NIL changing college sports, but Wright State has plans to stay competitive

FAIRBORN — Wright State athletic director Bob Grant was feeling upbeat after the Raiders notched their first NCAA tourney win at the First Four in Dayton last March and then gave No. 1 seed Arizona a challenge before losing by 17 in San Diego.

All five starters were returning, and the future looked radiant. Or so he thought.

Stars Tanner Holden and Grant Basile transferred to Power 5 schools — presumably for increased exposure and greater access to Name, Image and Likeness dollars — which put coach Scott Nagy and his staff in scramble mode.

They picked up a couple of transfers, but they couldn’t recover from those losses, finishing a ho-hum 18-15 this season.

“We leave San Diego last year, and we think, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got a loaded team coming back that could maybe do some damage in the (NCAA) tournament even,’” Grant said. “The next thing you know, through nobody’s fault, we don’t have that anymore.

“Grant leaves and Tanner leaves — and I genuinely love both of them. I don’t blame them one bit. But that was not possible before these huge changes in our business.”

The NCAA first overturned its longstanding transfer rule in April 2021, allowing players to join new teams without having to sit out a year.

Next came an even more foundation-shaking move. After losing a Supreme Court decision regarding its amateur rules in August 2021, the NCAA gave the green light to athletes to earn as much NIL income as they can, provided it doesn’t come from the schools themselves.

“This is a major paradigm shift in college athletics — to the point where I’d submit to you, not in a hyperbolic way, that if these rules existed 20 years ago, would the Butler story exist or would Gordon Hayward be playing at Purdue for $200,000?” Grant said.

The Raiders’ Horizon League rivals made two straight trips to the NCAA finals in 2010 and 2011 behind a late-blooming, future NBA star in Hayward.

“When you’ve got no-sit transfers — and a transfer portal that’s more like a dating app — and you start throwing around big money, it’s completely foreign to the way we’ve operated in history,” Grant said.

Asked if Basile and Holden profited financially, Grant said: “I don’t know for sure. But NIL is certainly a factor in the transfers we’re seeing around the country and the stories we’re hearing. The stories are playing out in social media where a donor says, ‘I’m so glad we just signed (Player X) to this contract.’

“It’s mind-boggling to think we’ve gotten here. But we’ve got two options at Wright State. We can bury our head in the sand and say, ‘This is not fair, it’s not good.’ Or we can go full bore ahead and not look back and figure it out like we always do.”

Wright State basketball players have advertised an NIL Club on their Twitter accounts, giving fans access to what they’re calling behind-the-scenes content for a minimal donation.

But for real life-changing money, schools need what’s known as collectives — collections of boosters who pool money together to distribute to athletes in the high-profile sports of football and men’s basketball.

At the start of 2023, there were 200 operating among 360 Division-I schools, and some are generating staggering sums.

The most aggressive, according to, is Tennessee’s Spyre Sports Group, which, as of last fall, was on target to raise about $25 million.

Ohio State also made the website’s list of schools with the 20 most ambitious collectives, coming in at No. 7.

Wright State can’t compete with big-time football schools that attract monstrous fan bases and deep-pocketed supporters, but Grant is planning to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening at the mid-major level.

He said a collective of former Raider basketball players is close to going public. He didn’t know what their fundraising goal would be, but he’s confident it’s substantial.

“In our landscape, collectives are as necessary as corporate partners and fans and great facilities and great coaches and a great culture,” Grant said.

“As the athletic director, we need to have that kind of support, and we’re going to have it.”

It couldn’t come at a better time. Raiders star player Trey Calvin has one year of eligibility left and said after last season that he planned to keep his options open.

When word about what’s afoot at Wright State reached him, it sealed his decision to stay.

“Obviously, it’s good news,” he said. “It did play a part in me coming back.

“NIL is becoming a big thing right now, and I’ve been here and been loyal to the program, so I am expecting a little bit of that. It’s tremendous.”

Grant said the collective will focus on basketball players, at least at the start, and indicated some will earn more than others. That likely means none of Calvin’s teammates should expect to make as much as him.

“I was joking around with a group of student-athletes, saying, ‘This is going to give you your first taste of what it’s like in a capitalistic society,’” Grant said. “You walk into any office building or factory, and everyone isn’t getting paid the same thing.

