When the Supreme Court ruled that collegiate athletes could profit offer their name, image and likeness (NIL), a new era in college football began. Almost immediately you saw athletes at high-level schools getting large contracts. It was reported at one point that the quarterback at Alabama, Bryce Young, who led the Crimson Tide to the national title game this year, had over $1,000,000 in NIL deals.
It wasn’t just at Alabama. The Texas Longhorns had a program in place to pay their offensive lineman $50,000 each to profit off their name, image and likeness for contributing to charitable causes, funded by a program calling itself “The Pancake Factory” which was founded by six Texas alumni and supporters. That last statement is important because none of these deals are allowed to directly come from the school. West Virginia, Alabama nor Texas is allowed to (directly) pay players to play for their program [Alliteration!]
Enter the Country Roads Trust. Made up of 10 former superstar athletes and coaches from West Virginia, the Trust aims to help West Virginia athletes secure NIL deals and then profit off of them.
The Trust was founded by former athletic director Oliver Luck and current Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendricks. The Trust created an “Athlete Advisory Team” consisting of a who’s who at West Virginia: Jerry West, Don Nehlen, Pat McAfee, Da’sean Butler, Pat White, Darryl Talley, Ginny Thrasher, Jaida Lawerence Hart, Ashley Lawrence and Jedd Gyorko.
Listening to Ken Kendricks speak to Hoppy Kerchival, the Trust is a limited liability corporation that will sign an athlete and then use the Trust’s business acumen to secure deals for the athlete.
“All WVU athletes will be invited to become members of our trust, so they will become, if they choose to be, they are not under any obligated to be, they would become a member of the Trust. They would enter into an agreement with the Trust. We then could engage with them, and with corporate enterprises that might want to use them in some fashion to promote their product or service. In exchange, the athlete would receive a stipend from the business arrangement that we would make for them”, said Ken Kendrick, head of Country Roads Trust
What the Trust is currently acting like a middle man - a very business savy middle man. The athlete no longer has to put out Twitter info trying to secure NIL deals. The Trust is going to do that for them. That is a good thing. It isn’t quite the paying every offensive lineman 50K but it helps to promote the brand of WVU Athletics and it increases the ability of the athletes to secure those deals.
“I think of myself, I wasn’t an athlete but I was a young person once, and my level of sophistication in business matters was very limited when I was a college age kid. We think we can provide some guidance, to Taz and others [Kendrick was asked to give an example using Taz], to connect them to the corporate community around West Virginia who might be interested in working with them” explained Kendrick.
All of this is good for the athletes. It allows the athletes to focus more time on the sport and less on trying to navigate what can be tricky waters of business negotiations. It also allows the athletes to get a leg up when dealing with these promotions that you may not get a chance to until your professional life.
Where the Trust can become tricky is its non-affiliation with West Virginia. One of the items on the Trust’s website is the option to donate. From the Trust’s own website:
Does the NCAA also allow crowdfunding? Yes. While fans have been conditioned for years to understand that paying college athletes is prohibited, it’s now legal because of the lifting of NIL restrictions. WVU and its athletic department staffers are barred from creating NIL opportunities for Mountaineer athletes or facilitating them. This is where Country Roads Trust will step in and do what the University or any of its affiliates is not allowed to do.
How can fans get involved? Country Roads Trust will soon be launching a program for Mountaineer fans with exclusive athlete-generated content, unique live and virtual experiences and chances to win autographed merchandise. Stay tuned!
“Exclusive athlete-generated content” would suggest that the Trust is going to produce either interviews or other items that you can only get through them. Me, here at the Smoking Musket, has never had much access to players or coaches but other media outlets, may find their access to players and coaches limited.
I highly suggest you listen to Mike Casazza and Chris Anderson at Eersports.com talk about this and some of the items that could be produced by the Trust. Casazza suggests that episodic content, potentially podcasts by the players, maybe other media rights, could be produced by the Trust and given the nature of the WVU fanbase, we would all eat it up and donate. Me included. Where does that leave 247Sports, Rivals, MetroNews, Charleston Gazette, and others who use those quotes to generate stories and ask specific questions at specific times to help develop the stories they are investigating? Do they have to set up funds for interviews? Can the football team deny those opportunities? It can be a slippery slope.
Overall the Trust is a good thing for WVU athletes and they continue to need more opportunities like this. Certainly West Virginia needed to get into the NIL game and needed to find a way to support its student-athletes more than Toothman Ford reaching out and posting deals on Twitter. [BTW, Great for Toothman Ford for being one of the few places seemingly making a vested interest in players and working to get these deals done.] The landscape has changed and at least now West Virginia has a landing spot to start working towards a higher goal.