL web at Montana State University. Keep an eye out for exclusive Bobcat Collective events involving the basketball teams coming up soon. The collective already has merchandise available on their website, available for purchase right away. 

One last thing Brandon wanted to cover was the big misconception when people here about NIL. Vancleeve said, "People get a misconception that these guys are driving Lamborghinis around. Right. A lot of times these guys are paying rent with this money or they're getting groceries." He continued, "We did a play roundtable on Sunday and one of the players said, this money is helping me go eat cleaner. I'm trying to be a cleaner athlete. Last year, some of our players sent that money home so their families to come watch them play for the first time." 

The Bobcat Collective has and continues to provide these student athletes to not only elevate their experience at Montana State but create memories that will last a lifetime. The stories are what drives Vancleeve to continue to find ways to improve the quality of life for these student athletes. 

Read the full article here.

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