“More valuable employees are getting more, and less valuable employees are getting less. You have to manage that as a manager. Now, you’ve got to manage that as a coach and administrator.”

A key part of Grant’s job is to raise money for the athletic department. He’s had to be creative just to reach 14 men’s and women’s sports, which is the NCAA minimum for Division I.

A collective might end up competing for gifts from the same donor base, and Grant admitted “that is a concern.”

But he added: “It seems to be setting up well for us. The folks who are the main ones behind this collective are just getting to the level where they want to give back to their alma mater. They had a good experience here.

“We’ve not relied on these individuals for corporate partnerships, for seat-buying, for donations. In some ways, it’s opened up an avenue for new supporters for us.”

The NCAA passed legislation in October to allow schools to work with collectives, coaching them through the steps in being major fundraising entities.

Grant hopes all basketball players end up drawing checks, but they’ll first need to meet certain criteria.

“Student athletes who have proven to be, A, good citizens; B, good students; and C, meaningful contributors to their athletic team — that will be a three-prong litmus test to, ‘Are you going to get some NIL money through collectives?’” he said.

As enthused as Grant is over the developing income stream, he’s not happy to have been put in this position.

Abuses are widespread. NIL money is not allowed to go toward recruiting, but anyone looking at the 2022 college football class rankings can spot the newcomers to that list and know where much of those dollars are being directed (Hello, Texas A&M).

But Grant blames the NCAA for being slow to react over the years to free up more money for athletes. It did clear the way for annual cost-of-attendance stipends, which range from about $2,000 to $5,000, but that seems like a quaint concept now.

“It’s really decades of bad decision-making where our star soccer player from Beavercreek could not go back in the summer and run a soccer camp with his name on it and make $200 or $500,” Grant said.

“The absurdity of that — we told more student-athletes than I can count, ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that because you can’t profit on your name, image and likeness,’ though every other student at the university can.

“Lawsuits start flying, and before you know it, it’s a complete 180. There were so many, in my opinion, off-ramps to fix it but were ignored. And now, it’s the Wild, Wild West, and we’re forced to deal with it.”

Nagy comes from the same old-school mindset as Grant. He bristled initially over the NIL, but he’s made his peace with it.

“Everybody understands that had those players stayed, we’d probably, in terms of talent, had one of the top mid-major teams in the country,” he said, referring to Basile and Holden.

“If somebody left again (in the future), I wouldn’t be shocked with the way these things are going. We hope those things don’t happen. We’re working hard to make sure they don’t in terms of relationships and the NIL. But schools at our level, you’ve got to figure out how to navigate it and fight.”

Grant insists Wright State won’t be reckless and will follow what few guardrails there are. And Nagy knows his part primarily is to keep NIL discussions out of recruiting.

“We don’t need it for that,” he said. “We’ve just had the best recruiting season we’ve ever had, and there was no NIL talk at all — other than we’re working on things. What we have to do is keep our players once we get them.”

The NIL world will keep evolving. Alabama coach Nick Saban is among those calling for standardized compensation across all schools.

Some believe colleges eventually will be free to pay of athletes out of their budgets.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘This won’t continue, will it?’ I think absolutely it will. The toothpaste is not going back in the tube,” Grant said

“But I think there will be a market adjustment — maybe even a massive market adjustment. Some of the ridiculous things you heard early on, you’re not hearing as much anymore You’re going to see some collectives not work. You’re going to see promises made to kids — especially in recruiting, which shouldn’t be made anyway — that aren’t kept.”

The NCAA did cite Miami (Fla.) for an NIL infraction last month, handing out a minor penalty for a coach sending a few recruits in the direction of a collective.

But having been stung over losing the Supreme Court decision on amateurism, those in charge seem to have lost the will to intervene.

“I’m not even sure how you’d police it,” Grant said. “Maybe someone smarter than me will figure out a way to make this easier or more fair. In the meantime, we have to deal with it as it is now.

“Ultimately, do I like it? No. Are we going to hide from it or run from it or be afraid of it? No. Are we going to make it into something that’s to our advantage? Yes.”

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