When the college football transfer portal officially opens for business on Monday, every program in the country will be off to the races. Not only will they be looking to the portal to add reinforcements to their roster for next season and beyond, but they will also be faced with the challenge of keeping their most valuable players from leaping into the portal.
Just last season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had a student-athlete transfer to a program where he was rumored to have received a sizeable NIL deal. For this particular student-athlete, it represented life-changing money for them and their family. But good news for them was bad news for the program at Minnesota they were leaving behind.
This is the reality of competing in collegiate athletics now and into the future. Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) rights have opened the door for boosters and influencers to build collectives that create financial opportunities for student-athletes, with varying levels of sophistication. It has helped widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, giving the haves another advantage in recruiting both at the high school level and in the transfer portal.
What does this mean for Minnesota? Well I can tell you right now, they don’t have boosters with millions of dollars in disposable income willing to bankroll an NIL collective. No, if the Gophers are going to be competitive in the NIL space, it is going to have to be a grassroots effort. Which means you can either bemoan the problem or be part of the solution.
The grassroots effort I’m referring to is Dinkytown Athletes, the NIL collective that launched in September in support of student-athletes at the University of Minnesota. Not only does it serve as an intermediary between student-athletes and local businesses looking to leverage a student-athlete’s NIL, but there is also a membership component that provides fans exclusive benefits in exchange for a membership cost used to support the student-athletes in the collective.
I interviewed Derek Burns, co-founder of Dinkytown Athletes and a former football player at Minnesota, back in October and he stressed that NIL is essential to the future success of athletics.
“The only permissible way to ‘recruit’ with NIL is to ensure that as many of your current student-athletes as possible have the opportunity for NIL activities,” Burns said. “This also helps to retain current student-athletes, because they see the opportunities available to them while at the University of Minnesota.”
“This is not an issue isolated just to football and basketball; the University is already seeing and feeling impacts across almost all sports. And the impacts are going to increase rapidly.”
You know who likely has a front row seat to those impacts? P.J. Fleck.
It’s likely why Fleck wore a Dinkytown Athletes polo for his weekly press conference ahead of the Illinois game earlier this season, and I can promise you it was no accident that he was wearing a Dinkytown Athletes sweatshirt when he took a seat for an interview in Brevyn’s Barber Shop this week. He is doing what he can to promote a collective he needs to succeed.
At the end of the day, we’re all invested in the success of athletics at the University of Minnesota, whether it’s football, basketball, volleyball, or another sport. It’s why you come to The Daily Gopher and read and comment on our articles. You’re invested emotionally, if not financially. Many of you are probably season ticket holders, as well, and I understand if that is the limit of what you’re willing to invest financially. Unfortunately, Minnesota needs more from its fans — at least the ones who have the means to contribute more — to compete in this landscape.
Imagine if even half of the approximately 24,000 football season ticket holders purchased a monthly $10 membership with Dinkytown Athletes. That would amount to $120,000 being used to support University of Minnesota student-athletes each month. That’s a difference maker.
If you really think about it, getting emotionally invested in sports is insane. We have no control over the outcome, yet we share in the euphoria of the wins and the misery of the losses. Dinkytown Athletes is a rare opportunity to have an actual impact on the outcome by helping to equip Minnesota with the resources it needs to recruit and retain top talent.