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McFeely: NDSU's NIL roadmap laid out by Montana boosters

Boosters at fellow high-end FCS school one of the first to put together collective to compensate athletes

Toby Weida.jpg
Montana fan Toby Weida, right, put together a name, image and likeness collective to pay Grizzlies athletes in exchange for advertising or promotion.
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FARGO — Toby Weida is a University of Montana alum and remains a super-fan of the Grizzlies football program.

"In the last 32 years, I've missed five home games," the 50-year-old real estate agent says.

Being a college football fan, Weida's curiosity was piqued when he saw that Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher landed the No. 1 recruiting class in college football and was getting ripped for it based on reports that Aggie boosters had stockpiled a $25 million "slush fund" to pay recruits.

"I thought back to the old Southwestern Conference and SMU," Weida chuckled, recalling a league and program known for playing loose with the rules of amateurism.

Turns out, Weida discovered, the "slush fund" was an NIL collective — money gathered by supporters and dispensed to athletes in exchange for endorsing a business or promoting a product. Advertising. And perfectly legal, even if disliked, in the eyes of the NCAA under the umbrella of name, image and likeness (NIL).

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"I figured it out. They pooled their money and were able to pay athletes for advertising," Weida said. "So, being a Montana booster, I started asking around. Do we have something like this? Is anybody talking about this? Nope. So I said, 'Send me the guidelines. I want to check this out.'"

That was in early spring.

Shortly thereafter, after making sure he understood the rules perfectly — ask Weida to define "commensurate" for you — the IVOVI Sports collective was born. Weida said he believes the collective (IVOVI uses Roman numerals for 406, the area code in Montana) was among the first, if not the first, NIL collective in the Football Championship Subdivision.

NCAA rules prohibit a school from being directly involved with an NIL collective. Weida is clear that IVOVI Sports is a separate entity from UM athletics.

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While Weida won't disclose how many boosters are involved or how much money the collective has raised, he said some Griz athletes have been paid in exchange for advertising.

"We have very generous donors at the University of Montana," Weida says. "We've had strong participation to this point."

We're writing about the University of Montana today because there is a lesson to be learned by the local FCS school, North Dakota State. The Bison athletic department to this point has been reluctant to embrace the idea of local boosters putting together a collective , but is said to be discussing what role NIL might play for NDSU student-athletes in the future.

In other words, NDSU has been slow to act. The Bison are falling behind other FCS powers. Montana State supporters, too, have started a collective. Southern Illinois and Illinois Sate of the Missouri Valley Football Conference have begun dabbling in NIL.

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NIL collectives are within the rules. There's no reason for NDSU boosters not to start one.

The collective Weida put together might provide a simple road map, given the similarities between the schools and football programs. Both are statewide institutions and are among the top handful of programs in FCS.

He describes the collective as a "go-between" where businesses can go if they are interested in having UM athletes appear in advertising. IVOVI can put athletes in touch with the businesses.

Weida, who is a one-man show with IVOVI Sports, said the collective is split into two funds — one for advertising compensation and one labeled as a general fund.

The advertising pool is self-explanatory. A business wants an athlete to endorse a product, the athlete gets paid out of the advertising pool.

The general fund is interesting. Weida said he borrowed a model used by the University of Indiana, in which athletes can endorse or promote non-profits and be paid by the collective. It allows lesser-known athletes an opportunity to collect some NIL money while giving attention to charities, which often don't have large advertising budgets.

"Just like at NDSU, in Montana the starting quarterback of the Griz is a celebrity. He's probably known across the state. Businesses are going to want him for advertising," Weida said. "But if you're the third-string sophomore tight end, you're not going to have those same opportunities. That might be where the non-profit side of things comes in. We're figuring out that balance and how you can maybe supplement the scholarship of that third-string tight end while making the community better."

Weida said it's also a way for the collective and UM athletes to give attention and support to non-profits.

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"That's what our collective is evolving into. We want to use our status to make our community a better community," he said.

Weida knows that the rules today might not be rules next year. The NCAA is tweaking NIL (as the goverance of college athletics is seismically changing before our eyes) as we speak. What's in place today might be different by next year.

"We're building this for the future, evolving and growing," Weida said. "We're staying focused on two things no matter what happens. One, we're following all the rules. Two, we're doing something that helps the community."

While the Power Five schools might offer tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in NIL to athletes and the IVOVI will never reach that level, Weida believes the top FCS schools have to try to remain competitive with the Group of Five in recruiting. Schools like Montana and NDSU regularly compete with Mountain West and Mid-American Conference schools for recruits.

"Even if you're at a couple thousand dollars and you took all the positives that Montana and NDSU have — I would still rather play for a school that can compete for a national championship than one that is playing for a spot in the John Deere Bowl or whatever — I think you have to do something. I think that could make a difference," Weida said.

Weida says he's willing to talk with NDSU boosters if they are looking for guidance. I have his cell number.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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